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A Global South View on the Copa Libertadores Final in Madrid

It was bad enough that Boca Juniors’ players were violently attacked by River Plate fans as they drove to the stadium (see BBC, 2018). Then, given the security threat, the game - the second leg of the prestigious Copa Libertadores final - was immediately postponed.

A Global South View on the Copa Libertadores Final in Madrid Entry

To make things worse for local fans, the game was then re-scheduled to be played outside Argentina. This decision, made by the South American Football Federation (CONMEBOL), drew lots of media attention, especially because it will now take place in, of all places, Madrid, Spain (see CNN, 2018; Washington Post, 2018). So, why all the fuss?

Some context here might help; importantly, the Copa Libertadores is named after the principal leaders of the Latin American wars of independence. Those wars were fought, primarily, against Imperial Spain (although the history of Brazilian independence from Imperial Portugal is slightly different). As such, media commentators highlighted the irony or counter-intuition of CONMEBOL using a Spanish venue to commemorate the most important game of their competition (see this Twitter thread from Juan Arango). Here, I argue that: i) this decision is not completely unusual; ii) a Global South perspective on this decision provides a more ‘adaptive’ view where the colonised are colonising the colonisers.

In respect of the first point, as a collection of authors have argued in this forthcoming book chapter (see Petersen-Wagner et al, 2018), CONMEBOL can be considered as pioneering the ‘organisation’ of football. Indeed, CONMEBOL is the oldest continental football federation (founded in 1916), only surpassed by FIFA (1904) and a handful of other national federations. Moreover, CONMEBOL had hosted 27 editions of its continental competition - the Copa America - before UEFA hosted even its first continental competition in 1960. In relation to Copa America, CONMEBOL was a pioneer in inviting national teams from outside the continental federation – notably, Mexico and USA (CONCACAF) and Japan (AFC). They even held one of their principle tournaments, and in its centennial year, in a non-member state; USA, 2016.

With this background, CONMEBOL is an example of the laboratory of the ‘European modernity’ phenomenon as described by Michel Maffesoli (1988). This approach provides a more positive reading to what Ulrich Beck (1999) conceptualised as the Brasilianisation of the world. In this understanding, CONMEBOL embodies a cosmopolitan ideal where the existing borders of nation-states become contested; those boundaries are beginning to be re-drawn by their constituents.

Building on my second point, the decision made by CONMEBOL should be read through a Global South lens where the decision to host the game in Spain is highly symbolic. Fundamentally, the decision is charged with the idea that the colonised are colonising the coloniser. Rather than seeing this decision as the capitulation of South American football, it represents a moment where South American football is asserting its new global position. Read as capitulation, then we would be in a scenario where major European games, as the Copa del Rey final (Spanish Cup), the Champions League or Europa League finals would be played on South American soil. As this is not the case, by inverting the logic then we could argue that Spain is capitulating. A parallel to this argument is already in place with NFL games being played in London; these games result from the decisions of powerful agencies (or leagues) to ‘colonise’ other, ‘new’ territories in the pursuit of new audiences and fans.

To conclude, while the context for the rearranged game were not even close to ideal, serendipity may still be at play here. It will be interesting to reflect how this one-off decision - CONMEBOL was already considering having a one-match final similar to the Champions League/Europa League rotating between countries - will pan out in the future.

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Dr Renan Petersen-Wagner

Renan is a Senior Lecturer in Sport Business and Marketing

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