Italian Journalist Valerio Picconi talks to the HeraldMonday, August 4, 2014
Activists strengthen ‘Miguel’s race’
But this is exactly what happened when Italian sports journalist Valerio Picconi, on a visit to Buenos Aires in 1998, came across the book El Terror y la Gloria while scouring through the endless chain of bookstores on Corrientes avenue, where he unearthed the case of Miguel Sánchez.
Sánchez was born in Tucumán province but moved to the Greater Buenos Aires district of Berazategui with his family later in his youth, where he obtained a job at the Provincia Bank. An avid athlete and poet, he travelled every year to participate in marathons throughout the region.
As a member of the Peronist Youth (JP), Sánchez strongly believed that through sports one could get to truly understand society and connect with it, serving as a medium for its improvement. But that dream was cast aside when he was 25-years-old, after eight men stormed into his house at 3am on January 9,1978 and took him from his family just a day after he had returned from a trip to Brazil where he participated in the San Silvestre marathon. It was later found out that the Argentine military government had been monitoring Sánchez after they were tipped off about a discussion he had with a Brazilian journalist over the current political situation.
Sánchez was never heard from again, but a few years ago a victim from the Vesubio clandestine concentration camp testified that he had seen Miguel, and recalled how he protested with his captors despite being in chains and visibly injured: “I am Miguel Sánchez, I came from representing Argentina in Brazil.”
The story of Miguel so struck Picconi, that he immediatley went to a phone book and searched for Miguel’s family’s phone number and travelled to Tucumán province to visit them multiple times. They spoke for hours about Miguel, talking about his mannerisms, beliefs, what he was like, his dedication to running and political activism. “There are two types of sport’s journalists, some believe that sports should be like an island separate from politics, and others believe it should be united. What happens in sports happens in politics, it’s the same thing,” Piccone told the Herald.
When the Italian journalist returned to Italy, his idea was originally to write just a book but he realized that the best way to honour his memory was to create a race. So, on January 9, 2000 on the anniversary of the day Miguel was kidnapped, the first race in his memory (“The Race for Miguel”) was held with over 350 participants in Rome, with runners wearing shirts with a picture of Sánchez’s face and the reproduction of his poem For You, Athlete.
This race was followed by another one in Buenos Aires, with more than a thousand participants and then spread to Tucumán, Bariloche, and Barcelona. In 2013, the Argentine soccer federation’s first division tournament carried his name.
Most recently, a bill was sent to the Senate to create the National Day of Memory for Sports on January 8, to commemorate the dozens of disappeared athletes. “This project’s aim is to make visible how the work of a random foreigner who was moved by the story of a disappeared, made it internationaly relevant, creating a movement in memory of him and the 30,000 disappeared,” said Ildefonso Thomsen, an advisor to Chaco Senator María Inés Pilatti Vergara, who helped write the bill. Last week, an association for the organization of marathons in the name of memory and justice was inaugurated in the ex-ESMA to help move the effort along.
“My brother would have loved this, this is the perfect way to remember him and all the other athletes who disappeared,” Elvira Sánchez, Miguel’s sister, said after the meeting. A sentiment that Sánchez would have most likely shared as he wrote in the poem For you, Athlete that was published in the Gazeta de São Paulo for the last major international race he participated in before he disappeared: “For you, athlete / So you know the cold, and hot, the triumphs and failures / For you who have a healthy body, a strong soul and a whole heart / For you who have many friends and wishes / For you athlete, who ran through towns and cities uniting states with your path / For you athlete, who despise war and yearn for peace.”