In Argentina, football is a religion. If the derby between Boca and River Plate is Easter Sunday Mass, then the Bombonera Stadium, Boca’s home, is a Holy Trinity of the Vatican, Lourdes and Fatima – a sacred theatre of dreams, miracles and, depending on the score, extravagant benedictions.
A couple of weeks ago, I made my own personal Camino to this place of worship. A procession of the faithful moved slowly through the back streets towards the tabernacle, repeating incantations, bonded together by the low murmur of repetitive chanting. In the same way as medieval monastic orders, from Franciscans to Jesuits, distinguished themselves with different coloured habits – the outward signs of inner differences – Boca’s devotees are a sea of yellow and blue.
Like all religions, this congregation is bonded together by their own sacred scriptures, myths and mysteries, passed down from father to son.
They have their Boca creed which they profess openly, each fan trying to out-do the next in the intensity of their devotion. Tears are not uncommon.
Nothing prepares you for the Buenos Aires derby, the noise, the colour and outlandish drama that this most dramatic of races brings to even the most innocuous challenges on the pitch.
We can only speculate as to the extent to which the collective hysteria of the derby contributes to making Buenos Aires the world capital of psychology; it has more shrinks per head than New York. Is it any wonder they are highly strung?
After all, the canon of Argentinian football deity is impressive.
Think about all the players who have worn the blue and white: Maradona, Messi, Batistuta, Caniggia, Passarella, Zanetti, Mascherano and Di Maria – this is a roll call of world talent.
These are all mesmerising players, but apart from being Argentinian footballers, what else do they have in common?
Look again at the surnames. Notice that all these giants of the beautiful game, in this Spanish-speaking country, have Italian names.
Indeed, come to think of it, so too does the Argentine Pope, Cardinal Bergoglio and that most infamous of locals (for those who remember Las Malivinas/Falklands War at least), General Leopoldo Galtieri.
Argentina feels like Italy in the South Atlantic.
Millions of Italians, the grandfathers and great grandfathers of Maradona, Messi and the Pope, moved from Italy to Latin America in the later part of the 19th century and with them they brought Italian ways.
In fact, some of my non-Italian Argentinean friends claim that the Italians brought with them the three things from the Old Country – fashion, football and corruption.
This may be a bit harsh; but wherever it came from, corruption and bribe paying is certainly endemic in Argentina. It is part of everyday life. If you want something done, you pay for it and the State is the corrupter-in-chief.
A friend suggested to me after the game that democratic Argentina was perfect for corruption because once you start buying votes; you have to buy them all.
He indicated that once in the system, corruption is amplified by democracy because the ballot boxes aren’t rigged and every vote is equal, therefore, the corrupter has to set about corrupting everyone, not just the wealthy. This is how everyone becomes debased over time and how the whole system comes to tolerate being bribed.
I had never thought about it like this before. I preferred the old notion that in some way democracy was a bulwark against corruption.
However, the Argentines argued the opposite. Corruption, they argued, is like a weed in a garden. The garden can look green and verdant from afar, but up close it is choked. It is still alive and growing – but with weeds not flowers.
Argentina started being corrupt when it was already wealthy. This country was, in 1949, the fourth richest nation in the world in terms of GDP per head.
Argentina, he said, was therefore set up for corruption because it had the money. A bit like FIFA, he added.
As we chatted amongst football fans, the similarities between Argentina and FIFA became obvious.
There is a lot of money and resources in the country and loads of mouths to feed. If you can engineer the right outcome, you control a massive country. Therefore, there is a massive incentive at the top to pay everyone off and gain power.
This can be all orchestrated and made legitimate by a one-man-one vote, transparent ballot system that looks completely fair but can, in fact, be used as the perfect cover for corruption.
If you look at FIFA as a massive democracy where the one-man one vote system is sacrosanct, we can see the similarities.
Huge footballing countries like Argentina or Germany have the same votes as tiny countries where the game is hardly played. Therefore to get something through, the votes of tiny and, in many cases, poor countries are equal to powerhouses.
Obviously it is easier to slip a bung to a small guy or treat their delegates very well on junkets to influence the vote.
But what about the money – where does it come from?
FIFA gets its bread from the World Cup. This is a licence to print money.
We all know this and the TV companies, backed by massive advertisers and sponsors drive up the purse for each event. FIFA owns this franchise, meaning it becomes as rich as Croesus.
What’s more, the man who runs it can identify the areas he wants to exploit and deploy capital at will, either to make things happen – or to make things go away.
Interestingly, the money is a massive subsidy from the footballing powerhouses to the little guys, through the grubby hands of the middle-man, FIFA.
Why is it a subsidy?
Well, because we all watch the World Cup to see Messi, Aguero, Neymar and the great European players.
We want to see the best players, playing for the best countries in the best competition in the world. This is the main event and FIFA is the promoter, financier and bagman all rolled into one.
So like once-rich Argentina, there’s a lump of money and lots of poor countries that can be bought off very easily.
There is also a massive incentive for the guys at the top to stay in power.
When you stand back at look at it, if you wanted to create a corrupt system, you couldn’t have gone about it better than the system FIFA and Sepp Blatter created.
As I walked back through the streets of La Boca and looked around at all the fans, our kit, our time, our money – one word comes to mind: suckers.
David Mc Williams hosts the Dalkey Book Festival this weekend www.dalkeybookfestival.org
Subscribe – not your finest hour David but I know you have been busy this week.
