Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Colombian History in Football

Colombian footballers above a table football game. 

Colombia's relationship with what is its popular national sport, if not its official one (which is tejo), has  been complex: marked by scandal, tragedy, violence and more than a fair share of disappointment - but always lots of passion.

Bogotá's National Museum has an exhibition called 'A nation made from football' which touches on many of these themes, altho it focuses on the national team's victories and disappointments on the field.

And disappointment. 'It's over.'
Colombia really should be up there with Argentina and Brazil on the international rankings: Colombia's has the population, large people, economic resources and the passion for the sport. But in internatioal competition, Colombia often falls short of its tiny neighbors Paraguay and Uruguay. 

Colombian football, known is some nations as soccer, experienced its golden period in the 1980s and '90s, thanks for a talented generation of players but also to an influx of money, not all of it earned legally.  The men's national team classified for the World Cup most recently in 1998. This year, its prospects aren't bright.

More than most nations, Colombian football has experienced drama off of the field as well as on. The most notorious incident was undoubtedly the 1994 murder in Medellin of defender Andres Escobar, a popular player whose own goal against the United States in the World Cup contributed to Colombia's elimination. Some people accused Escobar, without proof, of having been bribed to throw the game, in which Colombia was favored. Shortly after Escobar's return home he was shot to death in a Medellin nightclub's parking lot.

Pioneering women players. 
During the '80s and '90s, drug kingpins financed football teams both as a matter of pride and because they provided a convenient businesses with which to launder money, since their revenues were difficult to monitor. Today, some Colombian professional football teams continue to be contaminated with drug money, according to authorities. Colombians have recalled to me matches decades ago which were played as if in slow motion, because both teams had been paid to lose - or threatened not to score goals.

As for Colombia's current national team: it's in sixth place of the nine South American nations in the playoffs for the 2014 Brazil world cup. As things stand, Colombia wouldn't qualify - but lots of games have yet to be played.

Costa Rican women's team refused Colombian
 visas because they were 'immoral.'
Speaking of the news, I didn't see much about today's Colombian football, particularly its scandals: the problem of violent fans, called barras bravas, or the scandal which led to the national team's coach ouster after he was seen hitting his girlfriend after a night of partying.

For that matter, the exhibition gives women's football little space, but does show that futbol femenino has come a long way since 1951, when Colombia refused visas to Costa Rica's women's team because they 'violated public morals.' 

Real football. An evening futbolito match in La Candelaria. 
As far as I'm concerned, tho, the money, hero worship and stardom of sports is all secondary. To me, the most beautiful sport is the neighborhood pick-up game, with its good spirits, good fun and healthy exercise.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


city said...

nice idea..thanks for sharing....

Miguel said...

Thanks very much.