Making The World Go Round

Editorʼs Note

The final of the Europa League will take place in Warsaw a couple of months from now. We covered Polandʼs bow at hosting a major football even and look forward to returning to see how football has helped to develop Polandʼs infrastructures on and off the pitch. Here we republish an article on how politics and football collided with football playing its part in fostering political change.

Derek Miller

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 4th 2012)


Collision Course

A recurring theme in Euro 2012 was the desire to keep politics out of football. But why? Euro 2012 took place in two countries that know better than most that football and politics, especially liberation theory politics, most definitely do mix.

It was ironic to hear one of Poland’s greatest ever players Grzegorz Lato make that plea.

Lato knows how important the history and politics were back in his heyday as a player and also now. He remembers the 1982 World Cup in Spain well, having had a good tournament. Politics and football didn’t just mix then, they collided full on. Poland and Argentina bore testimony to that on and off the pitch.

The Mix

I don’t want to mix politics and sport”, Lato said. “I had several matches, especially in 1982 during the World Cup in Spain. We were in a group with the Russians and political aspects were very important during those times also”.

That’s not only an understatement, but somewhat economic with the truth. Those were very important times for Poland. Poles living abroad brandished their Solidarność (Solidarity) banners and placards. They filled the stadiums with their protest and defiance of the Polish junta led by General Wojciech Jaruzelski for Poland’s matches.

Damned Junta

Jaruzelski replaced Edward Gierek as Communist Party leader in December 1981 and imposed martial laws, clamping down on Solidarność, putting its leader Lech Walęsa under house arrest. The junta tried to destroy a popular movement and take advantage of football, but it had underestimated both the power of football and the desire of Polish people to be free of the shackles of an oppressive and deeply unpopular regime.

It also tried to censor the political protest made during the matches, thereby underestimating the power of football. Those demanding political change in Poland made far better use of the sport as a mechanism for political change than the then government of Poland.

Failed Junta

Ultimately the junta failed, but in 1982 a good Polish team inspired by the political events in the stands secured third place. Meanwhile, the junta reacted to the impromptu demonstrations by ensuring that Poland’s World Cup matches were broadcast with a delay that allowed it to cut out the Solidarność protests.

But it was too late. Poles already knew from the first match that politics had entered the world of football to great effect in support of political and human rights for them. Both players and Polish people could not claim to be unaware of what had happened.

The junta may have hoped to profit from the success of the team in Spain, but the Solidarność protests ensured that it could not steal the glory of a remarkable achievement by the players.

The collision had occurred and did so in a country that had only recently emerged from a debilitating dictatorship and had undergone an attempted coup just a year earlier.

In 1986 Jaruzelski was told by the then leader of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, that he would not intervene in Polish affairs, forcing the General to negotiate with Walęsa. Four years later Walęsa succeeded Jaruzelski as President of Poland.

Added Spice


I don’t like politics to get into this”, Lato said as 1982 had added spice – a match against the old enemy, Russia, then part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. But would Lato or any of those complaining about politics and sport mixing object to the political protests of 1982 at the football in support of Solidarność and Walęsa?

I’m looking at the context of the history of Polish-Russian relations from another perspective. This [Euro 2012] is just a sporting competition. I have played against the Russians three times. During the Olympics we won 2-1. We lost 4-1 in Volgagrad and we had a 0-0 draw in Spain, so we are staying away from the politics. We are not interested in all those issues created by mass media. We are not interested in politics”.

A Force for Change

But why not? Politics can change the world. Football also can change the world for the better. Why shouldn’t they combine to do that, for example by opposing and even stopping wars as Didier Drogba did in la Côte d’Ivoire and Seydou Keita tearfully tried to do for his country Mali in this year’s African Cup of Nations? If football cannot and should not do that, then shame on it!

Seydou Keita

So, coming from Lato this plea to keep politics out of football is strange. ‘Communism’ in Poland collapsed just eight years after the Solidarność matches in Spain. Lato was there in that different era and knows that politics and football collided for the greater good.

In the independent Poland that followed the break-up of the Soviet Union – a process that football played a part in – Lato became a Senator and later the President of Poland’s FA, the PZPN. Both were political positions. How can he credibly say that politics and football do not and should not mix?

Never Again – Archive

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 4th 2012)

The Greatest

Arguably the greatest ever footballer Diego Armando Maradona has had many battles. Absurdly one of the best ever players to grace the beautiful game is remembered, especially in England, for ‘The Hand of God’ goal rather than the many moments of genius and artistry that he provided. But Maradona offers further proof, if it were needed that football and politics plainly mix, even if that is not always a good thing.

Debates rage over whether he was better than Pelé or not, but a young Maradona later found out that his rival’s words in 1970 were prophetic. Pelé told Bobby Charlton, “Our country is ruled by despicable people.” He was right. The vicious dictatorship of Emílio Garrastasu Médici tried to hijack the World Cup triumph to justify its illegal rule over Brasil.

