Mostly, I write about ideas and politics on here, but I thought I’d take a break and describe some of the things I’ve actually been doing in Ecuador. Last Friday afternoon, the Ecuadorian national soccer team played the Venezuelan team in the first round of eliminator games for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Naturally, our whole group decided to go. Fútbol is almost more of a religion here than Catholicism is. The stadium was surrounded by people selling team jerseys (which we all bought), people doing face painting, and perhaps most comically, people filling giant bottles (we’re talking gallons) of beer to take into the stadium. Apparently Ecuador hasn’t caught up with the US in terms of concessions monopolies, so you’re absolutely allowed to bring beverages into the stadium. My group elected to buy a bunch of rum, three liters of Coke and some limes before we went in, so we had a great time mixing Cuba Libres on the sidewalk outside of the stadium while trying to look nonchalant when the police walked by. In the end, we were able to walk into the stadium with three liters of rum and Coke without incident.
Seats are not assigned at the stadium, and by the time we got there (an hour before the game started), every single seat was full. I use the term “seat” loosely, since they’re really concrete benches, and everyone’s goal is to squeeze as many people as possible onto them. Somehow, I talked a nice guy into giving me and a friend seats that he’d been saving, so we were able to actually sit down for most of the game.
One of the things about going to a national sporting event (as opposed to say, a baseball game in the US), is that supporting the team boils down to a thinly-disguised fanatic sort of nationalism. It’s like how everyone in the US gets during the Olympics, except when you’re actually watching the game, it’s right next to you and much, much louder. Ecuadorians have a fútbol song, which I’m convinced every single person in the country knows the words to, and people just started singing it all the time before and during the game. The words are, “Vamos, Ecuatorianos, esta noche, tenemos que ganar,”
which translates to, “Let’s go, Ecuadorians, tonight, we have to win.” (It sounds a lot better when it’s being sung in Spanish). My favorite part of the game was when they announced the Venezuelan team. I didn’t even realize they were announcing anything—the sound system wasn’t much of a match for the noise made by a full stadium of fútbol fans—but as soon as they called the first player’s name, the entire stadium raised their fists in the air and chanted, “¡Hijo de puta!” (son of a whore). All of this, perfectly coordinated, for every single player on the team. I was impressed.
Ecuador won the game (thank god), 2-0. The whole experience made me wish soccer was more of a thing in the US. I’ve always been a baseball girl, though I stopped watching pros when the Mariners started sucking so much. But soccer is so energetic and fast-paced, and it’s so easy to appreciate the athleticism of someone who can head a ball into the goal. Plus, I love the rowdiness of soccer fans, though I think a lot of that has to do with the extremely lax rules about alcohol consumption in the stadium. (The section next to ours had a guy who was repeatedly chugging beers, which prompted the entire crowd to form a circle around him and cheer him on, breaking into applause when he finished.) There were a few minor fights, but nothing serious, probably because almost everyone in attendance was supporting the same team.
I’m always amazed by the unity of sports fans, and sometimes I find myself wondering what would happen if we could get so many people to come together so clearly for something that actually mattered, or if even a fraction of the money and time and energy spent on professional sports franchises were spent on health care or improving education or something socially beneficial. And yet, sports seem to be the great unifier in the world—regardless of country, race, class and increasingly gender, most people can appreciate watching a team, feeling part of something bigger, having common ground with strangers. Marx may have thought religion is the opiate of the masses, but I’m starting to think that it’s soccer. And maybe that’s not a bad thing.