South America

Owning your country's biggest club is a sure-fire way to boost public profile, or even become president. Simon Cotterill explains

For all the allegations, infidelity and plastic surgery, the most surprising aspect of Silvio Berlusconi’s time as Italy’s prime minister is his ownership of AC Milan. It’s not surprising that he finds the time – the mystery is why the fans of Inter, Juventus and all other rival teams don’t form a significant political resistance. Were a Premier League chairman to run in an election, most rival club fans would surely put political preferences aside and vote against him.

Hard-up clubs are establishing partnerships with other businesses in order to make ends meet. Robert Shaw reports

The lucrative business of representing and trading Brazilian players is no longer the exclusive preserve of a motley assortment of ex-players and wide boys. These days investment funds and a range of businesses, including supermarkets, are moving in.

In an effort to control crowd trouble the Argentine authorities have embarked on a unique experiment. Sam Kelly explains

At this summer’s World Cup, police forces in Johannesburg and Polokwane will be more sorely tested than most should Argentine plans to mobilise supporters behind the national team go ahead. In other countries, fan groups find out which tickets they’ve secured and governments sift databases to ensure those with records of violence can’t travel. In Argentina, meanwhile, a non-governmental organisation has been talking to some of the country’s most prominent barra bravas in a bid to eliminate violence from domestic football. Their masterplan? In essence, to help the best-behaved hooligans secure funding to travel to South Africa.

The most famous export of Ecuador's Chota Valley is footballers, as Henry Mance discovered on a visit to the region

One day, when football wastes as much of academics’ time as it already does of everyone else’s, some PhD student will spend three years working out which area in the world has produced the most professional players per capita. And he or she will eventually conclude what Ecuadorians already know: that the winner is the Chota Valley, hands down.

Numbers matter to the supporters of Brazil's biggest club sides but the figures don't always add up. Robert Shaw reports

Flamengo are seen by many as Brazil’s Manchester United – at least when it comes to support, if not titles. Size matters to their fans who proclaim themselves the biggest such group in the world (Maior do Mundo) by draping a large banner to that effect at all Flamengo games in the Maracanã. In a country where the away support for Serie A clubs hardly goes beyond a couple of coach-loads Flamengo routinely manage to compete with, if not outnumber, the home turn-out.

Due to a series of political manoeuvres, Argentine fans can now see more football than ever before. Rodrigo Orihuela explains

Football is a central part of Argentine cultural heritage and, therefore, everybody should enjoy the right to watch live broadcasts of all domestic matches free of charge. This statement does not come from a bitterly disappointed fan tired of ever rising pay-per-view costs. It is actually the crux of the argument used by the Argentine government to justify a £96 million year-long deal to acquire the rights to broadcast football free-to-air.

One club's promotion to the Argentine top flight also means the return of an infamous hooligan gang, as Sam Kelly writes

It was, perhaps, fitting that when Mariano Echeverría scored the only goal of the match away to Platense, which confirmed Chacarita Juniors’ promotion back to Argentina’s top flight, he celebrated in front of empty stands. The match was played behind closed doors – and in La Plata, well away from Platense’s stadium in the north of Buenos Aires – because of security fears surrounding the Chacarita barra brava (hooligans).

Bolivia's home ground in their capital city La Paz has always been controversial, says Keith Richards

If there was any consolation for Bolivians after their national side’s 1-0 defeat on June 6, the first ever on home soil by Venezuela, it was the unquestionable proof that altitude is not unbeatable. A team can come from near sea level and win in La Paz, the world’s highest international football venue, if it is sufficiently motivated and well enough trained – and enjoys the requisite stroke of good fortune. 

Quito’s El Nacional pick only native players, a policy that is coming under increasing pressure. Henry Mance reports

As a boy, Juan Carlos Burbano knew never to support foreigners; for a decade as a player, he tried never to pass to them; and now as a coach he is determined to beat them. Such is a life with El Nacional, the Ecuadorian club which only fields locally-born players. “If the national team can do it, why can’t El Nacional?” says Burbano, referring to Ecuador’s unprecedented qualification for the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. “We’ve got low self-esteem in Ecuador, and sport has helped it recover”. El Nacional’s “pure creoles” rule was the idea of their founder, an army captain. Forty-five years later the rule remains, as does military control.

Joel Richards reports on a new initiative to curb fan violence in Argentina that sounds strangely familiar – and comes at a price

Going to a match in Buenos Aires is one of the main attractions on offer in the capital city, but the price of watching football is set to increase considerably. The Argentine Football Association (AFA) is looking to implement a £41 million project to register football fans, modernise the game’s infrastructure and eradicate violence from the stands. The Supporters Identification Register (PUAI in its Spanish initials) will oblige an estimated four million football fans to register officially in order to attend matches. Paper tickets will no longer exist, and supporters (including tourists) will have to buy online, at cash points or with prepaid vouchers.

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