“Mauricio Macri, the whore that gave birth to you.”
One simple, crude chant, directed squarely at the woman that brought the current president of Argentina into the world, 59 years ago, has dominated the headlines over the past week. And the infantile name-calling aimed at the head of state betrays a situation of unrest and suspicion that surrounds the world of football that Macri himself appears to find acutely uncomfortable.
The song was heard this week from the terraces in two stadiums in the north and south of Buenos Aires, the former City mayor’s bastion of support. On Saturday fans of San Lorenzo turned on Macri during their victory over Newell’s, while 24 hours later it was River Plate’s turn as a series of curious refereeing decisions influenced the Millonarios’ 2-2 draw against Godoy Cruz.
It is an arena in which criticism has the potential to cut deep: as the former president of Boca Juniors and a self-confessed football fanatic, Macri the politician has never quite managed to shed his ties to the sport, and on more than one occasion he has left fellow heads of state bemused with jokes and quips related to the upcoming World Cup. Apparently stung by the remarks, Buenos Aires City’s deputy mayor – and, not entirely coincidentally, River fan - Diego Santilli was pressed into action this week, condemning the new terrace ‘hit.’
“What happened on Sunday upset me,” said Santilli, the son of former River president Hugo Santilli, in conversation with Fox Sports. “To insult the president is completely off the mark.” In another media appearance, this time with La Red, Santilli looked to deflect attention from his long-time collaborator and back on his own, under-performing team: “River have to leave the ‘phantoms’ at home [behind] and start doing the business on the field.”
The ‘phantoms’ the City deputy mayor mentions was a reference to the growing sensation inside the Monumental – not to mention among San Lorenzo supporters – that Macri’s beloved Boca are receiving favours from referees to the detriment of their own team. That is to say, the insults are not in essence politically based, but purely a sporting matter; if one wishes to read wider criticisms of Macri’s government they are widely available from the opposition in Congress, social and human rights organisations and certain trade union groups.
Journalist and writer Alejandro Wall opined on Twitter this week that “Macri is insulted in the stadiums as a Boca fan, not for his policies. So there is no contradiction in insulting him and voting for him.” Indeed, there is no doubt that if elections were held tomorrow, the president would most likely repeat the haul of 61 percent picked up by his Cambiemos (Let’s Change) candidate in 2017’s legislative polls in the Núñez area, perhaps he would even better that tally. But the weekend’s events do demonstrate one thing: despite devoting much time and attention to an area which in the current political and economic context of Argentina could have been better employed elsewhere, Macri and the AFA still arouse deep suspicion.
The perception among many fans is that an unholy trinity of Macri, AFA president (and fellow Boca fan) Claudio ‘Chiqui’ Tapia and Boca chief Daniel Angelici hold an unwholesome grip over the game, and that the trio have not always acted scrupulously in the exercise of that power. Macri’s own tone-deafness on the issue was emphasised this week when in the wake of the scandal Xeneize coach Guillermo Barros Schelotto was invited to lunch at the Casa Rosada.
Just what official business the head of state had with a simple football coach is unclear, nor what function Tapia’s visit to Boca idol Carlos Tevez’s birthday was meant to accomplish, but it does nothing to quell an anxiety that has risen to such levels that even River President Rodolfo D’Onofrio warned his club that they must “keep a high guard” and be constantly vigilant in the face of Boca’s domination of the halls of power.
Such accusations are part and parcel of the game in Argentina, where behind every faulty offside call and debatable red card it is normal to see a ‘black hand’ in action. They are almost invariably product of the frustration and momentary hysteria that is the lifeblood of most football fans, and for the most part wholly unfounded. But that does not take away from the fact that the power balance inside AFA has shifted far too heavily into the corner of the nation’s richest club; and if Macri wishes to remove his mother’s name from the lips of those on the terraces, he would do well to extricate himself from the running of the sport and focus on running the government he was elected to lead