Choosing between hospitals, schools and stadiums
As a Paraguayan legend came out to condemn his nation’s bid for the World Cup, a few words about the last two cups played in South America.
Jose Luis Chilavert is no ordinary footballer. On the pitch he was a goalkeeper famous for scoring goals, off the pitch he was considered to be a “revolutionary the kind of which South America has not seen since the days of Che Guevara.”
Chilavert, whose career spanned twenty-two years from 1982 to 2004, had famously refused to play at the 1999 Copa America, hosted by his native Paraguay, because he believed that the money spent on the event should’ve been spent on education instead. It doesn’t come as a surprise therefore that he condemned his country’s plans to put forward a 2030 World Cup bid together with neighbours Uruguay and Argentina.
“Dominguez, [Paraguay] does not need a World Cup, it needs hospitals, schools, infrastructure. Stop lying to the people.” wrote Chilavert on his Twitter attack, referring to the Paraguayan FA president Alejandro Dominguez who is spearheading the bid efforts on behalf of the country.
Over three in ten Paraguayans were living below the poverty line in 2010 as a result of widespread inequality and the lack of infrastructure. A Borgen Project blogpost earlier this year wrote that at the end of the 1990s “less than 10 percent of the population owned and controlled 75 percent of the land […] 46.6 percent of all income went to the top 10 percent of the population.”
According to Humanosphere, “despite the country’s overall economic growth last year, the total poverty rate — which the World Bank defines as less than $3.10 a day — rose from 26.6 to 28.8 percent […] Extreme poverty, experienced by those living on less than $1.90 per person per day, rose from 5.4 to 5.7 percent.” The Borgen Project adds that “Paraguay was at the bottom among the South American countries in decreasing poverty over the last decade.”
The bid was promoted last Friday by Uruguay’s Luis Suarez and Argentina’s Leo Messi during their nations’ 0–0 draw for the 2018 World Cup qualifiers. The two Barcelona stars wore shirts displaying ‘2030’ and posed for photos before the match.
Chilavert’s comments were applauded by many Twitter users online, with some reminding us of Brazil’s experience with the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. The two events were met with massive demonstrations which questioned the logic of hosting expensive mega-events in a country suffering from widespread poverty and inequality. Visitors to the Olympics were welcomed by a dramatic protest in the Rio de Janeiro airport with emergency responders holding up a banner with a grim message.
Argentina previously hosted the World Cup in 1978, two years after a coup installed a junta led by Jorge Rafael Videla during which 30,000 people ‘disappeared’ or were killed. In common with other dictators that used massive sporting events to disguise their ugly intentions and actions, Videla portrayed the Argentines’ passion during the World Cup as support for his brutal regime.
Jon Spurling, writing for The Sabotage Times, shared this account of the Argentina v France match by Manuel Kalmes, who was in prison for sharing literature against the junta:
“I’d been there for several weeks and a bag was placed over my head because my guard was fearful that I’d talk to other prisoners about plotting an escape. My cell was on the side from which I could hear the crowd and when Luque scored the noise hit the prison like a tidal wave. You could hear the crowd chanting “Luque, Luque” and we prisoners joined in. Why not? The guard’s reaction was curious. We heard him run around the cell, yelping like a dog after the goals. But then he went quiet again, lent in close to us and whispered, ‘That’s the last goal you’ll ever cheer you sons of whores.’”
It wasn’t just dissidents that faced imprisonment, torture and death during the event. Jonathan Stevenson wrote for the BBC that “General Omar Actis, chairman of the World Cup organising committee, [was] assassinated before the competition had begun — allegedly because he was set to speak out about escalating costs of the tournament.”
For that World Cup, there was a curious black band painted around all the goalposts. David Forrest set out to find out why for In Bed With Maradona. He spoke to groundsman Ezequiel Valentini, who told him “everyone knew someone who knew someone that had been disappeared. The staff all wanted to protest. […] We discussed cutting a message into the grass, or painting a message on the advertising hoardings, something the TV cameras would see.”
Given any message too obvious would have certainly led to the imprisonment or death of those involved, Valentini and others took advantage of the Generals’ ignorance about all matters football. “They asked what the black bands were for. We told them it was tradition” he told Forrest. The thousands of dead and disappeared were remembered and Valentini lived to tell the tale.
Despite the regime’s brutal suppression of any dissent, mothers of people who had ‘disappeared’ staged protests at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires during the World Cup. The travelling press corps covered their protests, helping their voice spread wide and far, disrupting the dictators’ well-choreographed show.
The writer was a volunteer for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, which today is one of the spending sprees that are blamed for the country’s economic crisis on the streets. Even if that was not strictly the case, the stadiums from those days stand looted and deserted, not fit for purpose, a painful reminder of the millions of euros spent on their construction and the wasted dream of an outward-looking, confident nation.
Greece found itself in the international spotlight for a month, hot off the heels of the triumph in Lisbon where Otto Rehagel’s men were crowned European champions after beating the hosts. Four and a half years later, the country would come back into the spotlight for the rage that followed a teenager’s murder at the hands of police and, soon after, the financial crisis. The children who watched on as the world’s best athletes competed for glory in Athens are now trying to make their way without the financial support and infrastructure you would expect from an Olympic host.
Those of us that were lucky enough to live the Games on the inside can remember those two months we spent in the Olympic and Paralympic Village, wondering if in the end it was worth it.
Chilavert put the ball past his counterparts 46 times in 622 club fixtures. He also scored 8 times for his national team, including a penalty against Argentina in the 1997 Copa America.