(Photo via EFE/Kimimasa Mayama)

In the past weeks, fans of several Argentine football teams have chosen a rather unusual target to express their anger about controversial refereeing decisions that affect their team: President Mauricio Macri.

However, the insults coming down from the bleachers are not a way of protesting against the government’s policies. They do have to do with politics, but the politics oozing from another institution: the Argentine Football Association (AFA).

Turns out that supporters and fans of several local teams believe that President Macri is using his influence to benefit Boca Juniors, a football club he is a fan of and he presided before being elected to office. Their chant of choice? “Mauricio Macri, la puta que te parió“, which roughly translates to “Mauricio Macri, you son of a bitch!”

The trend has gained traction, and fans have also started using it in other situations that have nothing to do with its original goal. For example, the chant erupted at Huracan’s stadium when the power ran out before a match on Saturday. Think of it as a kind of “Thanks, Obama,” – but a little (or a lot) more violent.

“It shouldn’t be read as an attack on his administration,” sports journalist Daniel Edwards told The Bubble. “The criticism has more to do with the context, that’s to say, sports, than with concrete political matters. It’s an area filled by other political spaces, social movements and trade unions, all of which haven’t been shy to speak out against Cambiemos’ actions in the past,” he added.

When consulted if he believed this could affect his perception outside the football landscape, he said that he can’t see “any voter changing their vote due to what happens at the football stadium.”

He gave the example of River fans, who insulted the president following several controversial decisions from the referee in its match against Godoy Cruz from last week. “Considering the demographics of Núñez, the neighborhood in which the River stadium is located, and the voting patterns of Buenos Aires in general, the average River fan has voted for Macri at least once in their lifetime, and would do so again.”

Even if miscalled penalties won’t cost Macri his reelection, it is still worth looking at the causes that led the chants to erupt. According to this theory, the President is pulling the strings of Argentine football through AFA president Claudio “Chiqui” Tapia – an open Boca fan – and Daniel Angelici, the vice president of AFA, current president of Boca Juniors, and Macri’s close ally.

The theory has been pushed by the authorities of those clubs who oppose the leadership of the Tapia-Angelici duo in AFA – in essence, River, San Lorenzo, and, more recently, Independiente. The first one to do so was River coach Marcelo Gallardo, who said in early January that even though he did not believe there was a big conspiracy going on, “Macri, Tapia and Angelici make us keep our guard up.”

Further controversial decisions from referees have led to the repeating of these claims, installing the issue in the football conversation. “Today, the world of football is ran almost entirely by Boca,” former Vice President of San Lorenzo Marcelo Tinelli claimed recently, adding fuel to the fire. As a result of this, every sign is read as further proof of the conspiracy aimed at getting Boca to dominate Argentine football, conveniently overlooking the fact that it has been doing so long before the chants started. (It’s been holding the first position of the football league for more than 400 days in a row.)

Predictably, both Tapia and Angelici have come out to rebuke the theory, particularly the president’s involvement: “It’s incredible that they believe that Macri is behind refereeing mistakes,” said Angelici. “When an issue is being pushed into a conversation, only time will provide the chance to prove it wrong. We have to live with it but it is not good for us. It is not okay to mix things and insult the President at the stadiums,” Tapia said.

Edwards told The Bubble the fact that Tapia supports Boca should not feed into the controversy. “Anyone so deeply involved in football is going to have their personal sympathies. All of Argentina knew for example that Grondona was an Independiente fan and ran his own club on the side (Arsenal de Sarandí).”

Only last Friday River President Rodolfo D’onofrio tried to tone down the controversy rejecting the possibility of Macri being involved. “It is absurd to even think about it.”

But even if the President has been detached from this conspiracy theory, there is still an ongoing feud within the AFA’s political world that is worth dissecting, with the mentioned authorities being the most visible actors of the political divide existing since the death of the institution’s eternal (and infamous) president, Julio Grondona.

HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Following Grondona’s death, AFA held in 2015 its first elections since 1991. The competing candidates were Tinelli and Luis Segura, who was close to Grondona and had ran the association during the transition between his passing and the elections.

However, things went terribly wrong. The election ended up in a 38-38 tie, even though 75 people had been enabled to vote. The outcome led to an institutional crisis within AFA, which prompted FIFA to appoint a so-called “regularizing committee” tasked with bringing order to the institution and guaranteeing a smooth transition until new, legitimate elections were held.

Nine months later – with several controversies surrounding the committee included – AFA held new elections. However, Tinelli and his running mate D’onofrio decided not to compete after realizing they had no chance of winning. With the support of Angelici and his father-in-law, Independiente President Hugo Moyano, together with the fact that he was the only candidate, Tapia was elected as President in March 2017.

At first, both sides attempted to bridge the divide, with Tinelli taking a post in the administration. However, the peace lasted about a month and a half: Tinelli quit, according to the media, after the rejection of several of his proposals made him confirm that he was doomed to being inconsequential.

Ever since, tensions continued to grow, with the theory regarding the allegedly deliberate refereeing mistakes being the object of the last clash. Edwards explained that the influence Tapia and Angelici have is getting larger with time and that Hugo Moyano, who had been included as part of that triumvirate as a counter-weight, has become isolated. “The power wielded by such a duo with very few dissenting voices can only be a concern,” he said.

Edwards’ argument was illustrated by a statement issued by Moyano last week. “I don’t know if Macri runs the football association. I don’t think so, although he may have some influence. However, if he can benefit Boca, he will do so,” he said in a radio interview. “It is something there is no proof of, but considering the refereeing decisions, it is possible,” he added. Moreover, he took a jab at his son-in-law and former ally. “Maybe he doesn’t know he is being influenced,” he said. Unsurprisingly, Independiente supporters also chanted against Macri this weekend, and not after a controversial decision.

It is quite unlikely that the issue will fade away. As all actors involved continue analyzing the referee’s actions with a magnifying glass, every error feeds into the collective frenzy.

Tensions will surely reach its peak on March 14, when River and Boca clash at the “Argentine Supercup” in the province of Mendoza. In fact, both teams’ presidents will meet with Tapia this week to discuss what to do about this issue. Unless Macri decides to referee the match and call five non-existent penalties for River, we can only expect for the chant to continue.