Medellin, Colombia – 13 April 2010
The final country to visit on the Why Sport Matters tour of South America was Colombia. To say that Colombia is different than what we had expected is an understatement. Not only is it naturally beautiful with several diverse climates, but the people are warm and went out of their way to make us feel welcome and introduce us to the real Colombia. In addition, their passion for sport has been intertwined with the history of the country, and is a good example of how sport reflects culture.
The capital city of Bogota is the business centre and largest city. Although located right on the equator, it sits at an altitude of over 2,000 meters, which means it never gets very hot. It has a vibrant nightlife, with several bustling universities and many cultural attractions. It is amongst the steep and mountainous terrain of this region that some of the world’s top cyclists are found, with Colombians world renowned as the best climbers in racing. As a result, cycling is very popular in Colombia. Bogota originated a programme called Ciclovia, where every Sunday the main streets of Colombia’s largest cities close down to allow citizens to hit the streets in bicycles, rollerblades and running shoes.
Colombia has a stronger cultural association with the USA than most South American countries. This can be seen in Cartagena, a colonial city that lies on the northern coast of the country where the climate is hot and humid and typical of a Caribbean beach town. Across the entire coastal region, baseball fields are found everywhere and cheering from nightly matches can be heard in the air. Both men and women play baseball – and various forms like softball and kickball. Check out the YOUTUBE VIDEO that Why Sport Matters shot from a night game. In addition, this region also produces some great boxers, not to mention some notable football players including the legendary Carlos “El Pibe” Valderrama (see photo which is evidence to his continuing popularity).
Why Sport Matters timed a visit to Medellin for the 2010 South American Games, a multi-sport competition for the continent that takes place every four years. Medellin is a stunning city of 3 million wedged in a valley between 2 mountain ridges. The city has been plagued in recent history from the time of the drug traffickers and the notorious Medellin drug cartel (see Pablo Escobar), and years of violence. But the city is transforming itself through investment in the city and engaging its citizens to get involved. City planners are using these South American Games as part of this resurrection and change in identity, and Why Sport Matters made the above video report to capture a bit of this amazing story. Some of the stories of these Games are fascinating: free entrance to all sporting events, a closing ceremony conducted in the open street (also free to the citizens), and an athlete village built in the middle of one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where local families will move into the apartments following the Games.
Football is still king in Colombia and there is a vibrant league system with clubs like America from Cali and the famous Millonarios in Bogota. Millonarios was at the center of the famous “El Dorado” period of football in the 50’s, where the Colombian First Division served as a renegade league that paid big money to attract the world’s top players, like Alfredo di Stefano. The Copa Liberatores (the Champions’ League for South America) creates some of South America’s best football and Colombia has had good success in the past, and therefore pride in its country.
As football is such a glamour sport in Colombia, it did not escape the influence of the drug-trafficking community. In the 80-90s, when the Colombian drug cartels were at the height of their power (and wealth), many of the professional clubs fell under the control and ownership of the drug kingpins. Most Colombians remember this time as a dark period in club football history, and there was subsequently a strong movement to rid football of these criminal elements. Ironically, this was a golden period for the national football team, when Colombia was considered the top team in South America for several years (some say in part to the drug money), and achieved key success on the world’s stage. In 2011, Colombia will play host to the FIFA u-20 World Cup, another piece of the puzzle to position the country on the world’s stage.
It was only recently that the Colombian sport of tejo (see photo of Lisa playing) was given the title of “national sport”. A relatively simple pastime that comes from the rural farms north of Bogota. It is a social game that is almost always played with beer, with the loser buying the drinks for the winner (hence both parties consume liberally under the assumption of victory). The original name was Turmeque (after the town where it originated), but to simplify things was changed to tejo, the name of the lead weight used to play. Check out this YOUTUBE VIDEO of the Why Sport Matters team trying their hand at the sport (and a special thanks to Marcos for taking us).
Why Sport Matters spent an afternoon at Cafe de Colombia, the huge exporter of coffee under the Juan Valdez brand. The company is a heavy investor in sport sponsorship (including Roland Garros French Open, and Colombian golfer Camilo Villegas). Cafe de Colombia has a corporate philosophy where all profit is returned to the coffee growers and allows them to invest in their own community. Sport sponsorship is a key element of the company’s marketing strategy and helps keep Colombia one of the world’s leaders in coffee production.
Colombia also has a famous face in Juan Pablo Montoya, the racing car driver who has found international success in several disciplines (Indy Car, Formula 1, and now on the NASCAR circuit). The photo below was taken with FIFA Master pal Marcos Fina from pit lane at Montoya’s home track just north of Bogota.
The final days for Why Sport Matters were spent back in Brazil, where our meeting with the CBF was cancelled due to the rains and floods of Rio. But we did find time to watch legendary club Botafogo play at the Havelange stadium (where athletics will be held during the Rio 2016 Olympics). In Sao Paulo, it was a beautiful day at the Morumbi stadium (which will host matches of 2014 FIFA World Cup) to watch the first semi-final leg of Sao Paulo-Santos match-up. The young Santos team (with Robinho in attack) proved too much for the hosts and won 2-3 with a last-minute goal. Thanks to Virgilio for the nice day.
A special appreciation goes out to our FIFA Masters friends in Colombia, as well as Rachel Gonzales, who was the first friend to join our trip and a big help during her three weeks with us. Why Sport Matters was happy to do a presentation for Alvaro’s Sports Marketing class at the Universidade de los Andes. In Bogota, thanks to Felipe, Arnulfo, El Golombiao, COLDEPORTES, Ciclovia. In Medellin, thanks to the Cardenas family, IOC members Andres Botero and Carlos Nuzman, Clemencia, Sergio, Maria, Daniel, Alicia Vargas, Mayor Alonso Salazar and Juan Bautista at COLUMBIANITOS. In Brazil, was great to see Pedro, Cadu, Alyssa, Jeff, Alexandra, Pedro, Ana and Andrea Orchis, Virgilio, Patricia (+Ben), Mame and Frigerio, Fernanda, and all of Marcelo’s “sports friends”.
The next stop for Why Sport Matters is Samoa in the South Pacific! This will be followed by stops in New Zealand and Australia. See the TRAVEL SCHEDULE for more info, and don’t forget to check out our dedicated pages on: