“In Moreno, where I live, the pandemic has never arrived. Neither face masks. Alcohol? Yes, I have plenty, but not in gel,” says a maskless River fan grinning, as he shows a plastic bottle full of cheap wine. His mission is just about to start: an attempt to sneak into Estadio Monumental to watch the most famous derby in Argentina. River-Boca. Without a ticket. Without a mask. Without a vaccination pass.
But he is not the only one in that condition. There are countless of fans wandering around police fences, searching for an opportunity. “Sooner or later, they will get distracted. After the first kick to the fence, if there’s a gap, we will be inside,” brags another middle-aged man. Some are showing counterfeit IDs. Some others, on the other hand, complain about not being allowed to get in, even if they have all the papers in order.
The extra 20,000. Last Sunday, the Argentinian Superclásico, one of the most famous rivalries in the world, was played with home fans for the first time since the pandemic was declared in March 2020. It was supposed to be a test for the weekend. And it was expected, the test was a complete disaster.
In theory, only 50% of the stadium capacity, roughly 36,000 fans, was open to fans. One hour before kick-off, El Monumental already looked full. Instead of 36,000 River Plate fans, more than 55,000 were present, not to mention those that gathered outside.
The game, as usual, was action-packed. The Superclásico never lets a football fan down, even if for the wrong reasons. There were two bust-ups in the first five minutes and the first red card was only after 16 minutes of play, as former Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo left a 10-man Boca almost without any survival chances. River Plate won 2-1, a result that poorly reflected their dominance. Striker Julian Alvarez, now an Argentina international, scored both goals. “One minute of silence, to Boca that are dead”. The chant is older than the pandemic, and still one of the most popular when it comes to enjoying a victory. Fans sung, celebrated, hugged as if there was no pandemic. But there is.
Happiness package. The Argentinian Government announced the return of fans as part of a ‘happiness package’ before mid-term elections on November 14. The preliminary elections, last month, showed the results of 240 days of lockdown, with less than 30% of approval and a credible chance to lose both chambers in the Parliament in November. Since then, measures were taken. Football was immediately open; universities are still closed. The number of daily COVID tests mysteriously disappeared for two weeks.
Now, the Government was forced to summon the club presidents in order to see what is happening. No one is capable of controlling how many people enter the stadium, apparently. According to River Plate officials, the attendance was 36,787 fans.
River president Rodolfo D’Onofrio has been accused by a public prosecutor, but no one believes the club can suffer any consequences in court. He is not alone: also the presidents of Velez, Belgrano and Lanus need to offer an explanation.
Shots fired. So far, the idea of happiness is quickly backfiring. While some fans are back, some are left behind. Why regular club members that have been paying a monthly fee every month without being able to attend are not allowed because of quotas, while ultras are still ruling the stands? Under which health protocol is one dose of the vaccine considered enough to let 50,000 fans sung and scream next to each other?
Last week, a shootout in the streets of Avellaneda showed the manpower of the Independiente barrabrava, as two factions were willing to gain full access to football’s dirty business: unauthorised parking, street food monopoly and other commodities, such as illegal tickets, touts and drugs.
For populist governments, football always acts as a life-jacket, waiting to rescue them from difficult situations. But a life jacket can also become a deadly weapon if thrown carelessly into someone’s face.
Double standards. When the vaccination started, earlier this year, it was discovered that there was a VIP vaccination centre dedicated only to the friends of the power. Before the election, pictures of the First Lady’s birthday party in 2020 became viral on social media. At the time, it was forbidden to leave your house, let alone meet and celebrate. Now, football shows the same double standards. Before fans were allowed, more than 200 ‘acquaintances’ were already inside the stadiums. With quotas and protocols, corruption becomes more evident than ever.
Source: Martin Mazur| AIPS Media