THE BLOG

In Argentina, Football as Political Weapon

Imagine Steve Kroft, 60 Minutes anchor, being a critic of President Obama.

Now, imagine Obama mandating the Washington Redskins change their starting time so that Kroft's audience is forced to choose between watching him critique Obama's latest goof or their beloved 'Skins.

Hard to imagine, isn't it. That's because you're probably in America as you read this. Here in Argentina it's a different world.

The Redskin vs. Kroft scenario is precisely what Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is doing here.

Despite Argentina being a Catholic country, the real religion here is football. This 22-player game is the most important aspect of Argentine culture and life in Buenos Aires.

Every Sunday millions go to the stadium to watch their favorite teams or at least watch on TV.

In Buenos Aires, there are seven football teams that belong to Class 1 Division Most are teams with a lot of history and are recognized internationally. Boca Juniors, River Plate, Velez Sarsfiel, Huracan and San Lorenzo are just a few of the teams that have the populace stoked.

Being a football fan in Argentina is something that runs in the blood and the family. A common sight is to see the whole family from grandma right down to the grandson sit together to watch their favorite team.

If, for some reason, a child decides to rebel and becomes a fan of another team, well, heated family arguments result.

It's not unheard of for couples to divorce when they root for different teams.

If you can't silence your critic, use football -- or as it's called in Argentina, fútbol.

Jorge Lanata is a noted investigative journalist in Buenos Aires and he's been a thorn in the side of the corrupt Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner as long as she has been, well, corrupt.

When efforts to silence him on his regular television show failed, Kirchner decided to try to use the national religion of fútbol -- known in America as soccer -- against her foe.

Ever since fútbol and television first connected in Argentina, the games have started at 8:30 in the evening, allowing sufficient time for diehard fans to see what the local favorites were up to and still catch Lanata's latest expose of Kirchner.

The best that the government could do to silence Lanata was to move the starting times of televised games to 9:30, creating a tough choice for the many fans of both fútbol and Lanata.

The new fútbol schedule is due to go into effect on May 26 when Newell's meets Boca in Rosario. The quarterfinals also starts that week adding to the potential for a reduced audience of Lanata.

It's thinking like this that would make Kirchner the laughing stock of politics if her intentions weren't so self-serving.

The government's self serving move ignores two important aspects. First, the later start time will put the fans into a dangerous part of the city when it is already somewhat dangerous to be out.

Second, the fans that travel to watch their heroes play, will be forced to return home in the middle of the night along a route that is already one of the deadliest stretches of highways.

All just to silence a critic.

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