Sunday, October 23, 2011
ESPNsoccernet: October 22, 11:46 PM UK
Sting fails to affect Grondona
Thursday's campaign in Manchester to encourage fans of both the city's top flight clubs to bin their Carlos Tevez replica shirts was widely publicised in Argentina. That was unsurprising given Tevez's status here. It was not, though, the biggest story in Argentine football this week by a long way. Tevez is hugely popular in Argentine football, but there's one man - the most unpopular of all - who towers over everyone: Julio Grondona.
If you've read my pieces for ESPNsoccernet regularly over the last three years, you'll know Grondona's name. He's president of the Argentine Football Association (AFA), and a FIFA vice-president. Grondona, who recently turned 80, first became AFA president in 1979, and on Tuesday he stood for re-election.
I wrote following River Plate's relegation in June that for most if not all Argentine football fans, the idea of River being relegated was simply unthinkable. They had been in the top flight for 102 years. Grondona has been at the head of the AFA for a mere 32 years but, for everyone in the country, the idea that he would lose this election was even more unimaginable. As a result, on Monday - the day before the elections - when a hidden camera sting caught Grondona saying some entirely unsurprising but very compromising things, it was big news.
The sting was carried out last December. The video wasn't very long, but was about as damning as it could have been. Eduardo De Luca - a general secretary at CONMEBOL, the South American Confederation, of which Grondona is also a vice-president - was shown admitting that he'd been a go-between for the AFA and people who wanted to do business with them. Grondona, though, came out of things rather worse, at least on the face of it.
He was caught on camera talking dirty money ("I have the word of the motorbike riders who went to collect the dirty cash") in dealings with TV companies. This was damaging enough - he was talking to the head of TyC Sports, whose broadcasting contract with the AFA for top-flight Argentine football was broken two years ago when Grondona and the Argentine government made a vote-winning deal to screen all Primera División matches on free-to-air television - but what came shortly afterwards was astonishing.
British readers will remember the BBC's hidden camera show regarding transfer bungs, which caught a number of Premier League managers saying ... well, not very much, frankly. But Grondona, on Monday, was shown planting both feet firmly in a bucket of whatever compromising substance you care to name. Telling his interrogator about the situation regarding the rights for the Copa Sudamericana (South America's second-tier continental competition), Grondona explained: "[TV people] are talking with Cristina [Kirchner, who is a certainty to be re-elected as Argentina's president on Sunday], but what they don't know is that Grondona, who knows everything going on inside the AFA [yes, he's talking about himself in the third person], has the final say ... if I have to kill them, I'll kill them."
He might not have meant that last part literally - although coming from him, it's still scary - but the admission that he knew all about dirty money as well as everything else in his organisation is damning, as were the bank statements subsequently produced in the studio showing he has savings of US$30 million (coincidentally, almost the combined total of all Argentine football clubs' debts) in Swiss bank accounts.
Grondona didn't have a clue he was talking to cameras, of course, but the fact is he probably wouldn't have cared. No response has been forthcoming from him - when the broadcast was made on Monday, he wasn't even put under pressure to give one.
On Tuesday evening, Grondona arrived at the AFA headquarters and was voted in with 46 votes in favour and none against, with three abstentions. No-one was surprised, in spite of what had been broadcast not 24 hours before.
Why? Simply put, Grondona's boast of complete control over the AFA wasn't a false one.
Many Argentines will tell you that, from 1979 to the present day, the country has gone from military dictatorship to a return to democracy that has brought in governments of all political colours.
Grondona has been cosy with all those leaders, including the dictators. He's a chameleon; in 2003, he infamously responded to a question about one of Argentina's biggest ethnic minorities being referees by saying: "Well, refereeing is hard work, and we know Jews don't like hard work." At that time he was already employing José Pekerman - who's of Jewish descent - as a youth team coach, and would later make him manager of the national team.
The real reason Grondona was untouchable after the sting was broadcast, though, was the climate of fear he's instilled at the AFA. He holds onto TV money, so that clubs who are always on the brink of bankruptcy need him to hand it out to keep themselves afloat (it's the clubs from the top two divisions who have the majority of votes needed to elect the president).
He is capable of turning referees and perhaps even non-football administrators against any club that crosses him. River Plate president Daniel Passarella, who six months ago was calling for his head following a bad refereeing performance in the Superclásico against Boca Juniors, voted for him on Tuesday. Club presidents know which side their bread is buttered.
The channel broadcasting the sting, América Noticias, is owned by Daniel Vila - president of Independiente Rivadavia, a second division side in Mendoza, and an opponent of Grondona. So even the sting had a highly political end. Grondona, though, reigns over the AFA with impunity.
Soon, he's up for re-election as a FIFA vice-president, too. The man who once declared himself 'vice-president of the world' sits pretty in Buenos Aires for four more years at least. Like Tevez in England, he's incredibly unpopular. But unlike Tevez under Manchester City's current owners, there's no-one who can afford to freeze him out.
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