“As I walked back through the streets of La Boca and looked around at all the fans, our kit, our time, our money – one word comes to mind: suckers” I couldn’t agree with you more. In the lebanon the christians and muslims would be mowing each other down in gun battles and then would have a cease fire to watch a soccer match. Once over it was back to mowing each other down. Madder than a bonbon I’d say. As for the south Americans no chance to allow thugs and scum bags get the kudos for allowing soccer to… Read more »
“He indicated that once in the system, corruption is amplified by democracy because the ballot boxes aren’t rigged and every vote is equal, therefore, the corrupter has to set about corrupting everyone, not just the wealthy. This is how everyone becomes debased over time and how the whole system comes to tolerate being bribed. I had never thought about it like this before. I preferred the old notion that in some way democracy was a bulwark against corruption” Thats odd.Do you not live in Europe? For example; Remember Hitler? He bribed the whole population with jobs reducing the unemployment rate… Read more »
and in these parts we have huge numbers queing to throw money on the shirt of the chosen , hence becoming a walking billboard for the biggest and most corrupt corporations on the planet, sheep protecting wolves?
“When you stand back at look at it, if you wanted to create a corrupt system, you couldn’t have gone about it better than the system FIFA and Sepp Blatter created.”
That is NOT correct at all David.
Someone like Richard Scudamore, if he or she gets control of FIFA, will create a ‘legal’ apparatus that will never actually expose them to any kind of investigation or prosecution, but in moral terms it will be far more corrupt than anything Blatter could dream up.
Bread & circuses
Corruption is endemic
Nice headline. I could have written that myself. Wait , I think I already did.
but it is not restricted to soccer. It is a fact of life in every sphere.
Follow the money is the cry. But we do not go back far enough as we are distracted by mini events, like a world cup soccer contest.
If the money system itself were not corrupt then there would be little of it available for the soccer mafia or the government mafia.
Argentina: If you want to be utterly depressed and equally shocked by the depraved corruption of the human spirit then feel free to read “Stunted Lives, Stagnant Economies: Poverty, Disease & Underdevelopment” by Eileen Stillwaggon (1998) detailing the 20th century decline of Argentina from a First World to a Third World country, it is genuinely shocking in its gruesome chronological catalogue of how the once-heralded Argentinian State degrades into a murderous impoverished failed state. It demonstrates linearly how corruption begets corruption till finally corruption itself becomes official state policy, which ultimately manifests itself as official State policy of ‘disregard for… Read more »
” This is how everyone becomes debased over time and how the whole system comes to tolerate being bribed.” another way of saying “we all get the government we deserve.” It is what we collectively allow to happen. It is what we tolerate. That is why we have a banking system based on debt. nobody can be assed to look at it and do something. What you might ask? How about educating yourself about it. Seeing the relevence to your daily life and the lives of others. Then educating your freiends and family. Getting a consciousness in the public domaim.… Read more »
Sorry Adam, here we go again. I can’t bring my self to talk about two bit coin but rather about bit gold or as in this case how Zimbabwe could have monetised the gold in the ground and placed a proper money system rather than the policies of hyper inflation of thousands percent per annum that occurred.
At the time a lot of people panned gold from streams to get the money to buy food. No other money was accepted.
As James Turk points out:
Eventually people are going to understand that all of this fiat currency that is backed by nothing but IOUs is only as good as the IOUs are good. And in the current environment, the IOUs are so big, a lot of promises are going to be broken.
This is why extreme monetary inflation is always accompanied by economic collapse.
One of the reasons, I suspect, why you had ’never thought about it that way before’ and likely still don’t, is that you have the capacity for rational and logical thought and moral reasoning, as least I would guess as much. Suggesting that there is equivalence between democracy and corruption is a claim that requires a large amount of proof and, at least in this article, has not been forthcoming. The implication that democracy is the process of voting is a very narrow definition or understanding of democracy. Citing a corrupt institution, and it’s corrupt processes which also uses a… Read more »
Who is the corrupted here?
Here is the ultimate corruption. Control of the money supply by manipulating the PM’s especially the silver market.
Hi Mike, I signed your(?) petition. You are preaching to the converted as regards the necessity to (RE)introduce to Irelands constitution the ‘referendum and the initiative’ and additionally the recall option. Are you involved in or aware of any organisation working towards this goal? I have read Darrell Figgis’ short work “The Irish Constitution Explained” and was inspired at the vision he presented as regards the governance of Ireland. I also support the description of the Senate as was originally intended in his 1922 publication, and rather than abolish the Senate, I believe reforming it in the manner that he… Read more »
Off topic I know but I was just listening to a Jim Willie interview and he said that the Fed in the US is circumventing its nonsense of a taper by getting 5 countries including IRELAND, Switzerland, Cayman, Luxembourg, and Belgium to go long (already done) to the tune of 820bn US treasuries!
Does anyone in fail eireann have a clue whats going on in your opinion? How will we save our kids when the bond bubble pops?
” If you can engineer the right outcome, you control a massive country. Therefore, there is a massive incentive at the top to pay everyone off and gain power.”
Those who control the issuance of money, control all else. The central banking system control countries economic policies and politicians and through the IMF and BIS stretch their reach in an international umbrella. It casts a dark shadow over the world.
Much as I admire Mr McW’s earlier work I have to say this column made me laugh, and not in a good way Going all the way to Argentina, via FIFA corruption, seems a little bit excessive, when all one has to do to see pure 100% corruption in action is merely take a gander at the recent shenanigans of one Mr Denis O’Brien and his oh-so-fortunate deal to by SiteServe at a bargain price. Throw in his not-allowed-to-be-reported cosy little backroom-boysclub deals with state-owned Anglo/IBRC and you have all the corruption any journalist worthy of the name could want.… Read more »
Now there’s an obvious Ponzi Scheme we can all get behind, eh?
Be part of a pyramid scheme and “Save the Planet(!!!!!)”, all at the same time!
what’s not to like?
Observed on a toilet door recently.
F A I = FANS ARE IDIOTS.
That sums it all up for me.