Diego Maradona helps out
15 April ~ The Peace Match in support of ongoing talks between the Colombian government and the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) was held last Friday in Bogota - or at least a version if it. As reported in WSC 331 (August 2014) the match had originally been suggested by Carlos Valderrama in late 2013 when he and other veterans of the national team began hosting the Me la Juego por las Victimas (I Play for the Victims) roadshow, visiting some of the country’s most war-torn areas to promote victim-support programmes and reconciliation.
Originally it was supposed to be between two sides chosen by the government and the guerrillas respectively, but with any actual peace deal still some way off, guerrilla participation was reduced to a message of support from Havana, where the negotiations are taking place.
The match was slotted into a series of events held throughout Colombia and abroad around April 9 in support of the process, which has faced incessant criticism from hawks led by ex-president Alvaro Uribe and a wider scepticism about whether the socio-economic causes of the war are being addressed. The date itself is seen by many as marking the start of the current conflict some 63 years ago.
In the end the occasion was dominated by the presence of Diego Maradona, who fulfilled a pledge he made on live TV to Valderrama during Brazil 2014 to help arrange it. At the Argentinean’s insistence it was held in one of the capital’s poorer areas and entrance was free. This meant just 9,000 squeezing into the El Techo stadium, home to Bogota’s third top-flight team, La Equidad, although it was also shown on local TV.
Introducing the game, the capital’s mayor and ex-guerrilla Gustavo Petro noted that “football ended up as an instrument of violence” in the long-running conflict – most likely a reference to the macabre games played in villages by right wing paramilitaries with the heads of their victims.
Those who got in early first saw a game between Bogota’s women’s team and local female media personalities. The main course featured largely Colombian players of old, with “friends of Maradona” versus ex-players of Bogota clubs Santa Fe and Millonarios. Maradona’s team included Tino Asprilla and Juan Pablo Ángel, and it as they who ran out 2-1 winners thanks to a late (surprise, surprise) Maradona penalty.
Media coverage predictably focused on altercations involving Maradona and journalists afterwards. It is away from the media circus, however, that perhaps the more important work is being done by footballers. Last November “Chicho” Serna, Victor Hugo Aristizabal and other famous local players appeared in the jungle village of El Placer in the oil-rich state of Putumayo, to help remember a paramilitary massacre there 15 years ago. For a change football is helping a country remember rather than forget. Jake Lagnado