Do citizens have a right to watch football? The Argentinian government has recently proposed that they do. The Washington Post — which as the previous post on this blog attests has recently been providing interesting coverage of the politics of football in Latin America — reports in an article published today that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has sealed a deal that will make watching local football free for the Argentinian population.
As is increasingly the case nearly everywhere — including in Africa, as Gerard Akindes explained in a presentation here at Duke this past Thursday during a conference on “Race, Sport and Power” — people have had to pay to watch football on television in Argentina, either through a subscription to cable or through pay-per-view. Private media companies control most of the diffusion of football throughout the world, turning a great profit from diffusing the global game. The result is that many people can’t afford to watch. But Kirchner, in a politically astute move that some suggest may help stall or even reverse a steady decline in her popularity in Argentina, has signed a deal with the national football association through which the Argentinian government wrested broadcasting rights to professional games in Argentina away from Clarin Group. Now games are shown free on television.
Significantly, the article reports, Kirchner presented the move in a statement that made a link between private media control over football in contemporary Argentina and the ways in which the military dictatorship in the country mobilized football — particularly during the 1978 World Cup in the country — football by the military dictatorship in the country: “Only those who paid could watch a game of soccer, because they kidnapped the goals . . . I do not want any more kidnappings. I want a free society.” The statement, along with the deal itself, were criticized in Argentina. But they made clear that, at least in her mind, the battle over access to football is part of a larger political struggle in Argentina to somehow transcend the legacy of the dictatorship, which twisted together brutal political repression with the celebration of free market policies.
One critic opined that it would be better to provide Argentinians with free access to food than free access to football. But while that might well be a good idea, football is a kind of necessary nourishment for many people, notably in Argentina. In Villa Fiorito, the article concludes, the poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires where Maradona grew up, a man who makes his living “scavenging for recyclables from garbage in elegant districts” sat down at a “rickety dinner table” laid out with “beer, cheese and salami” to watch a game (Racing Club vs. Argentinos Juniors) he wouldn’t have been able to see before. “I’m going to be thankful for this all my life,” he said, “because football has been brought into my home and the homes of my neighbors.”