In a piece at the Americas Quarterly, Eric Farnsworth speculates about the possible political ramifications of this coming Saturday’s U.S.-Honduras World Cup qualifier. The political stand-off between former president Manuel Zelaya (who is living in the Brazilian embassy in Tegulcigalpa) and those who deposed him in a coup earlier this year is paralyzing the country, even as envoys from the OAS are seeking a negotiated solution. (A recent article by Greg Grandin in The Nation analyzes the situation). But FIFA has declared that the game will take place there nonetheless. Honduras, of course, has a history of politically significant World cup qualifiers: a match with El Salvador famously set off what is known as the “Soccer War” in 1969. The indefatigable and risk-loving journalist Rudyard Kapuscinski wrote a remarkable essay about the conflict, published in his collection The Soccer War. You can read an excerpt from the essay here.
Matches between the U.S. and Central America teams, meanwhile, are often their own kind of war. Many U.S. fans don’t quite comprehend the level of animus that pervades these games and inspires particularly intense and hostile behavior among fans among cheering on their teams against the collussus to the North. But the memory of U.S. interventions in the region, from the Guatemala coup in 1954 to the support of the contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s, is ever-present and haunts much political life in the region. U.S. immigration policies, meanwhile, have a profound impact on many individuals and families in the region. Football matches are a rare opportunity for small countries in the region to take on the U.S. on an even playing field. Though you won’t be able to watch it on television in the U.S., the U.S-Honduras game will be hard-fought one for more immediate reasons, since a victory for the U.S. will send them to South Africa, while one for Honduras will keep them in the running for the World Cup.
What the implications will be for the political conflict in Honduras is more difficult to predict, though if the national team secures a win the current government will likely seek to claim it as not just a national victory but a confirmation of their legitimacy as well. And what will Zelaya, from his internal exile at the Brazilian embassy, say if Honduras wins, or if it loses?