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April 24, 2017
Monday, March 20, 2017

Local soccer witnesses an abnormal outbreak of normality — at a price

Boca Juniors fans chant during their match against Banfield last weekend.
Boca Juniors fans chant during their match against Banfield last weekend.
By Dan Edwards
For the Herald
After weeks of crippling conflicts and arguments the ball finally started rolling again on an entertaining weekend of soccer, to the relief of practically everyone involved. And whisper it quietly, but it might just be the case that an abnormal outbreak of normality has taken hold in the halls of power at least for the time being.
Eighty days after the last round of fixtures came to an end it was business as usual again across Argentina. Boca Juniors and San Lorenzo were the teams left smiling hardest by Monday, as the two title challengers’ victories were complemented by a string of slip-ups by their rivals to establish the pair as hot favourites to dispute the Primera División trophy. The mere fact that sporting matters were back in the headlines ahead of the endless off-field speculation that has dominated the agenda was undoubtedly positive; another hint at normality was seen in the visitors’ ends of Banfield and Racing Club, where Boca and Lanús fans respectively stood up to be counted in yet another attempt to bring back away support after almost four years of prohibition.
Normality, of course, is a relative term in the tragi-comic world of Argentine soccer. Racing’s 3-0 win over Lanús was tarnished by incidents prior to kick-off, when the away team’s bus was pelted by stones. Academia president Víctor Blanco, all too predictably, turned the blame on the authorities and threatened to end this brave new world — “As long as the appropriate security is not in place, there will be no away fans,” he fired to TyC Sports. But perhaps Blanco has a point. The tiny sector of Banfield’s Estadio Florencio Solá allocated to Boca was dangerously insufficient for the number of fans who attended on Saturday, and in a grim precursor to the tragic events at that evening’s Indio Solari concert nine were left hospitalised in a crush caused by the Xeneize’s opening goal. Buenos Aires province played host to both those games as well as the Olavarría gig, and questions in each case must be asked of those charged with guaranteeing the safety of those attending massive public events.
In the gilded halls
Back in the gilded halls of Viamonte street, the Argentine Football Association (AFA) made the long-awaited announcement of who would be charged with televising Primera soccer once the current season comes to a close. As widely predicted, US conglomerate Fox Turner will be behind the cameras and on our screens from August 2016 onwards, with the AFA signing a five-year contract automatically renewable in 2021 for another five years. The deal releases much-needed funds into club coffers and removes some of the uncertainty that has hung like a millstone round their necks for the last six months. The new broadcasters will hand over 1.2 billion pesos at the start of the deal, and a further three billion pesos per season to alleviate anaemic accounts. But, and there must always be a but, the motives for handing Fox Turner this multi-million dollar deal have already come into question.
Through a complex maze of subsidiaries and shareholders — essentially the old party game of “six degrees of separation” for multinationals — the new broadcasters are linked to Torneos and TSC, who held the rights prior to 2009 when Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government expropriated soccer and began the era of Fútbol para todos. For the last seven years a lawsuit against the AFA has lain latent in the courts, with the governing body potentially liable for compensation charges worth up to five billion pesos, according to some specialists.
A confidential document released by journalist Angela Lerena, however, claims to show TSC’s willingness to drop the subpoena should Turner take hold of the contract. Fox Turner’s bid was nevertheless the highest of those vying for the contract, but if the document is legitimate, it would suggest that in any case the AFA was negotiating with its back firmly to the wall under the veiled threat of further litigation.
The upshot is that the Clarín Group is back in the soccer business, although their involvement is hidden in the chain of command headed by the US giants. Now users wait to find out just how much the media group’s re-entry will cost them. While the price of this brave new world is yet to be released insiders are certain that those who want to watch the Primera División beyond the current season will have to hand over a premium fee on top of normal cable charges, a further expense in the context of ever-increasing gas, electricity and water bills. There is no doubt this restoration of normality has come at a price and, as usual, it is those at the bottom that will bear the brunt of the Fox Turner revolution as the era of free-to-air soccer is put to bed once and for all.                                           w
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