A political fight over TV money and unpaid bills sees the start of the new Argentine season in jeopardy. Here’s more from Peter Coates
While Argentina’s football clubs should have been planning and preparing for the return to league action in 2017, they were instead fretting over how to pay players and staff following a row that raged throughout the Argentine Football Association (AFA) all the way up to the head of the government over television rights and unpaid contracts.
Amid ongoing meetings, offers and counter-offers, threats and deadlines there are still no absolute certainties on the matter despite lower league football due to start in a week and the Primera a week later.
So, how did football get to this point?
Despite the apparent never-ending conveyor belt of talent that Argentina produces, its club football has been run shambolically for years and even the country’s biggest sides are forced to survive somewhat hand to mouth.
Clubs are far more than the football teams that they are most famous for as away from the pitch there are usually countless other sports and activities for which the club must find the way to finance.
With the costs more often than not outweighing the profits, Argentine football at all levels is virtually broke and the system of selling players to balance the books and the guarantee of television money is the only thing that keeps most afloat.
Now the lack of funds is not a new thing for the clubs and an alarming amount have been racking up debts for years but the latest crisis relates to the payments (or non-payments) surrounding the government’s ‘Futbol Para Todos’ (Football for All) scheme.
Previous president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner claimed football back for the people after years of cable television broadcasting the domestic leagues and her free-to-air system was financially backed by the government meaning the clubs got more money and the public got free football…sounds wonderful, in theory.
Political opponents to Kirchner pointed to the obvious propaganda that was streamed into households nationwide with every match but despite new president Mauricio Macri campaigning that Futbol Para Todos was going nowhere (albeit minus the pro-governments ads), it has come to an end.
Money maybe a constant issue in Argentine football but the landscape is very different to the one when President Kirchner implemented Futbol Para Todos.
The AFA was run by Julio Grondona at this point and despite the appearance of democracy within the organisation, Don Julio ruled with an iron fist from 1979 until his death in 2014.
A close ally of Sepp Blatter, Grondona would likely have been at the centre of the FIFA scandal had he still been around but it is the misappropriation of funds from Futbol Para Todos that has subsequently had FIFA eying Argentine football with such scrutiny.
Grondona’s reputation for dodgy dealings had few mourning his death but the chaos that has ensued since has provided anything but a reprieve.
A farcically tied election, a 30-team Primera that no one wanted and an empty piggy bank have left the AFA drunkenly stumbling from one disaster to the next and so in attempt to gain some transparency FIFA appointed a normalisation committee to oversee things.
Reform hasn’t materialized and with Macri pulling the plug on Futbol Para Todos, it has left 350 million ($22 million) pesos unpaid to the clubs.
President Mauricio Macri warned, “I have said this before and I will say it again: Football is in a terminal crisis, perhaps worse than any our country has ever seen.
“As I believe the people of Argentina have demonstrated, the state will not participate any more in the Futbol Para Todos programme with AFA. We made this clear six months ago so I trust this was enough time for them to plan how they will manage from February because we are not going to be involved anymore.”
Six months or not, there has been no clear plan of action, the money hasn’t yet been paid as of yet and no new agreement with a broadcaster has been reached.
Armando Perez, the man currently in charge of the FIFA normalization committee has made assurances that the league season will start as planned and the government should at least be paying the 350 million pesos before it starts but there is still a great deal of uncertainty.
If money is a problem through all levels of Argentine football it is even more of an issue for the lower leagues and with a proposed Super League looking likely where the top teams are able to negotiate better deals, that isn’t going to improve.
What do we know for sure? Futbol Para Todos is dead.
What will happen next? Most probably football begins as planned, the AFA hold a new election in a couple of months and a new Super League with a new broadcaster is announced which will look to reduce the 30 teams in the Primera.
Will this all be good for Argentine football? That is the question but with the AFA involved is difficult to have too much optimism.