Hard Times And Hooliganism In Soccer-Crazy Argentina

Rowdy fans added to the annals of soccer stupidity by forcing organizers to cancel the hugely anticipated Copa Libertadores final in Buenos Aires.

River Plate fans looking at an empty pitch
River Plate fans looking at an empty pitch
Reinaldo Spitaletta


BOGOTÁ — In Argentina, people embrace soccer (and suffer because of it) as if it were a religion. Or some kind of escapist drug, perhaps. The sport one French academic and writer termed "intelligence in movement" is ubiquitous. It is fervor itself. A burning-hot fever. A passion that, in some cases, prompts people to do stupid things — or worse. Sometimes it makes fans want to simply obliterate anyone wearing a rival jersey.

The great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges himself observed that soccer is "popular because stupidity is popular." Indeed, there have been plenty of bone-headed episodes in and outside soccer stadiums. And let's not forget the 1978 World Cup, which Argentina — ruled at the time by a brutal military dictatorship — hosted, and won. That may have been the darkest moment of all in Argentine soccer history.

While the dictator Jorge Videla celebrated the victory and the crowds screamed their lungs out in El Monumental, the Buenos Aires stadium that's also home to the popular River Plate team, close by political prisoners were being tortured and "disappeared." The shouting over goals that day overwhelmed the brave protests of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo clamoring to know what had become of their children. That bloody cup was not just part of Argentina's history — or infamy — but also of the murky ties between soccer and politics. It has always been a sinister, manipulative marriage.

Soccer is "popular because stupidity is popular."

And now, decades later, we're confronted with a new, shameful episode. Editor's note: On Nov. 24, River Plate fans attacked a bus carrying players of the rival club Boca Juniors. What was supposed to be a glorious day for the country — the first time Argentina's most storied franchises met in the final of the Copa Libertadores, a tournament featuring Latin America"s top soccer clubs — ended in dismay, as organizers were forced to suspend the match. The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) has now announced that the game will be moved to Madrid, Spain, and take place on Dec. 9.

The violence and subsequent suspension of a game that one local television station described, in somewhat exaggerated terms, as the "world championship," are indicative of acute social tensions in Argentina. They also demonstrate the kind of alienation that results when soccer is more business than entertainment. When it divides more than it unites. When it becomes a matter of "life and death." When it serves as a mechanism for controlling the masses.

Control is, of course relative, as Saturday's incidents showed. The city police thought — inexplicably — that it would be a good idea to let the Boca Juniors bus drive to El Monumental through streets jam packed with rival fans. More than a century's rivalry between the sides (which would be fine had it been civilized), is no trivial matter, and we can add to that the increasing number of low-lives among fans, people who aren't so much admirers of a soccer club as they are louts and criminals.

What had been billed as a "world championship" ended up being a barbaric mess.

The great Maradona, the soccer legend who remains a mythical figure in the capital, politicized the pre-match incident by blaming President Mauricio Macri. He called him "the worst president ever," and commented on how unhappy Argentines have become under Macri's neoliberal, "far-right" regime. "What's happening in my country is awful," he said. "We respect nothing. The president tricked so many people, promising to change this and now we're worse off than before ... You're afraid to go see a match. There is theft everywhere, but this is the change people voted for."

"But what does Macri care? He's always been a millionaire's son," Maradona added as a parting shot. "What does it matter to him if some five-year-old kid in Lomas Zamora a slum district has enough to eat."

All of this hand-wringing over the attack on the Boca bus is another sign of the rotten state of things in the land of tango and great writers. Living standards are in a free-fall, and every day another sector or union joins the social struggle. There have been mass protests over joblessness, and against the spending cuts, de-industrialization and other economic measures that the government, in accordance with the International Monetary Fund, has imposed.

What had been billed as a "world championship" — and may very well be canceled all together — ended up being a barbaric mess, and on the eve, no less, of the next G20 summit, which takes places this weekend (Nov. 30-Dec. 1) in Buenos Aires. Little wonder that Marcelo Gallardo, River's technical director, told Fox Sports to tone things down a bit. It was never a "world championship," he said. Just the final of the now much-tarnished Copa Libertadores.

Perhaps Borges was right in asking himself how an "ignoble, disagreeable, aggressive and essentially commercial" sport had come to win itself so many devotees worldwide. And as last week's events show, that irrational fanaticism can lead to a whole host of other problems.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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