Conmebol found a simple solution to its recent problems with the upcoming Copa América. It just wasn’t very good. Weeks of anti-government protests in Colombia, which have left at least 43 dead, forced the governing body of South American soccer to move the tournament from the co-host country, to Argentina, a nation that has been brought to its knees by Covid-19.
At the time of writing this report, approximately two weeks before the tournament’s scheduled start in Buenos Aires, only just over 5% of Argentina’s population is fully vaccinated.
While in the United States the pandemic is practically over, in Argentina there are around 72 new positive cases per 100,000 daily. That is much worse per capita than India, which has 17 per 100,000. Neither nation’s tragedy lessens the horror of another, but hosting an international tournament in the face of hundreds of deaths a day from coronavirus is a shame.
Argentine President Alberto Fernández, who has described this as “the worst moment of the pandemic,” should feel ashamed. Like Conmebol, which must cancel the tournament; This is not the time to celebrate in all of South America. Some reports suggest that the tournament could be transferred to the United States, but there is still no clarity.
It’s not that Argentina couldn’t take advantage of the economic boost, its economy contracted 10% due to the pandemic, but the Covid-19 situation is much more serious. About 12,000 hotels and restaurants have closed in the last year. The health system is collapsing. A 22-year-old woman died on the floor of a hospital, awaiting treatment, while friends of government officials Get the fast track to a vaccine. Last week, River Plate had up to 25 positive cases of coronavirus among the team. His players are healthy now, but his the team bus driver was killed. And worst of all, the virus has claimed 75,000 lives. And now, for the second year, the Argentines are locked up at home. The schools are closed. But somehow it has been deemed appropriate for an international soccer tournament to be played.
Of course, in Argentina, soccer has a history of being a weapon to sedate the masses. It is directly the playbook of our authoritarian past.
Like Hitler’s staging of the Olympics in 1936, Argentina hosted the World Cup under an authoritarian regime, that of Jorge Videla in 1978. It was an event designed by the government to inspire nationalism in a population hit by political repression, the taking by force of newborn babies from dissident mothers and the “disappearance” of between 5,000 and 30,000 people. Argentina ended up winning the tournament, but it wasn’t easy. Against Peru, he had to win by four goals to advance to the final stages; they won 6-0. A risky deal could never be proven, but Peru had only conceded six goals in their last five games and Argentina had scored six in their last five.
My father, then 13 years old, was that day at the Gigante Stadium in Arroyito de Rosario to see Peru defeated. He said he could feel the concrete swaying under his feet, fans lost in euphoria, jumping up and down to the beat. Or so remember. It was real to him then and it still is. As an adult, he realized the truth. We all know it now. But, the government’s plan worked anyway. The memory still warms the heart.
It’s something I always wanted to feel, after so much disappointment following the national team. I got closer when, in the 2014 World Cup final, Gonzalo Higuaín, launched himself by two centrals and put one past Manuel Neuer. I lost it. But he was out of the game. And very clearly so. My voice was already gone when I realized it.
Today, as my country reels under Covid-19, I couldn’t care less. To use the words of Argentine journalist Jorge Lanata, I don’t care if 11 millionaires chasing a ball can get it into the net. I don’t care about the narrative. I don’t care about Lionel Messi. It cannot heal our wounds. We keep losing family and friends; will continue to earn money. I want to know that my country is safe. I want my sister to have the normal teenage life that she deserves. I want my parents, my friends and all of us to be vaccinated. Lionel Messi, Conmebol, Fernández: is this the legacy you want? Don’t let the ball handle alone.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism