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Football (Soccer) is the world’s most popular and watched sport, with over 3 billion people watching the final of the World Cup in Qatar alone, where Argentina was crowned champion.  Argentines have remained immersed in soccer fandom from childhood, from local clubs to professional teams. 

Much like all aspects of Argentine culture and society, soccer became infiltrated by ideas of populism and collectivism. When Juan Domingo Perón ran for president in 1946, he campaigned on an anti-U.S. foreign policy platform. Perón’s slogan ‘Braden or Perón’ argued that if he lost, real political power in Argentina would go to the U.S. Ambassador Spruille Braden instead of the elected president. Following this, a new socialist-influenced political climate in Argentina under Juan Peron’s presidency, in Argentina was created. 

State intervention in soccer peaked, largely by politicizing the Argentine Football Federation (AFA). Amid Perón’s efforts for regional dominance, and rivalry with Brazil, Argentina chose not to participate in the 1950 and 1954 World Cups, as well as the 1949 and 1953 South American Championships. Due to the significant migration of Argentina’s top players, Perón instructed the withdrawal to safeguard Argentina’s international reputation.

The policies of Peron were directed at expanding the appeal and infrastructure of sport as a means to project a positive image of his country. Peron was immensely popular with the workers and lower classes. Through this, he sought to use his popularity in the football stadium as a perfect means to promote his ideas of social mobility and nationalism. In 1948 during Perón’s first presidency,  and a climate of worker militancy, the first soccer union (Futbolistas Argentinos Agremiados (FAA) was established. The demands of players were seen as economically detrimental, threatening the existence of professional football in Argentina. Players boycotted matches, leading to a strike, which the AFA (Asociación de Fútbol Argentino) president delayed with promises of recognizing Futbolistas Argentinos Agremiados. In July 1948, due to AFA’s non-compliance, another assembly of players declared a general strike. Clubs threatened legal disciplinary action, however, reconciliation efforts between the players and the club continued. By 1949, before the new championship, the strike was called off. 

Hence, political decisions by the Peronist authorities inevitably contributed to isolating Argentine football from international competition between 1934 and 1958.

Football as a Political Weapon

The exploitation of football soon began from 1976 to 1983. It evolved from a social pastime, into a political weapon to obscure the realities and foster a purported “nationalist sentiment” in Argentina. The 1978 World Cup, hosted by Argentina, served as a distraction from the human rights atrocities committed by Videla’s military regime. The tournament coincided with the peak of disappearances and murders carried out across the country. While Argentina’s national team won the World Cup trophy, their victory was overshadowed by allegations that the military government had rigged matches in their favor. Inadvertently, the footballers became complicit in the regime’s tactics to divert attention from their atrocities through the World Cup spectacle. 

Subsequently, Argentina’s victory against England in the 1986 World Cup was perceived as a nationalist retaliation for the Malvinas War (Falkland Islands War) defeat in 1982. However, the social instability accompanying Argentina’s economic struggles in the latter part of the twentieth century led to a rise in hooliganism at Argentine football stadiums starting in the 1980s. Well into the 21st century, populist governments continued with the Kirchner spouses’ government as the most prominent.  Due to their left-wing populist policies, in 2009, during the government of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the open television program Fútbol para Todos was created under the excuse that only a small sector of the population could watch soccer since it worked with pay TV cable. This populist measure generated millions of losses for the state and direct and unfair competition for all private TV providers. 

However, Argentina’s victory in the 2022 World Cup catalyzed Argentine society to realize the possibility of moving in a new direction and leave aside the harmful collectivist ideas advocated by left-wing populist parties: Radical Civic Union and the Justicialist (Peronist) that impoverished Argentines for decades. In 2023, positive changes emerged in Argentina, with economist Javier Milei, who emerged victorious in the Presidential elections promoting liberal concepts inspired by Rothbard, Mises, and Hayek and promising to return Argentine citizens to the path of liberty,

Hooligans against the privatization of clubs in Argentina

In 2023, a significant event occured in one of South America’s biggest clubs, Boca Juniors. Just days after the presidential elections in Argentina, Boca Juniors elected its president. The strongest candidates were: Former Argentine president Mauricio Macri, who was also president of Boca during the period 1995-2007, during which the club won four Libertadores Cups and two Intercontinental Cups) and Juan Roman Riquelme, former soccer player and star of Boca Juniors. Different visions for football governance prevailed. Macri advocated an executive management approach, and Riquelme championed an openly populist agenda. Despite Javier Milei’s open endorsement of Macri, Riquelme won the election. It should be remembered that under Riquelme’s Presidency in 2019, the club lost 2 Libertadores Cup finals and never emerged victorious. 

This triumph of populism over reason can be attributed to the politicization of many Argentine soccer fans, affiliated with left-wing Trotskyist, Peronist, or Radical movements, often manipulated for political ends. Many of these soccer fans are manipulated for political ends such as organizing violent protests. Unlike other clubs with voting rights for members, President Milei’s decree proposed comprehensive reforms, including the total privatization of Argentine soccer clubs. Privatization could inject capital for stadium renovations and recruit top players, enabling Argentina to compete internationally. However, many fans and members resist change, despite Brazil’s success after privatizing its clubs.

The state and politics must be avoided from football to prevent tainting the sport with state intervention or political desires. The battle lies in convincing people that more team investment leads to better facilities, opportunities for young players, and greater chances of winning. Football is a collective sport and the sum of individuals spontaneously coming together for a common goal. Like everything else, football evolves, and the best way for it to progress is through promoting liberty.

Students For Liberty is the largest pro-liberty student organization in the world.

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