Racing to Protest

Racing ClubOn Friday, 31st August, in Avellaneda near central Buenos Aires, outside the stadium known as El Cilindro, the fans of one of Argentina’s ‘Big Five’ clubs will be protesting.

Wednesday marked forty years since Racing became champions of South America by winning the Copa Libertadores, but the anniversary went all but unnoticed in the shadow of events the previous evening.

This week saw a round of matches played in midweek for the 2007 Torneo Apertura in the Argentine first division. On Tuesday, Racing visited San Lorenzo for the first clásico of the season played between two of the ‘Big Five’, and, well, raced into the lead, finding themselves 3-0 up after just half an hour against the champions.

What followed was possibly the most spectacular capitulation in Racing’s history. First San Lorenzo got a goal back, then two minutes later Racing ‘keeper Gustavo Campagnuolo panicked, handled the ball outside his area and saw red. Final score: San Lorenzo 4-3 Racing.

Of course, such a result would normally draw criticism from fan groups. But Argentina has a deeper tradition than most –- certainly than most English-speaking countries –- when it comes to allowing the fans a say in the running of their clubs. I’ve already discussed the intrusive influence of the barra brava hooligan gangs on the running of both clubs and football as a whole on this site, but at Racing things work slightly differently, and perhaps not entirely for the good. Because at Racing, the fans don’t have a say in who runs the club.

In 1999 Racing were declared bankrupt. One of Argentina’s biggest clubs was in serious danger of having to cease trading. Into the helm in 2001 stepped Blanquiceleste (‘sky-blue-and-white’, a reference to Racing’s shirt colours) an enterprise set up specifically for the purpose of saving the club, run by wealthy businessmen who were fans, and headed by Fernando De Tomaso. Since that point, Racing have been the only sizable club in Argentina who are privately owned, and whose fans have no say in who exactly runs the day-to-day business of the club.

Every other club holds elections for their president -– River Plate’s fans, for instance, are currently deeply angry at president José María Aguilar for, among other things, his perceived closeness to certain heads of River’s barra brava. The result? He’ll almost certainly find himself voted out in River’s next presidential elections, next year. But if Racing’s fans are unhappy with De Tomaso -– and they are -– they can do nothing about it. They have to like him or lump him.

This week, patience has run out and they’ve decided to take neither of those options. Fan forums have been discussing plans to protest, first on Friday evening outside the stadium, and then for Sunday’s match against big rivals River Plate, again at El Cilindro. They’ll be handing out pamphlets explaining their aims -– put bluntly, to force Blanquiceleste to reveal more about the club’s finances (the group are suspected by many fans of creaming off some of the club’s profits), and to force De Tomaso to call an election for the presidency.

Under Blanquiceleste, Racing haven’t had it all bad. In particular, they made a crucial point in the authorities’ recent stand against violence in football. The board’s lack of accountability to fans enabled Racing to be the only club in Argentina to officially ban their own barra brava from home games, and the result was that without losing any of its atmosphere, El Cilindro was perhaps the most secure stadium in the country.

But many other points -– notably the team’s dreadful performances on the pitch for a good while now –- have angered the fans, and it’s for this reason that Blanquiceleste may be about to discover that you can own a club’s stadium, team and social facilities, but you can never buy its soul.

For more on Argentinian football, visit Sam Kelly’s blog Hasta El Gol Siempre.

Photo by travellingspamela on Flickr.

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