Sports: "Futbol: ¿Deportes o vida?"

By:   Brandon Bodnar, Madison Prestine, Ben Feinmam, Roland Warns
What if I told you the national sport of Argentina is not soccer? What if I told you it is actually a sport you probably have never heard of, and causes many broken bones and terrified ducks?  The national sport is actually Pato, an intriguing game resembling polo, basketball, and animal abuse. It is unique to Argentina, and involves an interesting history. Taking a break from watching their herds in the Argentine lands, gauchos invented Pato as a way to pass the time.  Currently, this game involves riding horses and trying to place the ball in the opposing team’s net. Although they currently use a ball, the history of Pato is both humorous and gruesome. Instead of a ball, the initial players used live ducks in a basket instead, hence where the name Pato originated (“Pato” is Spanish for duck). Unfortunately for the duck, it was still thrown around similar to a ball and likely dropped often.
 
 

This sport also ends in frequent broken bones for the players. There are many falls and injuries due to players grappling over balls (or ducks in the past) while riding at high speeds on horses.  For these reasons, there were many movements looking to outlaw the sport at the beginning of the 19thcentury. It then regained popularity in the 1930’s and has been growing ever since. It is not a very widely played sport in Argentina, with soccer clearly dominating and many other sports played like basketball, tennis, and field hockey played more often. It is mainly played today by agricultural workers who have access to horses and land to compete on.

While in Buenos Aires, we don’t believe we will see much Pato activity or culture. Although it is the national sport, it is concentrated in agricultural areas. Since our trip is limited to Buenos Aires, we will likely not be fortunate enough to witness a Pato game or the Pato culture. We may come across advertisements or memorabilia, but nothing more.

While the national sport of Argentina is not soccer, soccer is the most popular and widely recognized sport in the country. Soccer is very influential in Argentine culture. Hundreds of thousands of people fill multiple stadiums throughout the year. The greater Buenos Aires area has 69 soccer stadiums, more than any other city in the world. Soccer is more than a sport to many Argentines, it is a way of life.

Clearly soccer is popular in Argentina, which until recently has been a poverty stricken country. The following quote is pulled from an article in the Harvard International Review called “Saved by the Goalkeeper”. “[Soccer] by its very nature a sport that draws together all socioeconomic classes. To play soccer, nothing is needed besides a football – no need for a baseball field, a tennis racket, or even a basketball hoop. This complete lack of monetary barriers to entering the sport, from a purely mathematical perspective, means that there is a considerably larger pool of potential supporters for the sport to draw from.” Many individuals view soccer as a way out of poverty, and therefore have intense emotional investments to soccer.

The Argentine Primera Division is the premier league in Argentina.  Of the many teams, the “Big Five,” which consists of River Plate, Boca Juniors, Racing Club, Independiente, and San Lorenzo de Almagro are the most prominent in the country.  One of the oldest and most successful clubs in Argentine soccer history is River Plate.  River Plate is located in Buenos Aires and plays its games in the Estadio Monumental in front of a maximum crowd of 67,000 people.  The club has won the league championship a record 43 times, which is ten more times than its rival, Boca Juniors.  The fans of River Plate are known as the “millonarios,” as River Plate is considered the team of the wealthy people in the city of Buenos Aires.

 

As soccer is the most popular sport in Argentina, with River Plate being one of the premier teams, advertising on the jerseys of the River Plate players presents a significant business opportunity.  Along with the 67,000 fans in attendance of the game, millions of other soccer fans tune in to watch.  Not only does it present a business opportunity for outside companies, but River Plate as well.  BBVA Frances, an Argentine financial institution, struck a sponsor deal, which includes an advertisement on the jersey, in which they pay River Plate $3.5 million per year through the 2014-2015 season in exchange for the advertising benefits.  Prior to BBVA Frances being featured on the jersey, Petrobras, Budweiser, Quilmes, Tramontina, Sanyo, Pokerstars.net, Carta Credencial, Peugeot, and Fate O were all featured at separate times on the River Plate jersey.

During our trip, we have a scheduled meeting with the executives of River Plate, along with a tour of the facility. This will give us the opportunity to inspect the advertising methods used within the stadium and on the jerseys. We believe there will be a heavy advertising presence among the River Plate organization. Also, while walking around the city, we will take note of any soccer apparel and soccer related advertisements. This will help us realize the influence of soccer related advertisements amongst the Argentine people.