The Argentinian Medici

While still a teenager Maradona tasted World Cup glory for the first time, just eight years after Pelé’s last triumph on the world stage. Maradona didn’t play in the team of Leopoldo Luque, Daniel Passarella and Mario Kempes, but he learned a valuable lesson for later life.

Argentina advanced to the second knock-out stage – the semi-finals – despite a scandalous result. Needing to win 4-0 to advance at Brasil’s expense, Perú’s Argentinian-born goal-keeper Ramón Quiroga conceded six. Stories soon emerged that General Jorge Videla Redondo, the head of the Argentinian military junta had threatened the Perúvian team.

Even now stories of the fix emerge. The Netherlands, the beaten finalists complain that they were cheated. Actually Brasil, not the Dutch, were cheated. It is now too late to correct this as 30 years on Brasil cannot now play the semi-final. Nor can a just final be played. Awarding the Netherlands that trophy now would not redress the damage that was actually done to Brasil – the real victims of the fix.

Maradona saw not only the lengths that Videla was prepared to go to in order to get the success that he demanded, but after that success was achieved, how it was exploited by despicable people.

Used for the last time

Maradona would be used and abused again in Spain. Leopoldo Galtieri Castelli had succeeded Videla and tried to repeat the trick in 1982, but Galtieri failed miserably and Maradona realised that he had been used by vile and brutal people. That was not going to be allowed to happen again – ever.

The Falklands (or Malvinas) Islands conflict was raging when Argentina went to Spain to defend their title. Football would claim its revenge on at least one of the despicable people. Spanish media was not censored as the Argentinian media had been. That country had just emerged from a vicious dictatorship that had lasted almost four decades.

General Francisco Franco, who was far from averse to using football for his own ends, was dead and democratic values in Spain were young. It had only just survived a serious coup attempt involving shooting in the Spanish Parliament a year earlier. But Spain had had its fill of a censored media. The Argentinian junta could not hide the truth about the war from its players in Spain and that had dire consequences.

Never Again

The players learned the truth that had been hidden from them in their own country. They had believed the lies, but now they were confronted by the truth. It affected their morale and the quality of their play. They surrendered their title meekly, failing to advance beyond the second stage. Spain’s World Cup had offered further proof of the power of football and connection with political change.

Galtieri had hoped that football would allow him to bask in reflected glory and deceive his people further. He lost the war and power soon afterwards and was deservedly jailed as his junta fell from power. He died reviled by Argentinians in 2003.

Diego Armando Maradona went on to become one of the greatest players to ever grace the sport. Having learned of the cynical deceit and how he had been used and abused Maradona vowed that he would never be used like that again.

He became his own man politically, and developed a friendship with then Cuban leader Fidel Castro Ruz. Four years after Galtieri’s failed attempt to emulate Videla, Maradona led his team to World Cup glory again in México.



Never Too Late

Editor’s Note:

A year we published this article. We publish it again on the eve of the World Cup. The problems that plague Brasil’s economy and society remain. It is likely that the World Cup will witness further demonstrations and potentially brutality too, but with the eyes of the world on the country. This tournament has polarised opinion in Brasil. Many do not want the World Cup. They want, housing, education and other necessities. In such an economic climate, hosting a World Cup is a luxury they cannot afford, but they are stuck with it. Along with these views, expectations have been raised by winning the Confederations Cup. We remain concerned that so little progress has been made in the investigation of the death of renowned journalist Vladimir Herzog, which was highlighted in the article below.

Derek Miller


By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (July 14th 2013)


As the eyes of the world focused on the Confederations’ Cup Brasilians took the streets to voice their discontent. Among the demands was an end to police brutality. São Paulo, home of the Copa Libertadores champions Corinthians, hosted no matches, but the demonstrations were vociferous and on occasion violent. The demonstrators were mainly young people who wanted change. 


They are too young to remember that 28 years ago the 21-year-long military dictatorship came to an end. It was not the most brutal dictatorship in South America, but torture and disappearances were not unheard of especially in São Paulo. Nevertheless, demands for justice for the Disappeared and victims of torture and murder were conspicuous by their absence – they still are.

Among those humiliated and tortured in São Paulo was a then 22-year-old student and alleged Marxist guerilla Dilma Rousseff. She is now Brasil’s President. Rousseff established the Truth Commission to establish what happened during the dictatorship. But while the Truth Commission is concerned with what happened, others still want and demand justice, but face huge problems.



The Amnesty Problem

In 1979 an Amnesty law was passed that protects both the military and also left-wing guerrillas for offences committed during the dictatorship. The Eremias Delizoicov Centre for Documentation and the Families’ Commission of Political Deaths and Disappearances has a website highlighting the crimes of that era and their quest for justice. It illustrates the scale of the abuses of human rights which have never been resolved. But now the amnesia is being confronted.

