By Catesby Holmes
The panic about swine flu reached a new pinnacle of absurdity this morning when a Mexican soccer player apparently threatened a Chilean rival with swine flu. In the 88th minute of a tied match in Latin America's annual tournament for soccer clubs, the Libertadores Cup, Hector Reynosa, of the Guadalajaran squad Chivas, coughed and launched snot into the face of Sebastián Penco, a forward on Chile's Everton team.
A Chilean media outlet immediately tied Reynosa's actions to swine flu fears, titling its story about the fight: "Mexican spat at Everton player in midst of swine flu panic."
This unsavory quarrel reflects not only the global terror that the virus has caused but also, and especially, the havoc it is wreaking on the Libertadores Cup. Two Mexican teams, San Luís de Potosí and Chivas Guadalajara, have emerged as contenders in the octavofinals-but in a country where restaurants, theaters, and schools are closed on government orders, the teams' futures are uncertain.
Competing octavofinal squads like Argentina's Boca Juniors, which will face San Luís in the next round, have expressed concern about playing on the Mexican's home turf. The Argentine team has already bought its airline tickets to and from Guadalajara, but "we'd be concerned if we ended up having to go to Mexico," said Jorge Amor Ameal, of Boca Juniors. Though he then asked for "solidarity with our Mexican brothers, and not to think so much about the sports aspect" of the lamentable situation.
Earlier this week the South American Football Association (Conmebol) announced that the Mexican teams would relocate to Bogotá to host home games at its El Campín stadium. But yesterday the Colombian capital's government rejected the bid, citing the World Health Organization pandemic warnings. The directors of Conmebol have scheduled a meeting to determine whether the Mexican teams will continue to compete for the coveted Libertadores trophy¬, or if they will be obliged to withdraw from the tournament.
For his part, the Mexican defender Hector Reynosa quickly apologized for his actions during today's game, but added that he would not put up with "people calling us lepers."
In related news, on Thursday the Mexican daily El Universal published an article revealing that an online vendor is selling $24 tee-shirts bearing the slogan, "I Went to Mexico and All I Got was Swine Flu." Neither Mexican nor American officials have commented on the offending shirts yet.
Though it could be said that Reynosa did.
Catesby Holmes is an assistant editor at Travel + Leisure magazine.