Sporting culture from Santiago to St Andrews

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I am yet to go to a football match in Chile. Partly because of money, mostly because I have been warned against it all to whom I’ve spoken. Football hooliganism in Chile right now is in the same place as it was in the UK in the latter half of the 20th century.

If you’ve seen Green Street you’ll appreciate that this is not ideal. Gang violence and all that.

But what exactly is the problem? During Augusto Pinochet’s oppressive regime, football was one of the few things that allowed Chileans some self-expression and the chance to hold on to their national identity. Cottoning on to this, the government attempted to use the national team to win hearts and minds, making all World Cup games free to view on national television.

Unfortunately for them, a few free football matches did very little to quell the outrage and hatred caused by over 100,000 ordinary members of the public, or in the words of the regime “political enemies”, disappearing during the brutal dictatorship.

Football hooliganism can be related back to tribal times, with clashes between fans of the two most successful Chilean teams, Colo-Colo and Universidad de Chile (“La U”) a certainty when the two teams play each other. Every Sunday morning without fail, I am woken at 9 am by chanting and drumming as scores of “La U” fans swarm the city streets, armed with confetti canons and witty banners celebrating another victory (“Vamos La U” being a particularly thought-provoking example). Wouldn’t you know that the weekly 9 am march, sparing no thought for the hungover, would be the one thing Chileans never fail to  on time for.

While football is the most popular sport among the Chilean general public, it is followed, surprisingly, by rodeo. Rodeo is the most practiced sport in rural Chile, while tennis is Chile’s most successful sport, the country having boasted stars such as Marcelo Ríos, the South American  continent’s  first  world number one.

The popularity of football can be attributed to the fact that in a country perpetually struggling with a “haves and have-nots” class dispute, the sport provides an outlet for the rustration that many people feel. Football is a sport that anybody can play; it doesn’t require serious financial investment, and as such it is as much a sport of the working classes as the more financially comfortable.

Sport has always been fervently supported in Chile, and this shows no sign of letting up, the success of the national football team in the 2014 World Cup going a long way to inspiring the next generation of Alexis Sanchezes.

Though be careful, should you mention his name in conversation with a native they may well become amazingly, and scarily, attached to you forever.

Now of course I’m not saying that this had happened to me but take it as read that there are many a foreigner to have suffered such a fate and instantly regret the international nature of the facebook poke.

Like ‘little’ Chile (the country is over 5,000 miles long, but regarded as the baby of South America by virtue of its relatively tiny population), St Andrews’ sports teams are disproportionately successful.

The  alcoholism  and  general chaos that goes on before/during/after a football match draw startling comparisons with post-BUCS Sinners’ Sport. Yet just like the Bubble comes out in force for a night at Sinners, most in Chile love the unpredictability and volatility of sporting life.

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