The country's resurgent right-wing has blown the whistle on free-to-air footballby David Goldblatt / July 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
In late June this year, on the final day of the football season, Boca Juniors were confirmed as the champions of Argentina’s Primera, the country’s equivalent of the Premier League. The usual delirium in the club’s stadium and in its tight-knit neighbourhood in Buenos Aires was matched in the Casa Rosada a few miles north where President Mauricio Macri, once president of Boca Juniors and a very open and partisan supporter, was also celebrating.
As well as his side’s success, Macri had other reasons to be satisfied. The end of the season also represented an important turning point in the political economy of Argentinian football, one that speaks to the wider economic transformations that the new right-wing president has been pursuing. Boca’s final match of the season, along with every other first division match, was available on television live, direct and free to everyone in Argentina through the semi-public operation Fútbol Para Todos (Football for Everyone). Not for much longer, though. Macri’s economic reforms, which seek to overturn the socialist approach of his two predecessors, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband Nestor, even extend to football. When the new season kicks off in August, Argentina’s biggest games will be available only to those with a cable subscription to the new rights holders Fox and Turner. An electrifying progressive experiment in football broadcasting is over.
The creation of Fútbol Para Todos in 2009 was perhaps one of the most emblematic policies of Cristina Kirchner’s left-wing government, both in terms of content and style. State intervention, which her government used to advance the material interests of the poor, from creating a universal social security system to massively extending workers’ rights, was in this case used to give “the people” something they very much wanted but often couldn’t afford purely because commercial interests had conspired to shut them out. It was also a political weapon, used with all of Kirchner’s characteristic aggression and guile.
Crisis was, as so often, the mother of opportunity for this radical, populist move. It emerged out of the confluence of two events: the government’s long-term struggle with the Clarin media group and a not uncommon crunch in the finances of Argentinian football clubs. In August 2009, with the new season due to begin in just a few weeks, nearly a dozen clubs had been suspended under new Argentinian Football Association (AFA) financial regulations, because they could not demonstrate the capacity to pay their bills. Matters were made worse when the football players’ union won a case in court in pursuit of unpaid wages and many clubs had their assets frozen.