Posted by: Paula Delgado-Kling | June 24, 2010

Pablo and Soccer

Pablo Escobar was wearing soccer-type shoes when he was gunned down. Apparently, he only wore soccer-type shoes. He was a die-hard fan (yes, some sort of pun intended here).

What few know about Pablo Escobar was that he funded the construction of soccer fields in some of Medellin’s worst slums. On those soccer fields, hundreds of young boys spent afternoons and evenings tossing around a ball. It kept them away from the problems at home and on the streets, namely, the screaming matches of domestic strives, the lure of bazuco (cocaine-paste cigarettes), and the peer pressure of gangs with access to guns.

More than a handful of these men who first fell in love with the sport on these fields, like René Higuita and Pacho Maturana, grew up to become decent players; good enough, in fact, to comprise a team that traveled to the World Cup in the USA in 1994. Good enough a team to arise feelings of pride, unity and self-worth in a nation surviving a blood bath, for at the same time, Pablo Escobar was planting bombs in malls and theaters and other places where large crowds congregated. His aim was to inflict fear in the government to not sign a law that made it legal to extradite drug traffickers to the US.

Pablo Escobar, and some of the other drug thugs, also owned local teams. Often, they made large bets, of $1 to $2 million dollars, with each other. Now and then, they flew in players from abroad and held friendly private matches at Escobar’s ranch. Back then, such were the amounts of drug money injected into soccer that Colombia came to be ranked number four. Nowadays, they are ranked number 35.

Colombians are serious about soccer. Soccer games are the short spans when Colombians put violence aside, their eyes glittering as they stare at the TV screen. A gooooaaaal has been known to lead to a spontaneous hug between a guerrilla and a paramilitary, to a high-five between a government negotiator and a member of the FARC secretariat.

I just saw a great documentary, “The Two Escobars,” which unravels all this. It premiered in ESPN films 30 for 30. This film is an A+.

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