LIMA, Peru — Sports and politics don’t mix. Or so world soccer’s governing body, FIFA, would have you believe.
It bans players from any “political” messages inside stadiums and has even stopped English players from wearing symbolic poppies in remembrance of the fallen of World War I.
But try telling that to an Argentine, especially President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
Her administration has been making the most of the TV mega-ratings generated by the national soccer team’s advance to Sunday’s World Cup final by filling the airwaves with patriotic — and blatantly political — state advertising.
The pick of the bunch, probably, is this gem comparing YPF, the government-owned oil company, with star striker Lionel Messi, almost unanimously regarded as the planet’s top current soccer pro.
Messi, who scored an utterly insane 91 goals in 2012 — an all-time world record — left Argentina for Barcelona when he was just 12, a sore point for many Argentine fans who have been deprived of the chance to watch their megastar perform in the flesh.
The 5-foot-6-inch genius has been having a relatively quiet cup — so far — although that may be due to double- and even triple-marking by members of opposing teams.
YPF, meanwhile, had been controlled by Spanish oil major Repsol, which owned a 51 percent stake in the company — until Fernandez de Kirchner re-nationalized it in 2012, allegedly for failing to exploit the country’s reserves.
“Over time, we started saying that they had taken the best, that his best performances were not for us, to the point where we did a crazy thing in thinking he was no longer ours,” says the voiceover in the commercial titled “Historias Paralelas.”
“But our feelings come from deep inside … and now his energy inspires us again. Now we believe again. Now we’re going to seek what was once ours. You are the land where you were born.”
It’s not new for Argentine athletes to be used for partisan point scoring that has nothing to do with sports.
Hockey player Fernando Zyldeberg was dropped from Argentina’s hockey team just before the 2012 London Olympics for appearing in an ad, secretly shot on the Falkland Islands, claiming that the British territory should belong to the South American nation:
It’s hardly the first time either the World Cup or the Falklands have been used in Argentina to whip up support for a government struggling to contain domestic woes.
The country’s bloody military dictatorship was widely accused of using the 1978 World Cup — hosted in and won by Argentina — to divert attention from its own human rights abuses. And it launched the 1982 invasion of the Falklands, known in Argentina as the Malvinas, just as its own unpopularity was peaking spectacularly.
Although critics have long questioned the current government’s use of state resources for both soccer and pro-government advertising, the truth, whether FIFA likes it or not, is that sports are profoundly political.
Just ask Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
Her national team’s catastrophic 7-1 capitulation to Germany on Tuesday has left some analysts speculating that the game may have undermined Rousseff’s campaign for re-election in October.
Should Argentina win the World Cup on Sunday, then expect much, much more government publicity from the Fernandez de Kirchner administration.
But win or lose, Argentines will soon have to face a post-World Cup hangover of all kinds of political and economic strife.
That includes runaway inflation, an imminent national debt default, a government wracked by corruption scandals, and even a possible general strike.