Among the endlessly embarrassing list of movies I have yet to watch, I include the Star Wars trilogy, The Breakfast Club, and Invictus. But over the past few days, it appears that while I have not seen this last movie, I think I have an idea of how the South African people might have felt, thanks to the World Cup.
I don’t say this just because of the skill of the team, though it plays into the argument I’ll make further along the line. Yes, Los Cafeteros have been able to dazzle the world this World Cup. As of this writing, the team is ranked 8th in the FIFA World Rankings. James Rodriguez, who has scored in every match he’s played so far in the World Cup, is said to have scored the best goal so far, has also scored the most goals of any players there (5 total), and was ranked by the FIFA as the best performing player during those preliminary matches is an invaluable asset. The team even broke a FIFA World Cup record by bringing in the oldest player to play in the world cup, 43 year-old goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon who played the last six minutes of the Colombia-Japan game. Not only have the Cafeteros also gained fame for busting some fabulous dance moves after every goal; they have also shown to possess “Great individuals, great squad, good team spirit, solid defense and a real identity with their football.” Sure, the team this year has been amazing; but while it contributes to national pride, it’s not why I draw the comparison to Invictus.
Unfortunately, Colombia also has an infamous side to it, though its origins might not be that well-known. During the 50s, Colombia experienced a period known as La Violencia, where Conservatives and Liberals killed each other ruthlessly for over ten years, and after 300,000 deaths ‘achieved peace.’ Unfortunately, this conflict gave way to the birth of the FARC, the ELN and other terrorist groups, as well as a man whom I am deeply ashamed to share a first name with: Pablo Escobar. As my parents grew up as communicators and journalists, they would hear daily on how political candidates were murdered, how all but one of our Supreme Court justices burned to death, how an entire town was buried due to a volcano not one week after the aforementioned tragedy. Even our own Jon Stewart, Jaime Garzón, was murdered in 1998; I can still remember being a three year old waiving a white handkerchief at the passing black car.
As I mentioned in my article on death and fiction, people need a veil of Maya, a distraction to bear the tragedy of such an unbearable world. For Colombians, fútbol was this escape. Our team and the sport was a matter of national pride; almost every kid played or plays during recess. And during the 90s, we were poised to take the world by storm. We classified to the World Cups of that decade, and were seen as one of the teams that was poised to win it all. As mentioned before, we beat Argentina 5-0, we deflected a goal as our goalkeeper jumped in the air and for a second seemed more like a Cirque du Solei Acrobat. And we had a player whom we considered would take us to victory; Andrés Escobar, known as ‘the gentleman of fútbol’, represented the dreams of millions of Colombians in the midst of our darkest years. But during the 1994 Colombia-U.S. match, he scored an auto-goal that eliminated us. A mere two weeks after returning, Andrés was gunned down, five bullets piercing the 27 year old as his murderers screamed ‘Autogoal!’. Effectively, this meant that in Colombia, “not only were politicians, candidates, journalists, soldiers, policemen and women and trade unionists brutally murdered, but even soccer players… I wondered how we would explain to the outside world what we were doing in this patch of land of ours” (Silva Romero). I personally never understood why I wasn’t as big a fan of fútbol when growing up; looking back, I think that when I learned of this painful and too recent moment of our history, I felt sick at the idea of the sport.
But this past year, the winds of change have passed over Colombia. President-elect Juan Manuel Santos, after he and his predecessor oversaw a brutal but effective campaign against the FARC, is heading peace negotiations that could very well end this 50-year old conflict. Colombia is shedding its negative image related to drug trafficking, with wonderful exports like coffee and emeralds, fields like tourism and business, and artists like Juanes, Shakira, and Sofia Vergara. And yet, the country remained polarized. Santos’ predecessor, Alvaro Uribe Velez, has unfortunately kept polarizing the nation. With his extremely messianic complex, he feels he is the only one who can save Colombia, attempting to extend the presidential term, and now publicly commenting on everything the government does. And as the presidential elections neared a few weeks ago, the nation was still divided 50-50.
But with every win, the country has come together. By advancing to octafinals, the country felt our image in the world was changing. And by reaching quarters for the first time, Colombia has felt a resurgence of happiness and optimism that is rare in our convoluted history. Even without our star player, Falcao, we have been able to move forward and succeed. Like in South Africa, the team has changed the nation’s narrative.
In Colombia, the saying ‘echar pa’lante’ means keep going, move forward. Despite their loss on July 4th, the team has exemplified Colombia’s fighting spirit; how we keep rising from the ashes like a phoenix, and that, no matter what life throws at us, we can get up and echar pa’lante. So here’s to you, Cafeteros.
“Colombia Goalie Mondragon Plays in World Cup – Aged 43.” Metro Faryd Mondragon Makes History by Playing for Colombia at World Cup Aged43 Comments. Associated Newspapers, 24 June 2014. Web. 02 July 2014. <http://metro.co.uk/2014/06/24/faryd-mondragon-makes-history-after-playing-for-colombia-at-world-cup-aged-43-4774666/>.
“James, El ‘crack'” El Espectador. El Espectador, 24 June 2014. Web. 02 July 2014. <http://www.elespectador.com/deportes/futbolinternacional/james-el-crack-articulo-500337>.
Oshinsky, Dan. “How To Dance As Awesomely As The Colombian Soccer Team.” BuzzFeed. BuzzFeed, 19 June 2014. Web. 02 July 2014. <http://www.buzzfeed.com/danoshinsky/how-to-dance-like-a-colombian-soccer-star>.
“Ranking Prognosis.” FIFA.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 July 2014. <http://www.fifa.com/worldranking/rankingtable/index.html>.
“Rodriguez Hits Front as Perisic Goes Home in Second.” FIFA.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 July 2014. <http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/y%3D2014/m%3D6/news%3Drodriguez-hits-front-as-perisic-goes-home-in-second-2387611.html>.
Silva Romero, Ricardo. “Veinte Años Del Asesinato De Andrés Escobar.” El Tiempo. El Tiempo, 28 June 2014. Web. 02 July 2014. <http://www.eltiempo.com/deportes/futbol-colombiano/veinte-anos-del-asesinato-de-andres-escobar/14182980>.
“Six Reasons Why England Fans MUST Support Colombia at World Cup.” Metro. Associated Newspapers, 25 June 2014. Web. 02 July 2014. <http://metro.co.uk/2014/06/25/six-reasons-why-england-fans-should-now-definitely-support-colombia-at-world-cup-2014-4775054/>.