Critics cry foul as President brings free football to Argentina
Saturday 22 August 2009
In a deft offensive manoeuvre, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner ended a two-week delay in the start of Argentina's football season by signing a $155m-a-year (£94m) deal to broadcast league matches on state television, kicking aside an existing and far less generous cable contract.
Ms Fernandez, who has suffered a string of political setbacks this year (notably in mid-term elections in June), signed the agreement with the Argentine Football Association.
"Today is a historic day for football, ... for Argentines and for the possibility of living in a more just and democratic society," the President declared, with Diego Maradona, an icon of her country's favourite pastime and the current national team coach, standing proudly beside her.
Matches will now be available on Channel 7, a terrestrial station which all Argentine fans can watch for free."It's not good ... that only those who can pay can watch football," Ms Kirchner said.
Though famed for turning out some of the best players in the world, most teams in Argentina are on the financial rocks with deep and growing debts, the result of poor management, corruption and a weakening international market for star performers. Many clubs have been unable even to pay salaries. Together, they also owe the government roughly $100m in unpaid taxes.
The crisis boiled over a week ago when the FA president, Julio Grondona, said he had torn up the previous broadcasting agreement worth only $70m a year that saw league matches broadcast on a pay-per-view basis on cable. The deal was not enough, he said, if the clubs were to survive.
Critics of Ms Fernandez and her husband, Nestor Kirchner, the previous president, are crying foul however. They warn that the football debacle has brought out the worst of the First Family's populist instincts and that, in a recession, the money committed to the 10-year deal should have been spent on more urgent items.
Nor has it gone unnoticed that one of the main partners in the discarded cable contract is Clarin, a Buenos Aires media group with a daily newspaper of the same name that has become increasingly critical of the Kirchner brand and the current government since Ms Fernandez's 2007 win. Clarin and its partners have already threatened to sue the FA for breach of contract.
But, with the first games of the new season finally due to kick off this weekend, the short-term impact for Ms Fernandez is likely to be only positive. When they cheer in the stand and, more relevantly, in living rooms across the country, many fans will also be cheering her for saving the season from disaster.
sportLiverpool 5 Norwich City 1: Uruguayan striker has now scored 11 league goals against the club
arts + entsOlivier-nominated actor and singer is set to star in Lloyd Webber's musical about the Profumo affair
filmWith more than 70 per cent of early films lost, archivists are scouring the world to preserve the precious examples that remain
sportThe coach of Chalfont St Peter's under-10s football team was relieved of his duties after he sent an email to parents that said: 'I am only interested in winning'
techA piece of new hi-tech kit aims to get us scribbling again
indybestMake getting out of the wrong side of bed on cold winter mornings a thing of the past with our selection of night-time covers
life + styleClarissa Baldwin is the brains behind the slogan 'A Dog is for Life not just for Christmas'
Latest in Sport
- 1 The hardwired difference between male and female brains could explain why men are 'better at map reading'
- 2 Is this the scariest advert ever? Japanese tyre commercial comes with its own disclaimer and health warning
- 3 UK chef creates world's most expensive ready meal - a fish pie costing £314
- 4 Food poverty in UK has reached level of 'public health emergency', warn experts
- 5 I’m sure Kate Moss doesn't care about posing for Playboy. But I do