As the Argentine Football Association (AFA) met on Monday in Buenos Aires, the main focus for most people was on the future of Sergio Batista following the hosts’ disastrous Copa America campaign.
The eventual decision to discard the national team coach was not the day’s big story in the end, coming after the announcement that the AFA would be moving to a 38-team top flight.
That’s right, 38 teams.
It’s a fairly complex proposal but these things are what we know thus far:
- There will be two ‘zones’ of 19 teams that will play each other team in their zone once.
- Each side will play two ‘interzonal’ games in addition. These will only be ‘clasicos’ and will take the total of games up to 20 per team
- For example, River Plate and Boca Juniors will play in different zones, but will play two ‘interzonal’ fixtures against each other.
- The best five teams from each zone would then qualify for the ‘championship zone’, with the championship title and Copa Libertadores places up for grabs. The remaining 28 sides will battle it out to avoid relegation and possibly for Copa Sudamericana places.
So the real question is ‘why?’
Many people have suggested this being a response to River Plate’s relegation last season, but that is a fairly irrelevant factor. The above proposals have been ratified as coming into effect for the 2012/13 season, therefore River will play the upcoming season in the ‘B’ regardless. The only positive effect it will have on the ‘millionarios’ is that they will only have a maximum of one season at that level.
The supposed motive for this change is the ‘federalisation’ of Argentine football, as traditionally Buenos Aires has been over-represented in the ‘primera’. This argument holds little water though, as four sides from Greater Buenos Aires – including River – have just been relegated, with four provincial sides replacing them.
Sadly, the real reasons seem to be the most obvious, money and favour. By agreeing this deal, the AFA will more than double their television rights income by starting their own television channel. By giving more money to each club, particularly those from the ‘B’ and the provinces, AFA chief Julio Grondona guarantees himself votes in his upcoming re-election campaign which would extend his reign that began in 1979.
With government support, it is a populist policy that also looks set to favour Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s campaign for a second presidential term in October. Lanús club president Nicolas Russo has said:
“90% of the Primera clubs are not in agreement with the new championship. It is a state policy to federalise football… it is an asserted method for the government to associate itself with Argentine football”
If this is the case, then it exceeds the flagrant electioneering and propagandist policy of ‘futból para todos’. This was when the government took the rights to show football from an unfavoured media group and decreed that from 2009, every Primera Division match should be shown on free-to-air (usually state) television. From March 2010, the only advertising shown during these games was from government agencies.
It’s also worrying that 90% of Primera Presidents opposed it but not one team voted against the proposal, and only 5 abstained. Does this perhaps indicate quite that clubs are too fearful of the consequences of disrupting Grondona’s plans?
Whilst fans all over the country seem to be angered by such radical and unnecessary changes to their league system, it is the regrettable reality that whilst barely a week goes by in Buenos Aires without a protest march of some form or other, it looks unlikely that the supporters of these clubs will protest against the ludicrous impending changes in the only matter that would have any effect, by voting with their feet.
It verges on a level of government intervention that could lead to a suspension by FIFA, but unlike the preposterous interventions by the world governing body in the delicate case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Julio Grondona is so well connected that this will never happen to the Argentines.
Regrettably, we are about to see another example of politics winning over football.
note: this article was penned using the facts available at the time, this competition format may well be subject to change – most likely being either a 36- or 40- team league.
Update 27/7/11: AFA have announced a press conference tonight at 11pm BST where it is expected that the plans will be suspended due to the public outcry over the plans. To be continued….