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July 23, 2014
Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Foolish Amplification

The First Division reform to overload it with 30 soccer teams looks like a case of a tail wagging a very big dog. To describe the origins of this absurd idea as Argentina Football Association (AFA) President Julio Grondona not wanting to die with Independiente (the club he headed before his seemingly eternal reign at the AFA helm began) languishing outside the First Division might be simplifying matters but not all that much — especially when AFA’s first vice-president Luis Segura is also president of Argentinos Juniors, relegated just two days before this reform was so abruptly approved. Given Independiente’s inability to remain in the top three National B positions allowing the chance of a rapid return to the top league, Grondona’s reform is tailor-made to secure that aim off the pitch since the top 10 from the National B are now to join the current score in the First Division, which should lower the bar sufficiently for Independiente.

This fast track for Independiente (and Argentinos) is the most obvious hidden agenda behind the reform but there could be more. Ever since Soccer for Everybody began in 2009, its spending patterns (whether intentionally or unconsciously) seems to have democratized Argentina soccer to such a degree that each First Division race seems more exciting and open-ended than the last with even teams also fighting relegation retaining championship chances, in stark contrast to Europe’s monotonous major club domination — even if many soccer reporters prefer to describe the parity here as mediocrity. The reformed spending seems designed to end this latter-day democracy — thus Boca Juniors and River Plate, the two traditionally dominant teams, will be picking up more than 10 times as much money as the entire National B Division put together while the First Division’s top five clubs (including Racing, San Lorenzo and Vélez Sarsfield, as well as Boca and River) will receive over three times more funding than the 15 other teams.

If the current structure of “Football for Everybody” is already a fiscal embarrassment (expected to cost an estimated 1.4 billion pesos this year), what burdens will this new 30-team monster impose? This factor alone should discount rumours of political jockeying beyond Grondona’s one-man scheming. Can one man have so much power? Yes, given his stranglehold on AFA purse-strings. But should he or should not a society which celebrated 30 years since the end of the 1976-83 military dictatorship last December not be doing more to stop its last remaining relic?

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