When soccer beats politics

Por Walter Calabrese *

The cancellation of the soccer game that was supposed to be played by the Argentine National Team versus Jerusalem, has left expose the political plot that was intended to naturalized the idea of Jerusalem to be the capital of the Hebrew state. This sport gathering was originally going to be played at Haifa City a Branch that represented previously the dual color jersey white and blue but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked the President of Argentina specifically for the game to be played in Jerusalem, and he agreed. As a logic result of the alignment with the international politics that are being lead by president of United States, Donald Trump, and it’s unconditional ally Israel. This uncalculated idea from the Argentine Chancellery and National government authorities have exploded like a grenade exposing Argentina to an international diplomatic embarrassment without considering the safety of the soccer team as a whole that would be in a danger zone of high military conflict and action between Palestinians and Israelis.

It’s a moment in which the world doesn’t recognize Israel the right to declare Jerusalem as their own capital city, who looks with concern the relocation of the American Embassy that in fact has generated a ferocious repression to the Palestinian activist at the border of Gaza, resulting with the deaths of 60 killed by Israelíes straight-shooters in this conflict. The Argentine external policy is looking towards elsewhere and the Argentine Fútbol Association argues that the Argentinian national team is just going there for good luck, like a prior game played in 1986 and end up winning the World Cup. To go there and play the game was to stand openly showing support to Israeli side in the territorial occupation claim from Palestina.

The game was intended to crown the 70th anniversary of the Israelí estate and to show the world that Jerusalem is their land. For that matter, it’s hard to understand the lack of knowledge of the national officials to comprehend the dedicated balance that exist today in the Middle East. Doing a quick research on historic backgrounds,we can track the source of the conflict with the Palestinian people when Israel occupied east of Jerusalem in 1967 resulted in the triumph of the so called “Six War Day “.

Later,in 1980 Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as their unique and undivided.This situation has never been accepted by the U.N. because the city had an international status shared with Palestinian. Today the continuing policy of new settlements in the territory border line with Gaza and Cisjordania fuels the conflict daily.

For the Israeli government it wasn’t just a innocent game to play. They figured the most famous ambassador of sport, Leonel Messi visiting the wailing wall was the perfect combo to cheer the 70th anniversary celebration with the game been played in Jerusalem. The Minister of Culture, Miri Regev was confident that the encounter was going to be a victory for Israel.

In that political stage no one considered that for the Palestinian it wasn’t going to be a friendly game but a provocative action against their people, been the Argentine national team the perfect tool to clean the image of the Estate that has urgent need to be legitimized by the international community, far beyond the unconditional help from United States.

The ball won’t get dirty

While the Argentine players trained in the sports complex of the barcelunio, a strong wind that brought shouts of protest crossed the place and immediately unsettled the establishment. A group of protesters mobilized to show their discontent with the party they were going to play with Israel, from a megaphone came the warning message for the selection: “Stop supporting and whitewashing the image of Israel in the world,” “Messi, do not go “, finally it was heard” as Maradona said, the ball does not get dirty “. In addition, the pro-Palestinian group wore national team shirts stained with blood and even burned an Argentine flag a few days before, the weather had begun to grow thin when seventy Palestinian boys wrote a letter to the captain of the selected one asking him “do not break their hearts”. That admiration for the best player in the world generated a great contrast in their lives, since the game was to be played at the Teddy Kollek stadium, built on the village of Al Malha, which was devastated by the Israelis.

The Palestinian ambassador in Buenos Aires, Husni Abdel Wahed, also expressed himself against the meeting: “This party is like we celebrated the anniversary of the occupation of Malvinas, this would be an aberration, a lack of respect and an aggression to the feeling of Argentine people “.Tuesday was more political than sporty for Argentinian players whose quick reflexes, met and asked Tapia, president of the AFA, who refused to travel to Jerusalem because they thought it was risky to travel to a conflict zone. For the squad and for Sampaoli, the match agreed upon in Jerusalem brought more damages than benefits, since they had to travel more hours, lose training time and risk of injury. The threats against Messi and the selection ended up closing the issue. Without knowing it, maybe, in those moments they were making a political decision, they told him not to the failure of the AFA to agree on that meeting and, at the same time, they said that they did not want to be used politically so that the Argentine government can get well aligned with Israel.

The players and the coaching staff focused on the sport and the human aspect, however, the AFA and the Macri government thought about the economic and political revenue.

Striker Gonzalo Higuain clearly expressed the feeling of the Argentine squad: “Obviously there is common sense first, so we believe that the correct thing was not to go”. Borges said that “common sense was the least common of the senses”, an appointment that today fits with unusual precision to describe the impericiousness of the foreign policy of the Cambiemos government. Lacking reflexes, without appealing to the least common sense -that today would be that murmur of the fan who shouted to not expose unnecessarily to players in a city in conflict-, Macri and the AFA remained in the eye of the storm because they did not calculate the consequences of a risky and untimately decision a few days before the start of the World Cup.The president even tried to persuade the players to play the game at the Haifa stadium, after a telephone request from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the players remained firm in their position of not to traveling. Here, the establishment was adjusted to the definition given by the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) to the common sense expression: “way of thinking and proceeding as would the generality of people”, that is to say,most people today think it was inconvenient to expose players after being threatened in an area where there are usually different types of attacks and bloody actions. Of course, for the government that expression is not included in their usual actions, it is hard to put oneself in the place of the other, what we commonly call empathy is also part of common sense. The government only manages to measure the political costs of its actions and to know if its image has fallen. What they could not predict is that this time football won the game of politics, because the players prioritized the human rather than any economic return.The manipulation of sport to legitimize political positions and actions of a government is not something new, in the 1936 Olympic Games Nazism took advantage of the sporting event to show the world the “magnificence” of the regime that at that time was beginning to be led by the then Chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler. On that occasion, the sport was an instrument to make visible the Nazi power through an unusual propaganda program for the time.

Much closer to us is the sad memory of the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, where the de facto government tried to show the world that we were rights and humans. While we celebrated the world cup in the streets, the dictatorial regime won by a thrashing of respect for life. Israel tried to do something similar, use the brightness of Messi’s figure to naturalize the idea that Jerusalem is the capital of his country. They could not, the firmness of the Argentine players overcame any strategy to legitimize their international image. Here, the government of Cambiemos is expectant, anxious for the start of the World Cup in Russia, is restless and uncomfortable at the same time, since he hopes to take advantage of those days when people are left suspended in time by the football enthusiasm to filter decrees and bills that are considered harmful to the rights of workers, such as the labor reform law. Today, that possibility is suspended for two reasons. One, the goal of the players who told him not to be used politically. The other is easily explained by the political weakness that the government is dragging because it can not tame the elusive colt of the economy.The problem is that they are always looking at the international rostrum, they make every move trying to please them in the game of geopolitics. Thus, they lose sight of those who play from home in their own land, where inflation seems to win by beating the worker’s pocket. Be careful, they seem democratic, but they leave many doubts.

“If bad is the gringo that is buying us, worse is the criollo who is selling us” Arturo Jauretche


* International analyst