Over the last week or so, Mauricio Macri’s assumption as President has understandably taken the vast majority of public attention in Argentina, but there have been a couple of important elections in the world of football as well, and one went a lot more smoothly than the other.
The first of those elections came last week in the central Buenos Aires office of the Argentine Football Association (AFA). It was an important and indeed historic election for the AFA, and delegates could perhaps be forgiven for the confusion that ensued, if we’re feeling very generous. After all, in an organization that hadn’t had a contested election for president since 1991 and had last made a meaningful choice in 1979 (and even then, under the eye of the military junta, who’d pre-approved their candidate), perhaps it was inevitable that some delegates seemed to have plain forgotten how to cast a vote.
The result – in which 75 club delegates managed to produce a 38-38 tie between incumbent acting president Luis Segura and challenger Marcelo Tinelli – was an embarrassment even by the AFA’s lofty standards of incompetence. There were complaints of the ballot papers being too thin, and one envelope contained two votes – one for each candidate.
(Football tourism tip: the AFA’s central offices are on Viamonte, between Uruguay and Talcahuano, and if you wander up with a camera and a sufficiently wide-eyed tourist look, the man on the door is often happy to let you in for a look around the trophies on show in the lobby, which include Argentina’s two World Cups among many others. They don’t advertize this but if you’re as much of a football nerd as me it’s a must-do.)
It’s easy to mock the voting situation, but where the AFA is concerned, it’s also all too easy to be suspicious when scandals occur. Segura was a close ally of Julio Grondona, the man who ruled over the AFA with an iron fist and an all-seeing eye from his election in 1979 until his death just after last year’s World Cup. Grondona was notoriously close to Argentine presidents of all political stripes – dictators and democratically elected ones. Anyone who was as close to him as Segura will have picked up a few tips, at least, regarding canny political operating.
As for the other candidate? Tinelli’s brash public persona and huge televisual brand aren’t to everyone’s taste by any means, but he’s been wildly successful in his business ventures and perhaps even more so in his still short career as a football administrator. When he (as vice-president) and Matías Lammens (as president) took over the direction of San Lorenzo de Almagro in 2012, the team had just avoided relegation to the second division. Under its new directors, the club won a league championship and, in 2014, finally lifted the Copa Libertadores for the first time in its history.
The perception from outside the AFA, then, is by and large that Segura represents a continuation of the old guard, whereas Tinelli will bring new ideas and acumen to an association in need of a shake-up.
How football fans see things doesn’t really matter to the men in power, though. It’s not the fans, after all, who vote for the AFA presidency, but the directors of the clubs which make up the AFA. That brings us on to the smoother of the two footballing elections in recent days, at Boca Juniors.
At that election, held on Sunday, fans did get to vote – club members elect the institutional presidents at Argentina’s clubs – and Boca’s socios (members) turned out in record numbers. 26,136 members cast votes, and incumbent Daniel Angelici, fresh from the domestic league and cup double the team has just won out on the pitch, was voted back in for another term.
Angelici hasn’t enjoyed the same outrageous on-pitch success as former Boca president Mauricio Macri did in the early years of the century, but he did have the benefit of the new Argentine President’s backing in the Boca election, so this was yet another electoral win for Macri, too. And that brings us full circle, because there are plenty of as-yet unanswered questions regarding the country’s new President and what his presidency means for Argentine football.
Boca’s vote in the AFA elections is known to be going to Segura, but whichever candidate eventually wins the AFA presidency is going to need to sit down with Macri and discuss how the sport’s financial interests can be served by an administration that will – partly out of desire and partly out of necessity – be eager to cut back on the amount of public money being ploughed into the Kirchners’ Fútbol Para Todos (FPT) program, to name just the most obvious issue.
From that point of view, given his vast experience in broadcasting and his contact book, Tinelli seems like the candidate most likely to have ideas about how he can work with FPT. Macri will likely seek to bring in private advertizing, taking the financial strain off the government publicity drives football fans have become accustomed to since the program first aired in 2009. Also up for discussion, one would think, will be issues surrounding security and ideas about how to raise revenue by opening up the possibility to bet on matches.
Democracy is, by now, well established both in Argentina and her football clubs, but in the post-Grondona world, the AFA itself is still taking baby steps into the light. The second attempt at electing a president will take place next Friday, and let’s hope no one gets their ballots stuck together this time.