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July 25, 2014
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Political effect of tournament far from clear

Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff is forced to hand the Cup to the team that humiliated her country in a historic 7-1 defeat in the semi-finals.
By Guillermo Háskel
Herald Staff

Some experts question whether results of soccer matches translate into votes

The World Cup is over but whether the effects of a victory or a defeat transfers to politics is up for debate and some experts say that while much is made about the effects of the sport in political life, the connections are far more tenuous.

Pablo Alabarces said that after Brazil’s “disastrous” defeat, Brazilian media are not only demanding the resignation of national coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, but also that of the whole leadership of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), which has long been at the centre of corruption scandals.

CBF is widely seen as a den of corruption, Alabarces, a left-leaning sociologist with Argentina’s state-run CONICET think tank, told the Herald. But it also has a complicated history.

“CBF Chairman José María Marín was an accomplice to Brazil’s (1964-1985) military dictatorship, he ‘marked’ people,” he added. “We are much worse than the Brazilians. Who could ever call for the resignation of Grondona after Argentina reached the final?”

Grondona was appointed head of the AFA by the 1976-1983 military dictatorship that used the 1978 World Cup as a smoke-screen to hide its violation of human rights.

The military junta led by the late Jorge Rafael Videla attended the final at the River Plate’s Monumental stadium, in which Argentina won the cup by beating Holland 3-2.

The dictators’ presence marked an otherwise mostly distant stance of Argentine governments regarding world cups.

The late Radical president Raúl Alfonsín refused to attend the 1986 final in Mexico and sent a representative instead.

His successor, the neo-conservative Peronist Carlos Menem, attended the inauguration of the 1990 World Cup in Italy but after Argentina lost 1-0 to “humble” Cameroon, and amid the general perception that he jinxed the encounter, Menem chose not to attend the final.

Fernández de Kirchner declined an invitation from her Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff to attend yesterday’s final.

Asked whether the president’s decision may have been prompted by fears that she could also be perceived as having jinxed the match in case of a defeat, Juan Tokatlián, an international relations expert from the private Di Tella University, told the Herald: “I don’t think so. In Argentina there’s no tradition of presidents attending World Cups, and had Cristina accepted Dilma’s invitation, it would have been an exception to the rule.”

Back to Brazil

Alabarces noted that a leading figure such as former Brazilian soccer star Romário, currently a federal lawmaker, has been calling for a revamp of the CBF, which Romário describes as “a gang of thieves.”

Luis Alberto Quevedo, a Uruguayan media researcher with CONICET, said that he saw no “automatic relationship” between sport achievements and politics. All World Cups pose the same question: The political incidence of soccer results on countries, namely the host.

“The 1978 dictatorship used the Cup, but I don’t think that Argentina’s victory had any influence on its fate,” Quevedo told the Herald.

At the same time, trying to stay out of the sport may not have such a drastic effect either.

“Alfonsín refused to attend the 1986 final, and I don’t see that decision as having had any influence on the fate of his government either.”

Alfonsín’s administration crumbled five months ahead of the end of its six-year term in 1989 amid an outburst of hyper-inflation, three years after Argentina won the the Cup in Mexico by beating Germany 3-2.

To exemplify what he perceives as a “decoupling” of sport results and politics, Quevedo said that in 1978, he supported Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel’s Peace and Justice organization, but he celebrated the victory regardless.

“At the time, Pérez Esquivel was still under arrest, and I went out to celebrate anyway,” Quevedo said. “I don’t feel that the dictatorship may have managed to deprive us from genuine joy, and in no way was my celebration tantamount to supporting the atrocities it was perpetrating.”

Regarding Brazilian media, he added that after the initial victories this tournament, Rousseff’s left-leaning Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) sought to install “national social and sports” epic storylines, adds Quevedo. “And the defeat was interpreted in the same vein. The opposition started launching strong attacks against the government, mostly due to the its massive spending to organize the Cup.”

To build an epic, there is nothing like the media. Argentine media in particular coverage promoted “bogus nationalism,” says Alabarces

The effect,however, is likely to be short-lived and “soccer won’t be at the centre of the campaign in (Brazil’s) October presidential elections,” Quevedo added.

Media, however, have an interest in creating tension and Tokatlián specifically faulted Brazilian media for “instigating” fans to support Germany against Brazil’s arch-rival Argentina.

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