Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Dark Side of Jamesmania

A vendor in Paloquemao Market celebrates the success of millionaire athlete James Rodriguez.
Of all the things which might obsess a nation, one of the last I'd have expected would by the hiring of a Colombian football player by a team in Spain.

While we were obsessing with James Rodriguez...
drought-killed cattle in northern Colombia.
James' shirts fly off the hangars in Spain.
James Rodriguez is undoubtedly a talented football player and seems to be a nice guy. He's also become fabulously wealthy by playing a sport which many others play for fun. Banker Luis Carlos Sarmiento and beer brewer Alejandro Santo Domingo, Colombia's richest men, made their money by decades of getting up early, negotiating deals, hiring employees and analyzing budgets (and, sure, probably exploiting more than a few people along the way) - but they probably receive more resentment and jealousy than admiration from other Colombians.

Rodriguez undoubtedly worked hard, too. But he became rich and famous doing something fun, thanks to lots of inborn ability. And he gets showered with admiration, rather than jealousy.

Colombian footballer Juan Guillermo Cuadrado signing
t-shirts for Colombian children he has helped.
And, while the media and public have been obsessing over Rodriguez's ball-kicking ability, other things have happened in Colombia: There's a terrible drought in parts of the country; El Chocó has been wracked by poverty and violence; A new study found high levels of malnutrition in impoverished Colombian kids; Guerrilla bombings are spilling oil; a mine disaster in El Cauca killed seven people...and on and on.

But that's been eclipsed by Rodriguez. Is Rodriguez's ball-kicking ability really more important than any of that?

A football jersey from James Rodriguez's
foundation Colombia Somos Todos.
Spanish newspapers have questioned whether Rodriguez is really worth 80 million euros, just because he played well in a few World Cup games. They should also ask whether it's ethical for a Spanish company to spend a fortune on a single athlete while millions of Spaniards are unemployed, homeless and hungry.

Colombians should ask whether Rodriguez, a young man who hardly needs millions to survive, will send part of his fortune home to help the needy. I found this ugly list of five ways Rodriguez might spend his money, including buying luxury cars and big mansions. Helping others was last on the list. The Colombian business publication Portfolio has an equally ugly article suggesting that Rodriguez buy a luxury car or a mansion, and pointing out that he'll earn 2 million pesos per hour, more than triple Colombia's monthly minimum wage. Rodriguez's annual salary is greater than Bogotá's planned investment to clean up the Rio Bogotá. How many displaced or sick people could Rodriguez help? Or, will he instead follow in the footsteps of team mate Cristian Ronaldo and spent his fortune collecting luxury automobiles?

Hopefully not. In 2011, Rodriguez created the 'Colombia Somos Todos' foundation. That's a good start. Now that he's earning close to $1 million a month and will surely rake in much more by endorsing things like athletic shoes and deodorant, let's hope he does good with his fortune.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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