Social Crisis SPORTS

The Role of Football Clubs During the Social Crisis in Chile

SANTIAGO – Since the very start of the protests in Chile, football clubs and their fans have taken an important role in demonstrations and social gatherings. When last week a Colo-Colo fan was killed by the Chilean police, eternal rivals stood up as one against police violence. As long as there is blood spilled on the streets, there will be no football on the fields, the fans say.

Although it was relatively calm on the streets of Chile in the first weeks of 2020, the unrest surrounding the PSU exams aside, protests have flared up again since the death of 37-year-old Jorge Mora on Tuesday, Jan. 28. Leaving Monumental Stadium after visiting the match of his beloved Colo-Colo against Palestino, the diehard football fan was run over by a police truck amidst clashes between fans and security forces. Mora died later.

The death of the colocolino did not only infuriate the other members of the barra brava of Colo-Colo. Other football clubs across Chile saw Mora’s death as the death of one of their own. Fans offered their condolences at the spot where he died; Santiago Wanderers, a rival club from Valparaíso, joined Colo-Colo fans in a march in the port city; and, on Friday, Jan. 31, fans of the local club of Coquimbo disrupted their team’s match against Audax Italiano by entering the pitch with a big banner saying: “With blood on the streets, no football on the pitch.” Matches of the Santiago clubs Universidad de Chile and Universidad de Católica, normally eternal rivals of Colo-Colo, were also marked by incidents and clashes between fans and police troops.

Whether the death of Mora can be linked to the social crisis in Chile is up for discussion, but the roles that football clubs have played during that same crisis is not.

Marching and Organizing Cabildos

Since the first days of the protests, football clubs, and especially their most fanatic fans, have been visibly presented during marches, especially on Plaza Italia in central Santiago.

At some point, the presence of the fans of the three biggest clubs (Colo-Colo, Universidad de Chile and Universidad Católica) grew so big that the groups had to take turns occupying the statue at Plaza Baquedano, so that fans would not clash with each other during marches. Nevertheless, during the protests photos also appeared of fans of rival clubs embracing each other with the same goal of marching for a new Chile, a rare sight before the protests started in October.

Off the streets, football clubs have also played a role in the social crisis. Colo-Colo was one of the first organizations to host a cabildo, or social gathering, at their stadium, accessible for fans and anyone else who wanted to discuss the future of their country. With the referendum on the new Constitution ahead, clubs across the country are openly advocating for “approve,” changing the logos of their clubs on social media and issuing statement on the importance of a more equal country.

Football in South America

The development of these football clubs during the crisis reflects the role they play in the life of the everyday Chilean. Football in Chile and other South American countries is still a big part of the social culture of the people. Those visiting matches often see entire families watching games, not always because they are so interested in the game itself, but because of the social aspect and the sometimes generations-long family tradition.

This also has a financial dimension. Football clubs in Chile are still the clubs of the people: players are not millionaires, don’t drive around in fancy cars, and often still live among the same people that chant for them during the weekend matches. This is in sharp contrast with multimillionaire enterprises like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, where players alone earn more money than a club like Colo-Colo makes in a year. It has created a distance between fans and the club, where season tickets often top a country’s monthly minimum wage.

Football in Chile is still a sport of the people, and when Mora was killed by Chilean police, fans of football clubs across the country felt that it could have been them. And so the authorities in Chile managed to do the exact opposite when they tried to disperse the crowds that night outside Monumental Stadium: they unified the barras bravas in Chile in their struggle for a country without abuses.

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