As with other South American dictatorships, the Disappeared are finally getting to accuse their torturers from beyond the grave as forensic science tells their stories. According to the website 379 Disappeared people have been named. The true figure is likely to be far higher. Relatives of the Disappeared still demand justice. However, they face another problem – the statute of limitations on murder in Brasil is 20 years. But there is a solution – albeit not an ideal one – there is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity.

A Young Democracy

Brasilians took to the streets to protest the waste of resources, especially building unwanted stadia, such as Brasiliaʼs Estádio Nacional Mané Garrincha. The state-of-the-art stadium is destined to become a white elephant as none of the capitalʼs teams grace the top flight of Brasilian football. In fact, they languish in the lower leagues. There is no chance that this plush stadium can pay its way through football as no local team has a support-base to match its capacity.

Todayʼs demonstrators were too young to remember the fight against the dictatorship, let alone life before it. In 1964 the government of João Goulart was overthrown, returning Brasil to a military dictatorship two decades after the last one ended. It had seized power in 1930, ending when Getúlio Vargas was deposed in 1945, but six years later Vargas returned as the country’s elected President. Ironically, Vargas was Goulart’s mentor. Vargas, rocked by scandals and under pressure to quit as President, committed suicide in 1954.

His reputation underwent a Damascene conversion. Goulart was deeply affected by Vargasʼ suicide, but decided to remain in politics, becoming President in 1961. Three years later another two decades of dictatorship began with the overthrow of Goulart. The former President died suddenly in exile in Argentina in 1976, but was it murder?



It was originally claimed to be a heart attack until Brasilian politician Leonel Brizola, a former Governor of Rio Grande do Sul and later of Rio de Janeiro as well, claimed that Goulart had been assassinated as part of the infamous Operation Condor. Brizola also claimed the popular President of Brasil Juscileno Kubitschek, who died in a car crash in 1976, had also been assassinated. Brizola’s claims, made in 2000, were not taken seriously at first, but confirmation came from an unlikely source eight years later, which was published by Folha de São Paulo.

Mario Neira Barreiro, a former security services agent for Uruguay’s dictatorship claimed that the late head of Brasil’s Department of Political and Social Order (DOPS) Sérgio Fleury (pronounced Flay-uree) was the link between Brasil’s and Uruguay’s dictatorships. According to Barreiro, Fleury demanded that Goulart must be murdered. Barreiro backs up Brizola’s claims that Goulart was poisoned. Before an autopsy could be carried out the former President was buried. Barreiro was subsequently jailed for arms smuggling in Brasil.

Barreiro claimed that Goulart’s communications were tapped and that those conversations resulted in the order to kill him coming from former Brasilian dictator Ernesto Geisel. The order was given to the Uruguayans by Fleury and conducted under auspices of the CIA. The former Uruguayan spy claims that they tampered with Goulart’s medication. Naturally Goulart’s family demanded action, threatening to take their case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights if the Brasilian government failed to take action. The National Truth Commission began investigating Goulart’s death in March 2013 and ordered his remains exhumed last week.


Human Rights

Fleury died on his boat in May 1979. A hero to right-wingers who pine for the return of the dictatorship, Fleury has a reputation for torturing opponents of the junta. The revolutionary guerilla Carlos Marighella is a case in point. He was assassinated in an ambush organised by Fleury in 1969. Almost 40 years earlier Marighella had opposed the fledgling Vargas dictatorship and been tortured by Vargas’ then enforcer Filinto Strübing Müller, who is known as the ‘Patron of Torturers’. Müller became a leader of the pro-dictatorship party ARENA (National Renewal Alliance Party) until his death in 1973.

While todayʼs demonstrators demanded many things including an end to police brutality, they ignored the plight of the Disappeared and also of proven victims of torture – perhaps deliberately. One of the victims of Fleury and his goons was none other than a target of some of the demonstrators’ anger Dilma Rousseff. Her discomfort at having to meet the President of Brasil’s Football Association José Maria Marin at the opener of that tournament was obvious. She was also a notable absentee at the final – wonder why?


Marin’s brazen predecessor Ricardo Teixeira resigned his football posts pending a damning report from FIFA’s Ethics Committee. Marin, his deputy, got the job, but Marin has problems of his own. He had previously tried and failed as a politician. A 1975 speech has landed him in hot water. It is widely believed to have given the green light for the brutal Fleury to act against journalists including the widely respected Vladimir Herzog, whose death in police custody shortly after Marin’s speech helped to turn the tide against the dictatorship.

Herzog was tortured mercilessly and died under ‘interrogation’. An outrageously staged photo of his ‘suicide’ fooled nobody. Herzog’s family hold Marin responsible for legitimising the attack on journalists that resulted in his death. A month before the Confederations Cup the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights came to Brasil to demand progress on the infamous murder of Herzog. Marin may yet have cause to regret his appreciation and support of Fleury as the World Cup approaches.