Mafia Wars Argie Style, or: „Free Futbol for the Masses!“

„Only in Argentina“ doesnt even begin to do justice to the absurdity of this story.

Argentine first division futbol, originally scheduled to begin this coming weekend, has been stalled by a series of conflicts. On the one hand the numerous debts that different clubs have with their own players, and on the other hand a conflict between the Argentine Football Association and the clubs on the one side, and „Torneos y Competencias“ the television channel which owns the rights to televise Argentine futbol until the year 2014. Long story short: AFA/Clubs say they are getting a far too small cut of the profits generated by television revenue, and TyC saying it is already giving more than enough.

Let me remind our readers that the AFA is run by one of Argentinas worst mobsters, „President for Life“ Julio Grondona. On the other hand, „TyC“ doesnt lag far behind. They are part of the „Grupo Clarin,“ Argentinas most infamous media monopoly, and have played a great hand in the process of „Europeanizing“ Argentine futbol (until recently hand in hand with the AFA). More expensive ticket prices, games no longer all on Sunday but rather spread out over three days in order to televise more of them, „pay per view“ futbol as in Europe, and less and less away fans in the stadiums.

Just when it seemed like we were in for a long stalemate, and a rather unexciting economic negotation between the two parties, in comes a new character into this tale of warring factions of the Argentine economic and political mafia: Argentine ex-President Nestor Kirchner. Mr. Kirchner, along with his wife and current President Cristina, have been engaged in a long running battle with the Grupo Clarin, as „Grupo Clarin“ has used its considerable influence on public opinion (they control the news channel „Todo Noticias“ as well as Argentinas most important newspaper „Clarin,“ among other media outlets) to routinely criticize the government.

Grondona and Kirchner held a secret meeting sometime last week. Originally, Grondona intended to ask Kirchner for him to apply pressure in order to legalize sports betting in Argentina, in order to secure greater revenues for the AFA and clubs. Instead, Kirchner decided to offer something even better:

The AFA should break their contract with „Torneos y Competencias.“ In turn, Kirchner will arrange so that the state owned „Canal 7″ shells out 600.000.000 pesos (approx. 120 million euros) to buy the rights to televise all Argentine football…***for free and on public television.***

One might be tempted to be scandalized at the government of a poor country shelling out such a fortune for football, rather than other projects. On the other hand, is there possibly a better investment in a country such as Argentina than football? Is the state run television equipped to handle televising all the games? Argentina being notably corrupt, and Argentine government usually setting the (high) standard for corruption…where will the money end up?

For the moment, lots of questions and few certainties. Certain is that, with Argentina running the risk of missing out on South Africa 2010, Grondona is playing one of his last cards to continue his decades long hold on power. On the other hand, the Kirchner „dynasty“, after having been defeated in the latest parliamentary elections has achieved a great coup against the „Grupo Clarin.“ Not only that, for a self-proclaimed „government of the people“ to „rescue“ football and offer it for free to the masses is probably the closest you can get in this day and age to building a Coliseum in the middle of a city and offering „bread and circus“ to the masses.

The final, and probably most unheard of certainty: in a conflict between political, economic, and media elites there is (at least for the moment) a direct positive consequence for the „masses“: free futbol!

PS Today at 20:45 Buenos Aires time, the AFA has officially announced in a press conference the dissolution of its contract with „Torneos y Competencias.“ They also announced that futbol will return on the 21st of August (thank god!), with or without television. They refused to confirm or deny who will be televising Argentine futbol in the future.

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