Futbol para nobody

Football is off. There is no marathon of 10 games back-to-back on TV. No second division, no reserve matches, not even the odd under-18 kickabout. Football is cancelled.

The death of former president Néstor Kirchner this week shocked the nation. Just as Argentines were sat at home waiting to be counted – it was census time – news filtered through that the current president’s husband, aged 60, had passed away, dying from a heart attack.

Despite the shock, and despite the political ramifications for the country (with elections next year, Kirchner was leading in the polls if he ran for president once again), did they really need to cancel the weekend’s football? Would a minute’s silence and black armbands not have been sufficient? The answer, according to AFA, was no.

First of all, Kirchner was a huge football fan. As a true Peronist, his team was Racing. "I suffered more with football than I did with politics," he once said, which is saying something given the amount of abuse he received for his politics.

Just last year, Racing were facing relegation. They had the task of travelling to the Bombonera, desperately needing three points from Boca to stay up. Kirchner promised four 32-inch plasma TVs if they won. It did the trick. Racing won 3-0 and Kirchner duly delivered the TVs in person, congratulating the squad on the win.

More than whether Kirchner was a crazed Acadé supporter or not, however, is the role that he and his wife, current president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, played in the current situation in Argentine football, and the debt that AFA has to Kirchner.

Kirchner & Kirchner: Football lovers

Facing enormous financial difficulties, Argentine clubs went on strike in August 2009. One of the problems, according to them and AFA, was that the income from the TV rights deal wasn’t fair and wasn’t enough. AFA promptly ripped up the old deal, and signed a new one with the government worth 600 million pesos (£94 million).

Fútbol Para Todos – Football for Everyone – was born. All 10 first division games are broadcast live on free-to-air television. Other channels beyond the state-owned Canal 7 are able to broadcast the games too. As free content goes, top-flight football isn’t bad.

Of course there are plenty of gripes with Fútbol Para Todos, from the quality of the output to the eternal government advertising. Those arguments can be saved for another day. The issue here is that thanks to the Kirchners, AFA found its way out of an enormous problem.

And while AFA are grateful to the government, Kirchner passing away has had a tremendous effect on the mood in Argentina. It is not just because people can watch football free on TV that tens of thousands of people have waited for hours on end in mile-long queues to pay their final respects.

Even the Maradonian Church cancelled their Christmas. Maradona turns 50 on Saturday, but the party is off. "Argentina lost a gladiator who brought us out of the ditch," El Diego said on Thursday when he went to Kirchner’s wake, adding that "Néstor had many things like Che Guevara".

Fútbol Para Todos will return next week. For now, it's fútbol para nobody.

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