Special correspondent | Columnists | Sports

Special correspondent | Columnists | Sports
Special correspondent | Columnists | Sports

“I’m at the Kansas airport, connecting in Las Vegas to get to Fort Lauderdale at 9pm because Peru’s next match is in Miami and I’ll be close by. This is very tiring, I slept at the airport and I’ve been here for ten hours,” said Fernando Jiménez, director of Todo Sport, from Lima, when we called him on WhatsApp two weeks ago. Fernando is one of the few kamikazes who risked going to the United States to cover this Copa América spread across fourteen cities in a gigantic country of 9,147,593 km2. They missed a match against Alaska and another against Hawaii. The journalists, in other words, those in charge of covering the tournament, complain of inattention, neglect, disorganization, lack of basic comforts to carry out their work. The national teams are also not very happy about traveling thousands and thousands of kilometers.

It is the anti-conception of a tournament, as if the Olympic Games were announced in Paris, but athletics were held in Moscow, regattas in Sweden, swimming in Spain and weightlifting in Turkey. There is no unifying character.

The big networks dodged the issue. ESPN chose the Euro Cup over the Copa America and sent all its stars to Germany, with Mariano Closs and Diego Latorre at the head. Caracol and RCN, two huge media conglomerates that have been following the Colombian national team for a long time, bought the rights, but they did not send a team, a reporter and a commentator to cover the events from studios in Bogotá, as almost all Latin American channels did. A reporter goes, the one who stands at the stadium gates and writes stories for the fans who arrive wearing their jerseys. The logistics in the United States are impossible and expensive. The investment had no return; it would have been a loss. In Germany, on the other hand, the distances are short and allow journalists to go to all the stadiums and paint the spectacle.

Fernando Jiménez returns: “To give you an idea, the Peru-Canada match in Kansas finished at 7 in the evening, by the time I wrote it, it was eight, by the time I left, it was nine, it was a hellish 39 degrees, we ordered an Uber that took about fifteen minutes, we went to a park to kill some time and we arrived at the airport at ten thirty at night. The airport was completely empty. We slept as best we could there on benches because the flight left at 9:40 in the morning for Las Vegas, an hour’s flight in a small plane. There aren’t that many flights. You have to wait there for about three hours and transfer to Fort Lauderdale, where we arrived at 8:30 at night. Forty minutes from there, in Miami, Peru was going to play Argentina. That’s how it is in this Cup. It doesn’t allow you anything, it’s totally exhausting. I watched all three of Peru’s matches and nothing else, not the Euro Cup or other Copa America matches, I’m blank. And in hotels, you arrive and want to watch a game and it’s not on open television or cable, you have to buy it separately.”

The special envoy, as has always been the case, who comes to a tournament, accompanies the teams, does interviews and tells what he sees from within to convey it to the public in his country, does not exist here, he does not have the slightest physical or economic possibility of doing so. He would waste all his time on meaningless trips. The Cup is a kind of guinea pig for the World Cup, which is the big prize. The United States will host 78 of the 104 matches of the 2026 World Cup. “There are many aspects that are not right in the tournament here and it is difficult to solve them because there is not even a minimal football culture among the citizens. Those who are not Latin do not even know what offside is. I think that FIFA is going to fix some things because it has more authority and brings an army of people. Like the issue of the fields. They boast of being able to change the synthetic surface for grass in one day, but then the breads rise. “There are countless things like that to resolve and improve,” says Sergio Levinsky, an Argentine journalist who also attended the Cup and regrets having done so.

The United States is a wonderful country, it is not its fault that it is so vast. And the good thing is that it is always willing to organize a tournament when other nations do not have the possibility to organize one. All you have to do is bring the trapeze artist, the lion tamer and the lions. It has the infrastructure ready and, due to the peculiarity of hosting 65 million Latin American immigrants, it can fill the stages. It pays for the house and keeps the proceeds left by the guests, but others take care of the grill and the barbecue. That is not its problem, it does not organize these tournaments or ask for them, they are offered to it, although this one came in handy as preparation for the 2025 Club World Cup and the 2026 national team World Cup. The big business is done by the owners of the American football teams, who generally own the stadiums. You cannot play in the street, you have to go to their feet and they take the big cut.

There is no Copa atmosphere because the Copa is just one of thousands of events in the United States. The man who lives across the street from the stadium in Houston or Kansas doesn’t know why the lights are on or what all those people are doing there. Maybe he thinks it’s a rock concert. Different from when it’s played in South America, where it’s a popular party and the whole country is immersed. The organizers sell the television rights, a company sends the images to the world and that’s more or less where it ends. It’s a television tournament. But given the volume of money it generates in the United States, it’s possible that it won’t return to South America.

“Tickets are not expensive if you buy them in advance, but Conmebol tells you a day in advance if you are accredited,” say the reporters, who are few in comparison to other previous cups. The same goes for the photographers. “In a World Cup semifinal or final there are between 600 and 800 photographers on the field and another 300 in the stands, here we don’t go over forty because everything is very difficult and in the end they don’t come,” says Rafael Crisóstomo, formerly of the Washington Post. “There is no general press center. In the stadiums they put a table with a tablecloth and a volunteer behind it. And some tables to work at. Even the most humble press center in our countries is a luxury compared to this,” say the South American colleagues.

The press has given football hundreds of billions of pages of newspapers and magazines, billions of hours of radio and television, they have manufactured the popularity that this sport has. And they have made it a colossal business, as big as oil, tourism, finance. The football organisation has let go of its hand, it has abandoned it. (O)

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