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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > August 2017 > Political football

Political football

In Argentina a populist government made the beautiful game free to view on television. But, now the resurgent right-wing has blown the whistle, watch out for the backlash DAVID GOLDBLATT

In late June this year, on the final day of the football season, Boca Juniors were confirmed as the champions of Argentina’s Primera, the country’s equivalent of the Premier League. The usual delirium in the club’s stadium and in its tight-knit neighbourhood in Buenos Aires was matched in the Casa Rosada a few miles north where President Mauricio Macri, once president of Boca Juniors and a very open and partisan supporter, was also celebrating.

As well as his side’s success, Macri had other reasons to be satisfied. The end of the season also represented an important turning point in the political economy of Argentinian football, one that speaks to the wider economic transformations that the new right-wing president has been pursuing. Boca’s final match of the season, along with every other first division match, was available on television live, direct and free to everyone in Argentina through the semi-public operation Fútbol Para Todos (Football for Everyone). Not for much longer, though. Macri’s economic reforms, which seek to overturn the socialist approach of his two predecessors, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her late husband Nestor, even extend to football. When the new season kicks off in August, Argentina’s biggest games will be available only to those with a cable subscription to the new rights holders Fox and Turner. An electrifying progressive experiment in football broadcasting is over.

David Goldblatt is a writer, broadcaster, and the author of “The Ball is Round: A Global History of Football” (Penguin)

The creation of Fútbol Para Todos in 2009 was perhaps one of the most emblematic policies of Cristina Kirchner’s left-wing government, both in terms of content and style. State intervention, which her government used to advance the material interests of the poor, from creating a universal social security system to massively extending workers’ rights, was in this case used to give “the people” something they very much wanted but often couldn’t afford purely because commercial interests had conspired to shut them out. It was also a political weapon, used with all of Kirchner’s characteristic aggression and guile.

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In Prospect’s August issue: Adam Tooze, Helen Thompson, Ben Chu, Julian Baggini, Tom Clark and Hepzibah Anderson reveal the secret history of the banking crisis and its impact over the last decade. Tooze examines the secret history itself, suggesting the work done to repair the world’s finances could mean another crisis is just around the corner. Chu asks why more people at the top of the banks that failed haven’t faced more serious repercussions, and Anderson shows how post-crash Britain has retreated into cosiness. Elsewhere in the issue Alison Wolf asks whether universities are doing any good, and David Goldblatt explores how the decision to take football off free-to-view television in Argentina could backfire for the government. Also in this issue: Kasia Boddy asks why writers are still addicted to watching boxing despite falling viewing figures, Andrew Dickson profiles Tom Stoppard, Stephen Bush explains how Jeremy Corbyn learned to compromise and David Omand outlines the cyber-security challenges facing the UK and the wider world.