Anyone who says that politics isn't a contact sport would think differently had they watched a "friendly" between the football teams of opposing parties in Bolivia the other day. President Evo Morales, no less, was playing, and what he inflicted upon one of the other side's players was, well, breathtaking.
It happened not long into the game last Sunday when Daniel Gustavo Cartagena, playing for the opposition Movement without Fear party, slid into number 10 of the green jerseys – that would be the President – and cut his leg. Morales, the first indigenous leader of his country, did not retaliate – at first. Moments later, after another fearsome foul on one of the President's team-mates, Morales walked over to Cartagena, gestured to his injury, and administered punishment: a blindingly quick jab of his knee into Cartagena's groin.
Cartagena's hands darted to the affected parts – demurely referred to as his "testicular area" in the Bolivian press – and he instantly crumpled. Gasps and whistles were audible around the stadium in the capital city, La Paz. But while two other players were sent off during the match – one a member of the presidential bodyguard – Morales himself escaped without a card, staying on the pitch to help his team to a 4-4 draw.
Even when the game was over, the dirty tactics continued. According to some reports, one of Morales' bodyguards attempted to have Cartagena arrested before the leader of his team, Luis Revilla, who is the mayor of La Paz and a political foe of Morales, intervened to protect his liberty.
The presidential palace issued a bulletin saying that Morales, upon his return with wounded leg, had been treated with ointments and painkillers and had been told by doctors to take a few days' rest.
The President, whose party is Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), was unrepentant. "I passed the ball and suddenly I received a hammering. It's not the first time it happened," he told reporters.
Mayor Revilla seemingly decided it would be better to hold no grudges. "This was a football game and on the field we are all players," he said.
It is possible after all that all those involved will meet Morales again soon – in the sporting and political arenas alike. The 50-year-old former llama raiser and coca-leaf farmer has a passion for football. He is on the reserve squad for the second division team Litoral, and not long ago played an exhibition match alongside Diego Maradona of Argentina to protest against a Fifa decision that at almost 12,000ft, the capital was too high for international competition.Reuse content