“You do not play, the Cup is not played!”. The battle cry came from the most soccer fans. The protests in Colombia achieved the unthinkable: joining rival fans in the rejection of the Copa América-2021 that the country should receive together with Argentina.
Now that Colombia lost the headquarters by decision of Conmebol, football fans celebrate at the expense of their preferences.
“That is one more triumph of the national strike,” says Óscar Murillo, a member of the Disturbio Rojo bar of América de Cali. In dialogue with the AFP, he is happy to cause a “new setback” to the government of conservative Iván Duque.
Colombia remained firm until the end in its desire to host the competition together with Argentina, where the ball will roll from June 13, despite being immersed in a severe social crisis that leaves dozens of deaths.
But Conmebol on Thursday rejected a government request to postpone the contest until “the end of this year” and has not yet defined where the matches to be played in Colombia will be played.
During the last week, dozens of fans stood in front of the headquarters of the Colombian Football Federation to repudiate the organization of the oldest national team tournament in the world in a country on fire.
At least 42 people have died (one uniformed man and 41 civilians) in the framework of the protests, which have been harshly repressed by the public forces, according to the Ombudsman.
“The indignation and rejection against the holding of the America’s Cup had been growing more and more (…) the protest was going to continue,” added Murillo.
Last week, the América-Mineiro de Brasil and Junior-River Plate meetings in Barranquilla were stopped several times by the tear gas used to disperse the protesters around the stadium. The images had already cast doubt on whether the country was capable of hosting the America’s Cup.
However, the government does not accept that social unrest has brought down the Copa América, which Colombia hosted and conquered in 2001 also in an environment rarefied by violence.
Enemies on and off the field, the reds of América de Cali and Independiente Santa mixed with the blue of Millonarios.
“We were not only the fans, it was almost all the people who joined,” Felipe Muñoz, leader of Los del Sur of Atlético Nacional de Medellín, told AFP, where they also mobilized.
“We deeply celebrate the fall of the Copa América in Colombia, as football fans, something contradictory, but our land comes first,” the Blue Commandos, one of the most numerous bars of Millionaires, celebrated on Facebook.
The government’s stubbornness with the Cup increased the anger of the protesters, who, without a defined agenda or leadership, are calling for a more supportive state in the face of the sharp economic and social setback that the pandemic brought.
The claims against poverty, inequality and police abuse also touched the nerve of fans of the most popular sport in the country.
The fans, explains Murillo, identified with those who protest in the streets, mostly under 30. “Most of the people who make up the popular soccer bars are precisely young people between 18 and 30 years old,” he adds.
Almost a third of Colombians (27.7%) between the ages of 14 and 28 neither study nor work, according to the state statistics body. Most of the members of Disturbio Rojo belong to that population, Murillo alleges. In addition, the pandemic increased poverty from 37% to 42% of the population
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The protests erupted when the government set out to raise taxes to cope with the fiscal crisis as well. The impoverished middle class suffered the blow and together with the most vulnerable managed to get Duque to file the proposal, through pressure in the streets. But the repression fueled discontent.
The feminist bar Sororidad Roja, from Deportivo Independiente Medellín, is made up of young women “from (…) that middle class that is affected by any reform,” says Manuela Arango, one of its members.
It is not usual for the bars in Colombia, protagonists of the past of fights and violence, to march together. But the massive protests of the last three weeks are “the moment we have been most united,” added Arango.
“It was not a time for games, or parties, or entertaining people with games on television,” concluded Muñoz.
The historic player Carlos ‘El Pibe’ Valderrama affirmed that “in Colombia the people rule and the people do not want the Copa América”, in an interview with Fanatiz TV.
The riots around the Libertadores games had already cast doubt on Colombia as the host of the Copa América.
“If there is no peace there is no football,” read one of the posters.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.