Monthly Archives: November 2010

Yellow and Green in Haiti: A Footnote to the Election Crisis

In the midst of the brewing crisis over the election in Haiti, I’m taking solace in small, containable observations. Jude Celestin, the ruling party candidate who now stands accused by twelve other candidates of having carried out fraud at the polls today, made a shrewd choice in his campaign colors. As Emily Troutman noted in a pre-election article on the candidates, the green and white of his posters and shirts are the same as those of the Brazilian national team. Which means a huge swath of the Haitian population already had a shirt ready to wear if they wanted to go to a rally for Celestin. To top it off, his number — the one voters were to check if they chose him — was none other than #10.  You can see musician Gasman Couleur sporting his Brazil #10 shirt at a Celestin rally (photo from

Basically, it was as if Celestin was trying to channel the spirit of Pelé. It doesn’t seem, for now, to have really worked. One of Celestin’s rivals, meanwhile, the singer Michel Martelly, has opted for a bright pink as his campaign color, as Emily Troutman also notes. (Her tweets from Haiti have been extremely informative today.) Which prompted one of the few humorous tweets to come out about Haiti today, which hoped that if Martelly wins he won’t change the red and blue of Haiti’s flag to pink and red. In a pre-election rally, meanwhile, Martelly taunted Celestin, suggesting maybe he was bad luck for Brazil. “You’ve seen Celestin’s posters, right? Green and yellow? That’s probably why Brazil keeps losing.”

There was, until this morning, cautious optimism that the election would go ahead relatively smoothly. Now, with candidates calling for an annulment of the election and demonstrations tomorrow and the electoral commission declaring the election is valid, it’s unclear what is going to transpire this week. But we are likely heading into a serious political crisis of accusation and counter-accusation, perhaps worse. I’ll offer one half-joking hope: maybe the fact that there is a Real Madrid-Barcelona match (El Clasico) is being played tomorrow will cool things down a bit? The game is always a major draw in Haiti, as Laura Wagner reported here last Spring.

Moments like this leave me wishing politics was a little more like football where — for all the drama, inscrutability, tragedy, and unfairness — there at are least some rules, and you know that at some point the game will end.

Kicking the Silence

A few days ago, before the U.S. Women’s Team’s first game against Italy in World Cup qualifying, Abby Wambach told the New York Times that the (obviously slightly bitter) joke on the team was that they had to do badly this year in order to get media attention. “The irony of the whole thing is that when the U.S. men win, they get the coverage, but when the U.S. women lose, we get the coverage. . . The joke among us is that we planned it this way and that we knew this was the only way to get the coverage that we think we deserve.”

Now the team has squeaked a little closer to making it to the World Cup with a true last-minute goal against Italy in Padua. Next week’s game in Illinois will determine whether this becomes the first Women’s World Cup not to include the U.S., long one of the dominant teams in the competition.

The last weeks have represented one of the most interesting and important transformations in the history of global women’s football, suggesting an expansion and a shift in the dynamics of the game. Mexico’s victory over the U.S., and the prominence of U.S.-born women’s players on foreign teams, have highlighted the rise of the women’s game in other country’s and the attendant pressures put on the U.S. within this larger competition. It’s exciting, dramatic, and certainly worth following. The latest game had some remarkable drama to it, since in fact the game probably should have stopped before Alex Morgan scored the bold winning goal. Still, with U.S. qualification hanging by a thread it’s a frightening, perhaps decisive, moment, as Jennifer Pel noted.

Alex Morgan at U-20 World Cup This Past Summer

But, as Jennifer Doyle has pointed out in an appropriately furious blog post, it has been very difficult to follow all of this except via twitter. As she wrote about yesterday’s game: “Most of us fans didn’t see today’s game. We couldn’t. ESPN exiled the match to the dark corner of the internet known as “” – accessible only to some cable television subscribers.” The ESPN reporter assigned to the game wasn’t actually there. Worse, about the next, decisive match to be played next Saturday: “Right now there is no plan to show the match on television. SHAME ON ESPN, the sexist bastards.”

She’s urging, via twitter, that we call ESPN to urge them to actually show the crucial game.

A decade after 1999, it’s amazing that this is still where we’re at. The usual booster stories about soccer in the U.S., in classic American fashion, make it sounds like a story of inevitable progress and expansion, a manifest destiny of sorts. Increasingly, though, especially for women’s soccer, it seems like we might be caught instead in some sort of nightmarish labyrinth, where moments of triumph and seemingly irrefutable progress just lead us back into silent alleys again. After decades of institutional investment, the development of tremendous talent, the incredible devotion of millions of players and fans, it’s still impossible to see a crucial international game on TV.

What will make a change? A march on ESPN? A million players, in their uniforms, on the mall, demanding to be heard, and seen?

Karim! Redux: France 2, England 1

An irruption of football into an otherwise glum Wednesday afternoon: what could be better?

Even better since it delivered a nice showing today by the French team, to my relief. And in Wembley no less. Between the two teams, France is clearly limping out of the hospital a little more quickly, it seems. Though it must have been a stressful afternoon for Arsene Wenger, as Liz Hottel pointed out.

