News from the four finalists angling to host the 2016 Summer Olympics:
This weekend, Chile and Peru will square off in a World Cup qualifier that’s a must-win for the Peruvians. The match comes as Chile and Peru are in the Hague to settle a dispute over almost 25,000 miles of Pacific water space. It’s a contentious issue in both countries, but will the tensions spill over onto the pitch? Depends on whom you ask. Here’s Nolberto Solano, captain of the Peru team:
“We should not mix politics with soccer, we are brother countries. Wartime is over.”
But here’s Peruvian defender Carlos Zambrano (no, not the Chicago Cubs’ right-hander):
“I have never passed by them and I never will. They have infuriated and enraged me since I was a child and this Sunday I am going to get back at them for everything they have done to us.”
Prediction: Mr. Zambrano is headed for a red card.
Magglio Ordonez of the Detroit Tigers and the Venezuelan national team was booed lustily during a recent WBC game in Miami. Unlike most ballplayers, he wasn’t booed for his performance or a visible lack of effort. Rather, he was booed because of his close associations with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Carlos Frias of the Palm Beach Post sets the scene:
In an event that brings out deep national pride in Latin America, Venezuelans made up easily 90 percent of the announced 17,345, which may have been more like 14,000 actual fans. The stadium’s orange and teal seats were eclipses by fans in red, yellow and blue, Venezuela’s national colors, waving Venezuelan flags and singing Venezuelan chants as a midday sun beat down on them and the players.
But it was clear they came dressed not to just to watch, but to participate in their national debate as soon as the lineups were announced. Roars went up as each player was introduced – an especially hearty applause went to former Marlin Miguel Cabrera – until they came to Ordonez, when a hailstorm of whistles, catcalls and throaty abucheos made the crowd seem to double in size.
Chavez, much his like his friend and ally Fidel Castro, is deliriously unpopular in South Florida because of his repressive policies. Ordonez recently angered disaffected Venezuelans by campaigning to end term limits in his native country–a step that could make Chavez, given his election-fraud proclivities, president for life. That, in part, is why fans reacted so strongly to Ordonez.
After all, Stalinist land seizures, absolute control of the media, and countless other authoritarian measures tend to make one a firebrand. If Ordonez wants to work for the continuation of those policies, then he should consider his unpopularity among Venezuelan expats a very minor consequence.
Venezuela topped the U.S. 5-3 on Wednesday night, avenging an earlier loss in the WBC, and both teams will advance to the second round in Miami.
Anytime the Americans and Venezuelans square off in competition, the political backdrop is part of the story. In recent months, tensions have grown as both countries shooed away each other’s ambassadors and Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez nationalized a U.S.-owned rice mill (good thing it wasn’t a Chilean copper mine). In this instance, however, the sub-plots are mostly a media obsession. The U.S. and Venezuelan WBC rosters are larded with major-league players who have toiled against and alongside each other for years without letting politics get in the way.
Now if the U.S. runs into Cuba in Miami … that’s a story with off-the-field intrigue.
And speaking of Cuba, Fidel Castro himself has been blogging about the Classic. There’s a subtle jab at the U.S. in there, as Castro refers to Japan and South Korea as “Cuba’s strongest opponents.” Castro later refers to “the dangerous and emblematic Ichiro,” which absolutely should be Ichiro’s nickname going forward.
Something that might give Castro pause is that Congress recently (and wisely) rolled back sanctions against Cuba. Reuters speculates that the move “could herald deeper changes to the long-standing U.S. policy of shunning the communist-ruled island.” Eventually, that could extend to softening our awful policy toward Cuban immigrants. And that, thankfully, could mean more Cuban ballplayers in major-league uniforms.