In mid-November, the World Cup in Qatar had not yet started and only the boldest optimists believed in an Argentine football fairy tale with a happy ending when the Argentines were asked what they would prefer: a triumph for the “Albiceleste” with captain Lionel Messi or an end to inflation, which in Argentina was 88 percent in October compared to the same month last year? The participants in the survey did not have to think long: nine out of ten Argentines would have preferred an end to currency devaluation to the World Cup.
Maybe some of them would vote differently now, because the triumph in Qatar doesn’t make inflation go away, but at least forget it for a few days. When the World Cup heroes from Qatar and their best soccer player in the world hold up the golden trophy in the streets of Buenos Aires, people don’t have to think about paying in installments at the supermarket for a short time to find out which shampoo is best for them hoard and whether it might make sense to sell the car after all.
In any case, they haven’t lost their gallows humor on the Río de la Plata: the question is circulating on social networks as to whether the golden trophy has long since become silver because of inflation.
The title goes to a country that is not only groaning under high prices and where almost every second person lives below the poverty line. It is also a country deeply divided socially between supporters of the government led by President Alberto Fernández and his predecessor Mauricio Macri. For a few days, however, the differences are forgotten, and both supporters and opponents of the government don the sky-blue and white jersey.
“Now they hug because no one asks the other if they’re ‘Kirchnerista’ or ‘Macrista.’ When there’s a celebration, it’s not about social class, it’s not about gender, and it’s not about ideologies or political positions,” says Pablo Alabarces. In this moment of triumph, differences are pushed aside for a moment.
The sociologist and philosopher researches the connection between football and society, his book “Die für Messi? Football and the Invention of the Argentine Nation” has become a bestseller in Argentine bookstores. His thesis: the “Messiah” himself, a status that Messi has held in his home country since Sunday at the latest, can only give the country a short breather.
In Argentina, which has also been the world champion in economic decline for decades, the harder hangover of everyday life is guaranteed to follow after the celebrations. “There is no lasting positive effect of football on politics or society.”
In the past, the Argentinian rulers had done everything possible to instrumentalize football and use it for themselves. In 1978, Junta chief Jorge Videla presented captain Daniel Passarella with the trophy after beating the Netherlands in the final at the World Cup on home soil. The military hoped for an international image boost while at the same time kidnapping, torturing and throwing opposition figures alive out of airplanes over the Atlantic.
Eight years later, Diego Armando Maradona made sure to heal a little from the trauma of the lost Falklands War of 1982. With the goal of the century and the “hand of God” Argentina threw England out of the tournament in the World Cup quarter-finals.
In the Argentine fan curves, the conflict over the archipelago in the South Atlantic is still part of the stadium folklore to this day. In Qatar, too, supporters chanted fervently at each of the seven games: “If you don’t hop, you’re English.”
“Football is huge in Argentina and winning the 1986 World Cup already shaped us,” says political scientist Gustavo Marangoni, “but all Argentines also remember that while President Raúl Alfonsín welcomed the world champion team to the government palace, he did couldn’t celebrate with her on the balcony. He didn’t want to gain any political advantage from his sporting success.”
The World Cup triumph was of little use to the first democratically elected president after the military dictatorship. A year later his party lost the midterm elections, and in 1989 Alfonsín had to resign after 15 general strikes and hyperinflation. And today? Two months before the “Albiceleste” set off for Qatar, Vice President Cristina Kirchner was the victim of an assassination attempt.
Two weeks ago she was sentenced to six years in prison in a corruption trial. Their opponents celebrated this just like Argentina’s victory in the round of 16 against Australia, Kirchner’s supporters, on the other hand, sensed a conspiracy, Argentina is extremely polarized.
“We are less than a full year before the presidential elections on October 22, 2023, football will not keep Argentines from different parties hugging each other for long. During the World Cup, too, there were social protests in front of the doors of the Ministry of Labor and Development. Oscar Wilde once said: If we’re happy, we’re always good, but this World Cup effect won’t last long,” says Marangoni.
But at least Messi, Di Maria and De Paul caressed the Argentine soul for a few weeks. A balm especially for the “Porteños”, who have the reputation of considering themselves to be something better than the people in the provinces and the other South Americans anyway. God is Argentinian, they say in Buenos Aires, the Pope is anyway and now, after Diego Armando Maradona, they also officially have the world’s best soccer player in Lionel Messi in the form of Lionel Messi.
Political scientist Gustavo Marangoni says: “Football shows us Argentines that we are competitive and that we can beat the big players. That’s why every World Cup is always important for Argentina’s self-esteem in addition to sport. We can fight about politics, but when the national team plays, we are all Argentines.”
Author: Oliver Pieper
The 2022 World Cup final between Argentina and France ensures that two all-time records are broken right from the start. Two German national players suffered, who now only occupy second place in their respective categories. One didn’t even last four weeks.
On Sunday, the final of the 2022 World Cup will take place in Qatar between defending champions France and Argentina. A few days before the final, a wave of influenza worries the French team. All information up to the kick-off in the big final ticker.
The original of this article “Argentina: Messi makes inflation forget for a moment” comes from Deutsche Welle.