Soccer is a source of identity for many Argentines. It is a dynamic that has worked itself into every aspect of daily life for Argentine fans. Relationships are forged and severed based upon the soccer team individuals align with. There is no room for compromise or forgiveness.

 
 
A unique attribute of Argentine soccer is the intense violence associated with the professional league. Many Argentine citizens are emotionally invested in teams to a certain point past sanity. Why else would every single soccer field in the greater Buenos Aires area have protective fencing, most topped with razor sharp barbed wire? Also, many professional soccer players were once gang members in their youth, and having those gang affiliations is bound to bring violence amongst fans. In 2014, there were 15 soccer related deaths throughout the year, and according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “soccer violence in Argentina has taken more than 70 lives since 1950.” The violence is intense, bringing a whole new aspect upon the Argentine soccer culture. Riots are not uncommon before or after a game in Argentina. The atmosphere gets heated as fans recite famous chants and cheers in support of their team. This video shows the Argentine fans chanting and shouting in the streets before a World Cup Game. 
 
Within the fandoms in Argentina there is a hierarchy that depends upon an individual’s dedication to their team and the game. The most casual fan, a simpatizante, may go to five or six games per season, and follows the various championships very loosely. Simpatizantes tend to avoid games that have the potential for violence, and may also avoid wearing their teams’ colors in situations where rivals or fans of another team may be present. The hincha are fans that regularly go to home games, and will travel to away games within the city. They follow every game. These fans make up the majority of the crowds at soccer stadiums. Soccer is popular across all class levels, a unique characteristic. Citizens of every class cherish the game and love their players.
 
Both the violence associated with fandom in Argentina and the game of soccer itself combine to reach impressive levels of intensity. According to Chris Gaffney’s paper, Stadiums and Society in 21st Century Buenos Aires, “ [they are] a form of romanticism, at the same time reflecting a very masculine utopia of brute force and clannish intensity.” The game reflects the mentality of the fans; keeping them engaged and involved in the competition.
 
Video shows fans of two of the club teams in Argentina, River Plate and the Boca Juniors, at a game between the two rivals.
In Argentina, we hope to experience thus culture first hand, as we plan to attend a soccer match at River Plate.  We will be looking for the distinctive features mentioned earlier in the blog before, during, and after the game.  While we may be unable to understand, we will take note of the intensity and variety of the chants going back and forth between opposing fans. We do not believe we will be caught in a riot, but if we are and are able to get out safely, it would be a truly enlightening experience. Overall, we expect the atmosphere at the game to be electric and insightful to Argentine soccer culture.


Works Cited
AMAUTA Spanish School Blog, 04 Oct. 2013. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
BBVA Frances. BBVA Banco Fraces, 2015. Web.  1 Mar. 2015.
“BBVA Francés Sponsors Argentinean Soccer Giants.” Sports Pro Live. Sports Pro Media, 12 Jan.
2012. Web. 12 Mar, 2015
“Two Argentine Soccer Fans Die in Clash.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Apr 21 2003: 2C. ProQuest. 12 Mar. 2015 .
Gaffney, Chris. “Stadiums And Society In Twenty-First Century Buenos Aires.” Soccer & Society 10.2 (2009): 160-182. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
Gallardo, Marcelo D. “Fútbol Profesional – Torneo De Primera División 2015.” Club Atltico River Plate RSS. River Plate, 2015. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
Iyengar, Rishi. “Player Killed In Argentina’s 15th Related Soccer Death This Year.” Time.  5 Dec. 2014.
Edwards, Daniel. “Pato: Argentina’s National Sport.” The Argentina Independent . The Argentina
Independent , 24 Feb. 2010. Web. 12 Mar. 2015.
“Experiencing Football in Buenos Aires.” BsAs4u. BsAs4u, 2015. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.
Gaffney, Chris. “Stadiums and Society in Twenty First Century Buenos Aires.” Soccer and Society 1 Mar. 2009: 160-82. Print
Fellay, Sarah. “Saved by the Goalkeeper.” Harvard International Review 1 June 2014: 32-35. Print.
Mitterdorfer, Rutger. “Football Guide for Spanish Students in Buenos Aires.”AMAUTA Spanish School Blog.



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