It sounds like an “empire,” now that that word has once again become fashionable among imperialists, petty monarchs, catty congresswomen, and nouveau-riche millionaires in the Americas. However, the weight that word used to have has dissolved in the tangled maze of cobbled-together regimes, which are incorrectly termed as socialist, whose goal is theft, although they dress up the larceny with bombastic declarations and worse, public circuses, and even scribble it as graffiti on the walls of public restrooms.
It’s comical to see Evo Morales, the one who hammers at the empire (the United States) the most, as the leader of the quasi-republic multinational State of Bolivia. It’s comical because he never misses an opportunity to parade his extravagant personality around in the best hotels in the north that he hates so much, cooling off his legs in shorts that he wears when he plays at what he likes the most — second only to the ladies.
One more little digression, if you will permit me. Although we’re still talking about soccer, it is Bolivian leader Morales’ injury that leads him to distance himself from the sport’s festivities. (We’ll see if he is thereby able to pay attention to what matters.) A local writer who serves as a yatiri* told me that the injury comes from a judgment hurled at him by a handicapped person, sitting on the ground in La Paz; karma, perhaps, and if so, a blessed curse.
Now, to the subject at hand. The 100th anniversary Copa América soccer tournament (formerly known as the South American Football Championship) is being played in the United States. For the past few years, the U.S., which was previously disinclined to kick the ball around, has been getting interested in soccer. It is ironic that the U.S. should be the principal movers in breaking the back of corruption in the Federacion Internationale de Football Association or FIFA, and that the crooked directors should be extradited—they are criminals—to here.
Soccer has always been the most emotional expression of nationalism. A team sport, and highly democratic in its essence, it has served to instill patriotism in armies of fans, to achieve on the soccer pitch what they—the majority of them, anyway—haven’t been able to do in history. Sometimes, it comes with a touch of the epic, as in the so-called “Death Match” of the Dynamo Kiev football club, as recounted by Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Or the story of the Austrian star footballer Matthias Sindelar, considered in his day the finest player in the world, who is said to have preferred to commit suicide rather than wear the jersey of the Nazis who steamrolled over Austria in the name of Pan-Germanism. Also ridiculous was the Central-American war, the one that lasted 100 hours, between Honduras and El Salvador, that Polish writer Ryszard Kapuściński immortalized.
Because soccer and nationalism, like everything else, have bent under the weight of money, it is symptomatic that the most important matches of the Copa Mexicana are played in Los Angeles or Houston, and not where they ought to be played. Dollars carry more weight than flags. They’ve brought this 100th anniversary Copa [America] to “hostile” territory. Think of what a party it would be if it were played in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, Mexico City, or Santiago. It won’t be like that; I think the changes are irreversible. I was astonished to learn that Bolivia played in Denver, where I live, or that Argentina played a friendly match with another Latin American team in Miami. Of course, the profits will be much higher than they would be for a match in Quillacollo, to cite an example of a booming commercial city (in central Bolivia of about 87,000 people) that nonetheless can’t compete in the millionaires’ game.
Globalization clearly is the hallmark of an economy that mocks patriotism and the primal emotions of the soccer spectator. A match between Honduras and El Salvador, in Washington, D.C., wouldn’t stir up mortar fire, but rather hot dogs sold by the thousands. War, with mustard…
In that sense, it’s good; on the other hand, in the sense of the deprivation of the local populations in each country of profits much smaller than those of their countrymen in the north, of the pageantry of their teams, it fills us with sadness. When I was just a baby, my father took us by the hand to go see a match between Wilstermann and Colo Colo, just a few blocks from our house, and with a little plastic bag to pee in. Little by little, all we have left is nostalgia.
*Translator’s note: A yatiri is a community healer in the Aymari tradition of Bolivia, Chile and Peru.
**Translator’s note: Club Jorge Wilstermann is a Bolivian football club from the city of Cochabamba; Club Social y Deportivo Colo-Colo is a Chilean football club based in Santiago.