Robbery

 

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 9th 2014)

Reprise

Tonight Louis van Gaal’s Dutch team get the opportunity to claim revenge for an act of football robbery – one that had dire consequences. When Argentina was awarded the World Cup of 1978 it was a democracy – a weak and ineffective one, but a democracy nonetheless. By the time the ticker-tape World Cup got under-way Argentina was ruled by one of the most despicable men to pollute twentieth century despite stiff competition for that tag.

General Jorge Videla Redondo was a thoroughly reprehensible person. He was not prepared to leave anything to chance. The budget was raised to ten times the original, but the extent of poverty and brutal repression was hidden from foreign observers and on the pitch the fix was on. FIFA gave Argentina an unfair advantage of playing their second round matches after rivals Brasil, meaning they always knew what was needed.

The last of those matches was the most infamous. Needing to win 4-0 to progress at Brasil’s expense, Perú capitulated in the second half after a half-time visit to their dressing room by Videla accompanied by his guest Henry Kissinger. But complaints mean little after the fact. Videla got what he paid for, but the Dutch were a different matter. There would be no rolling over for Argentina.

The fouling was persistent and dirty, but the gamesmanship started before the game had even started. It was delayed as Argentina objected to a plaster cast worn by René van der Kerkhof to protect a wrist injury. But FIFA must take responsibility for scandalous cowardice. A respected official Abraham Klein had been selected for the final. Argentina objected and were rewarded with the referee of their choice being appointed.

The Italian Serio Gonella gave a performance of shameful bias, allowing blatant fouling to go unpunished. Despite the gamesmanship and unpunished fouling the Dutch came close to pooping Videla’s party anyway. Rob Rensenbrinck and Dick Nanninga hit the woodwork. Nanninga equalised Mario Kempes’ goal to force extra time, but Kempes scored another and Daniel Bertoni got the other.

Videla had his victory, but football and the human race had lost a whole lot more. Videla and his thuggish junta clung to power, bolstered by the World Cup triumph, committing atrocity after atrocity. The Netherlands were robbed on the pitch. Argentinians lost a whole lot more. They remain by far the biggest victims of one of the most corrupt World Cups ever.

Betrayed

By the time FIFA arrived with its entourage one of the best players the world had ever seen Johan Cruijff refused to play, protesting against the vicious dictatorship that had seized power in Argentina, although he now says that the real reason was a kidnap attempt in Barçelona a year earlier.

While Cruijff sacrificed the chance to win the World Cup and cement his legacy – his country still hasn’t won football’s ultimate prize – FIFA lacked such principle. General Jorge Videla Redondo was a vicious tyrant, responsible for the kidnap, disappearance, torture and murder of thousands of people.1 Videla was absolutely determined to exploit the World Cup and to their eternal shame FIFA acquiesced.

Never forget that Argentinians were far and away the people who suffered most from the military junta that imposed the Dirty War against its own people long before the Falklands War (Malvinas). Videla ended his days in prison after being convicted of an orchestrated campaign to kidnap children and have them brought up by military personnel. It was one of Argentina’s biggest scandals as it confronted the amnesia that had characterised the post dictatorship years.

Tyranny

Videla had learned well from his fellow fascist despot Benito Mussolini. Winning the World Cup bolsters the popularity of the incumbent government, whether illegally in power or not. Isabel Martínez de Perón will never be remembered as a great President of Argentina. She succeeded her husband General Juan Perón upon his death in 1974. She made the grave error of trusting and promoting the tyrant in making Videla.

Martínez de Perón’s husband provided refuge to Nazi war criminals after the Second World War. Argentina had been awarded the tournament in 1966. Videla seized power a decade later. He spent a fortune to exploit the World Cup – some of it necessary. Roads linking host cities were needed, but colour television was not a priority except to Videla.

Slums were hidden behind huge walls and taking no chances Operación El Barrido was unleashed to disappear dissidents at an alarming rate. Videla and his uniformed thugs would stop at nothing to prevent the truth about the repression and economic chaos being revealed by enterprising journalists. The 1978 World Cup was a disgrace, but the greatest victims of it was not Brasil, nor even the Netherlands – it was Argentina. The ranks of the Disappeared, tortured and murdered swelled to thousands. That tournament has blood on its hands, especially of Argentinians.

 

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