In approximately half an hour, the World Cup match Chile – Holland is about to kick off. Football, as in almost every country, is widely popular here, too. The difference, however, is that in post-Pinochet Chile it has a special meaning, beyond just sports; it is indeed a societal event of historical proportions.
Chileans become increasingly aware of their image in the world, or, in el extranjero as it is called over here. If the team performs well – and it has done so spectacularly – it also provides a cause all of society can unite behind and be proud of. Although Chileans feel they don’t have much to show for, they are still very concerned about how they are perceived in other countries, well at least the emerging middle and entrenched upper-classes are. Increasingly people here are fed up with their image of being a poor Third World country, unable to provide for itself. In my personal view this image was somewhat forced upon Chile when the USA and the nation’s quasi-aristocracy plotted to re-colonize the country on 9/11 1973. Anyway, this picture still is prevalent, if fading.
Additionally, it must be mentioned that Chile is an extremely polarized society. This is mainly due to the education industry, modelled on the ideas of capitalist-emperors like Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman, which selects students according to wealth not talent, which is dominated by commercial not social interest, sustained by Chile’s ruling class, and, most despicable, is a mechanism for massive transferral of wealth from public into private hands. Thus, there are stark differences in income, life chances, knowledge and education within the society. Yet, when the national team, called La Roja,is on and plays a virtuous football all of the hardships take a back seat; the scars of the bloody dictatorship do not hurt for some 90 minutes at least, and Chile is truly one nation.
The current selection catered to such emotions extremely well so far. Like many of the underdogs, Costa Rica or recently Ghana to name but two others, they showed the usual suspects that Chile is a force to be reckoned with – not only in la cancha (the football pitch), but on the world stage as well, amongst the prosperous and peaceful nations.
This time’s La Roja is a team much more committed to winning, not to fame and dollars, as well as much more disciplined and sacrificial than all teams hitherto. They got what it takes to pull this off, and I wish them well – Chile needs this, Chile deserves this. CHI-CHI-CHI LE-LE-LE!