The world cup watched from Argentina: the national flag is a football’s shirt
Famous basketball Italian journalist Federico Buffa in a recent episode of “Storie mondiali” (World Cup stories) about Maradona on Sky sport channel, referring to the dramatic social inequality of Argentina told the public that “It’s a country with enormous natural resources, the fact that there are 10 million poor is a sort of mystery”.
It wouldn’t be fair to expect something different from an average sport broadcast, which public is probably just happy to know that “Villa Fiorito” slum, Maradona’s birthplace, is an “awful area where it’s better not to go” in order to watch the rest of the documentary with an authentic sense of relief for witnessing the “Pibe de oro” economic and social redemption. Hundreds of years of western colonialism and capitalist neo-mercantilism erased by the superficial glance of a sport commentator for whom Argentina is only the folklorist dusty stage for the legend of an ex-poor Buenos Aires kid. The story of the Big Bang of a shining talent that will bring him to play in Italy and then enters top football Olympus.
The fact is that on the other side of the ocean this western “removal” is instead fundamental. Not only in the very creation of the local football, founded by Italians and Englishmen, but also in the nationalist representation that Argentinian international performances have always assumed.
No one in fact could honestly separate Maradona’s (in) famous “mano de dios” 1986 goal from the Falklands/Malvinas war. Or his frequent broadsides to the “mafia of FIFA” and his public opposition to Bush Jr. and the FTAA treaty from a quite diffused anxiety of revenge against “the powerfuls”. The Futbol as a battlefield then, a public stage where every battle lost in history can be fought again and won, where the national image can be (re)built, chanting motherland while waving a football’s shirt as a flag. An arena that any political elite in any decade of Argentinian’s history has tryed to control, from the 1978 “shame”world cup, organized (and won?) by the “Junta militar” to the close friendship between “El Diego” and Menem, the president of the neoliberal ’90’s.
The Brazilian world cup is no exception, and if many have linked Neymar goals with the future of Dilma Rousseff presidency (not forgetting the impact of the anti-cup protests started one year ago), the Argentinian government too is trying to make the most out of the competition. General elections will be held in both of the countries in the next months, and since the “presidenta” Cristina will not be able to run for a third term, having failed to reform the constitution, the competition for Kirchnerism legacy is already opened.
2014 “Panem et circenses” takes the shape of an endless barrage of pro-government commercials for the “free all over the country” state broadcasting of every match of the World Cup, part of the 2009 “Football for everyone” re-purchase of the rights for the national championship. The Seleccion goals are shown in a mix with statistics of governmental social plans, with student-workers and millionaire players united in the same pursuit of success, because “Argentina unites us all”. Another spot features national team superstars supporting the “Resuelve tu identidad” campaign about last dictatorship “desaparecidos” murders, promoted by victims’ relatives association “Grandmothers of May square”, a political group now close to the Kirchnerism. Even more explicitly, “De Zurda” (left-handed, lefty) TV programme hosting Maradona presents the competition as a political global stage to show the world the success of left-leaning South American governments.
But, as we were saying, the national imagery is always built around an opposition to the “otherness”, an external enemy. This is why perhaps in the “Radio Nacional” broadcastings news about U.S. “Buitres” hedge funds, a discussed financial debt linked to the 2001 crisis, growingly mix with World Cup matches results, with any Latin-American victory being part of a big anticolonial metaphor. Manichean nationalist propaganda very often turns grotesque: talented journalists observe that “Buitres” payments U.S. judge Thomas Griesa must be a supporter of England, eliminated by Uruguay, because he is “evil”.
But the best example of this rhetoric is perhaps the advertisement by YPF Oil Company, re-nationalized in 2012 after being privatized by Menem government in 1992 and sold to Spanish Repsol. Maradona’s sanctified body has in fact long since gone through a collective transubstantiation process, with his symbolic charge moving to Barcelona’s player Leonel Messi. Worshipped as his successor and national ambassador, in this commercial Messi is associated to YPF oil as a “product of Argentinian soil”. His early transferral to Barcelona youth team is presented as the same sort of loss of sovereignty experienced with oil deposits, now fully recovered altogether with the champion’s likes, playing him with national seleccion in the world cup.
Football in Argentina is then deeply intertwined with country’s history, that is the history of his social inequality too. And once again popular sentiment is being mobilized around the World Cup show to raise support for the government.
The match for Kirchnerism legacy will be decided in 2015 general elections but is already kicking off on Brazil, with Cristina Kirchner lining up all her political heritage until a proper candidate for her succession has not been chosen.
OTHER COMMERCIALS: www.youtube.com/watch?v=vuLxfsy7h5o,
TV COMMENTARY OF MESSI’S GOAL AGAINST IRAN: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu0J8TdjRoA