What is so pleasing about this is that they not only pass the ball around nicely and set up good plays, but the result is actually, with some frequency, the scoring of goals, rather than a perpetual string of near misses. They seem at ease on the pitch, able to build up, with a certain understanding. It’s like watching a real football team! The first goal here by Benzema was inspiring.

Meanwhile, nice to see the U.S. do well against South Africa, and nice too to see the Cape Town Stadium — where I spent a delicious evening watching Holland-Uruguay this past World Cup — being used for the event, a fund-raiser for the Mandela Children’s Fund. Peter Alegi provided this nice preview of the match-up, and of U.S. soccer more broadly, from his perch in Cape Town, and a nice report from the game. I also recommend his excellent dispatches of the recent African Women’s World Cup, also played in South Africa in recent weeks, culminating in a victory for Nigeria.

Watching Ghana Beat the U.S. with Mick and Bill

Courtesy of Grant Wahl’s twitter feed, here’s another take on one of the defining moments of the World Cup: the Ghana-U.S. game as viewed by Mick Jagger, aptly tagged “bad luck charm” by Wahl.

You can read my account of this game as seen from Johannesburg here, and travel to the streets of Accra that night here. I’m not sure why, but it’s somehow reassuring that, from the vantage point of a stadium, it seems pretty much as if Mick and Bill are about like everyone else.

Bye-Bye Bielsa: The Governance of Soccer and Chile’s Forking Path

Recent news reports from South America indicate that the coach of Chile’s national team, Marcelo Bielsa, will be leaving his post with immediacy.  To the casual observer, this comes as a shock.  Bielsa has been credited with restoring discipline and professionalism to a national soccer association known more in recent years for scandal than for footballing feat.  Chile’s positive performance in the World Cup, though terminated in an emphatic loss to Brazil, confirmed a national soccer renaissance, accompanied by the flourishing of local talent like Alexis Sánchez, Humerto Suazo, Matías Fernández, Gary Medel, and others.  Having spearheaded this project, the former Argentine national team coach Bielsa has come to enjoy wide celebrity in Chile.

Instrumental in the hiring of the Marcelo Bielsa and the resurrection of Chilean soccer has been Harold Mayne Nicholls, until today the president of the Chilean soccer federation (ANFP).  Mayne Nicholls has argued passionately for the equitable distribution of television funds among all first-division clubs.  Other recent institutional prerogatives include obliging clubs to invest in youth development rather than focus solely on player exportation, and ensuring clubs’ financial contributions to league infrastructures.  These measures have placed him in opposition to the presidents of almost all major Chilean club teams.  According to an article published by journalist Ezequiel Fernández Moores in the Argentine daily La Nación*, almost all major Chilean clubs are now owned by conservative businessmen or corporate groups who vehemently oppose the policies of Mayne Nicholls.  The recent ascendancy in Chilean soccer of Spanish businessman Jorge Segovia, whom club presidents have marketed as a replacement for Mayne Nicholls, is seen by many as engineered by recently elected President of Chile Sebastián Piñera, who according to Fernández Moores maintains major stock holdings in the Chilean giant Colo Colo.  For their part, club presidents see in Segovia and Piñera sympathizers dedicated to the deregulation of Chilean soccer, allies who will free clubs from the financial obligations described earlier–not least of which is the assurance that television deal profits go exclusively to Chile’s biggest clubs.  In Chile’s national association, as in many others, it is first-division club presidents who vote in and remove the association head.  Their threats to depose Mayne Nicholls came to fruition this week.

A surprising twist came with Marcelo Bielsa’s vow to resign as national team coach were Mayne Nicholls to be sacked.  “I’m friend to no league official, but Mayne Nicholls and I share an ideology,” he said in a two-hour press conference yesterday.  “It’s impossible for me to work with Mr. Segovia.”  True to his word, when earlier today the council of club presidents dismissed Mayne Nicholls to replace him with Segovia, Bielsa reiterated his intention to quit.  Even more surprising was the willingness of club presidents to do away with, perhaps, the most popular soccer coach in the history of Chile.  The crowds protesting Segovia’s election in downtown Santiago and the demonstrations of support outside the association training grounds where Bielsa makes his home have failed to sway the decision to elect Segovia.  So have the 80%+ approval rates Bielsa commands in political-style surveys (themselves a reflection of his cultural importance).

As in Argentina, on display here are not only institutional decisions that appear linked to the highest levels of national government.  We see also reflected in Chilean soccer the country’s wider political dilemma: to adhere to or challenge an economic, political, and social system that–successful though it has been–has its roots in the Dirty War and the dictatorship of Pinochet.  Backed by the majority of Chileans, Bielsa and Mayne Nicholls–hardly icons of the left–chose their path.   Recently elected by his own Chilean majority and enjoying record approval ratings in the wake of the magnificent mining rescue, Piñera and his friends at the ANFP have too.

Further updates to come.

Photos from La Tercera

*Cancha Llena is La Nación‘s sports section, included in the paper but marketed as a stand-alone publication.

“The Chilean Way,” published in Cancha Llena on November 2 by Ezequiel Fernández Moores.