Thursday, June 11, 2009

Vamos, vamos chilenos! Esta noche tenemos que ganar!

"Let’s go, let’s go Chileans! Tonight we have to win!"

My first and potentially only fútbol experience in Chile was fascinating. Currently, teams around the world are competing to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Last night, third-place Chile faced lowly Bolivia. Ultimately, Chile emerged victorious: 4-0. With the win, Chile sealed its trip to the World Cup.

Five out of the six DukeEngagers purchased tickets on Monday to attend Wednesday night’s game (Karna's host family had a ticket for him, but he's been sick). Our tickets were 25,000 pesos, or about $45. They were the second cheapest seats. After some difficulties finding one another, we entered the packed stadium. Since cheaper tickets don’t have assigned seating and we were a bit late, we ended up sitting towards the front at one of the corners. We had a chain link fence in our view, but I liked being close and able to see physicality of the game. When I went to a game in Barcelona, I sat at the top of a stadium that held nearly 100,000 people! This time, it was like watching a different game. We were in front of the small, fenced Bolivian section. I’ve never seen so many riot police or carabineros throughout the stadium. Riot police, in full gear, protected the small section half full with Bolivia fans and the chain link fence had spikes to keep people from climbing over. There were easily hundreds of riot police throughout the stadium and the surround area in armored trucks. Soccer in Chile is national pride, which can turn violent or dangerous with all the passion involved. You could feel the energy of the fans decked in red and waving Chilean flags. Many Chileans around us yelled profanities at the Bolivians (who were too far away to hear) and flipped the bird. Whenever Chile scored, the stadium erupted. Literally. Several people throughout the stadium lit what looked like flares, lighting up the night.

After Chile won, as expected, many fans headed toward Plaza Italia to celebrate. I unfortunately avoided the celebration since I wanted to get some sleep. Furthermore, I heard that the celebrations usually become quite chaotic and dangerous. A few of my friends ended up going towards the end and found themselves irritated by the tear gas used to disperse the ruckus crown. On my walk home, I saw Chilenos hanging out of cars waving Chilean flags, chanting songs, and honking horns.

Today at work, another Chilean intern clearly identified the chief factor of fútbol: everyone is united through the game, no matter their social standing. Fútbol brings poor and affluent Chileans together to support their nation. National sport is probably the only cultural phenomenon that I can think of in all my travels that truly transcends social and economic status. Some people might argue that religion can act in this way, but I think religion becomes a part of the oppression in many countries. Hundreds of people surround the stadium selling Chilean flags, hats, face masks (thank you swine flu), jerseys, and scarves. Of course there are signs of differences during sporting events depending on where you are able to watch the game, whether it’s a bar or a warm box at el Estadio Nacional. In addition to uniting countries, sport also acts an arena for airing hostilities, prejudices, and rivalries between nations. Many of Chilean cheers and slurs were quite derogatory towards the Bolivians. I’m sure if I attended several more soccer matches, I’d pick up quite a few words to add to my vocabulario. Nonetheless, a well-fought match is healthier than armed conflict or outward animosity away from the confines of the soccer field.

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