World Tour

Sport at the End of the World

Santiago, Chile – 14 March 2010

Argentina's FlagArgentina and Chile meet at the southern end of the continent of South America, and this area is often referred to as the “end of the world,” or el fin del mundo. Why Sport Matters was fortunate to spend a few weeks checking out the passion for sport of these Latinos.

The biggest news during our time here was the massive earthquake that struck the central coastline of Chile on 27 February. We actually felt the earth shaking in Mendoza, Argentina, which is on the eastern side of the Andes Mountains, but only 150 miles from Santiago. As a result, we spent one week longer in Argentina than planned, and unfortunately cut short our time in Chile to only a couple of days.

Maradona

 

Why Sport Matters started things off in Buenos Aires, an enormous city and the cultural center of Argentina — which is also known for being the home of the tango. In many ways, the dance of the tango reflects Argentinean life — a unique blend of different cultures, mixed together with romance, passion and a touch of melancholy.

When considering sport in Argentina, it is impossible not to bring up the legendary Maradona – arguably the most famous person in the history of the country. Though respected as one of the best football players ever, we found that many Argentineans are embarrassed by some of his personal behaviors and skeptical about his ability as the current coach of the national team. Nonetheless, he has attained a god-like status and remains a very special and symbolic personality for the country.

Football is the biggest sport in Argentina and its national passion. The capital city is the beating heart for the country, and there are too many clubs in the city to even count. Buenos Aires has the five big teams — Racing Club, Independiente, San Lorenzo, and the biggest two (and most famous) are River Plate and Boca Juniors. There are so many teams that some clubs even share the same neighborhood. Check out this YOUTUBE VIDEO that shows the proximity between rivals Racing and Independiente stadiums, only 1 block apart!

Why Sport Matters attended one of the big Buenos Aires derbies, Racing-San Lorenzo. Check out this video to the left that shows the madness inside the stadium.

A tour of Boca Juniors stadium, La Bombonera, and its museum are good examples of the passion of football here. Maradona himself played at Boca and is idolized in the main lobby with a bronzed statue. Take a look at this YOUTUBE VIDEO where we tell more about this football legend (though we were a bit rushed as the staff were closing and escorting us out!).

Argentine BillboardWhile the football clubs play a big role in the sporting culture, the country also screeches to a halt when the national team plays. Argentina has won two World Cups, each with its own fascinating historical context. In 1978, despite having hosted and won the tournament, incredibly it is a negative memory for most Argentineans as it is so closely associated with the brutal military dictatorship during that time period (some of the darker years in Argentina’s history). The victory in Mexico in 1986 is mostly attributable to the greatness of Maradona, who practically single-handedly willed the team to the title. The famous “Hand of God” and his goal against England remain deep metaphors for Argentinean culture. According to one local sport historian, the success of 1986 was able to “wash away” the embarrassment of 1978 and symbolically usher in a new era for Argentina.

The Argentina Football Association (AFA) runs the national teams, and Why Sport Matters spent one day at the national training center on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. This facility is one of the world’s top training centers for football – go to our YOUTUBE VIDEO which gives a behind-the-scenes look at where Maradona will prepare the team before South Africa 2010. This photo shows the building dedicated to the mens’ national team and inside is Maradona’s current office (note the design of the building in the letter “A”).

AFA BuildingThe British came to South America over a century ago to help build trains and transport infrastructure, and also brought with them their sporting culture. While football remains one of the biggest legacies, rugby is also an interesting sporting contribution in Argentina. Though typically associated with upper class and private schools, rugby has a strong club culture throughout the country. Why Sport Matters spoke with several people from the rugby community, including one of the biggest players in history Agustin Pichot, a former Argentina National Team player (who are nicknamed the Pumas). Those in rugby are firm believers that the game is much more than a sport, and represents a code of conduct and lifestyle that is applicable to everyday life. Although the sport remains amateur, the elite players typically find professional teams abroad, and as a result the Pumas have found success on the international stage, having recently finished 3rd at the Rugby World Cup in 2007.

Our stop in Mendoza, in the dry desert inland of Argentina, was highlighted by the famous wine region. Why Sport Matters met with several winemakers who participate in the Fair Trade initiative, which is a programme that ensures basic rights for laborers and establishing environmental standards. We found that several of the participating winemakers include sport as a way to promote healthy lifestyles and teach life skills to the impoverished communities that work in the wine trade.

The drive over the Andes Mountains is stunning with its soaring peaks and desert terrain. Arriving in Santiago, which sits in the valley at the base of the mountains, it was hard not to notice the outpouring of national pride. Only a week after the big earthquake that hit the Chilean coastline, Chileans were feeling a solidarity evidenced by the national flags displayed everywhere. In parallel, the national football team is clearly a rallying cause as one of the five teams from the continent who qualified for the World Cup in South Africa, which takes place now in less than 100 days.

Fuerza ChileChile is another country dominated by football, and they have been quite successful despite their relatively small country. The biggest and most popular football clubs are all based in Santiago – Universidad de Chile, Colo-Colo and Universidad Católica. The popularity of tennis in Chile was helped by the success of Marcel Rios, a former #1 ranked world player in the 90s. Thanks to its proximity to some of the highest mountains in the world, Chile also has a thriving winter sports culture with lots of popular resorts. The country not only produces many of its own top skiers/snowboarders, but serves as a training for the majority of international athletes during the “summer” months in the northern hemisphere. We hope to return to Chile in the future and spend more time getting to know the sport culture.

The next stop for Why Sport Matters is Colombia! We look forward to a week in Bogota, a few days on the north coastal beach towns, and then some time in Medellin where the South American Games kick off next weekend. At the beginning of April, we will spend one last week in Brazil before heading to the south Pacific for visits to Samoa, New Zealand and Australia. See the TRAVEL SCHEDULE for more info, and don’t forget to check out our dedicated pages on:

It was great to meet so many people and make new friends these past few weeks here. A special thanks to Diego, Marissa, Jair, Rodrigo, Pablo, Luis, Lia, Julio, Rafael, Agustin, Mariano and Rafael, Osvaldo, Ivan, Pierre and Melanie, Marcus, Andres and Nico, Maria Jose, Cesar and Alexandra.

Next stop Colombia!

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