Soccer: the new Religion


In October of 1994, a march of protesters walked down the streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina. They were showing their disgust for the economic policies being put into practice by the Argentine government. First, they sang the national anthem with strong, loud voices. However, soon, something amazing took place. With all the emotion and heart they could muster, the protesters began chanting in unison the popular rock song "And Give Joy to my Heart" by Fito Paéz. What was amazing about this moment was that, by singing this song, they were honoring a national hero.... Diego Maradona. Fito Paéz composed this song during Diego Maradona's amazing showing in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.

For millions of Argentines, Diego Maradona is a Godlike figure who represents several societal values. He is  
el pibe de oro (the golden young boy). In Argentina, el pibe is a concept that emphasizes the importance of freshness, spontaneity and freedom, all ideas connected with childhood. Within the context of Argentine society, it is viewed as a good quality to possess and one that is often lost once we reach adulthood. For this reason, Diego Maradona is viewed in such a reverent perspective. His success on the soccer field has often been accredited to his free nature and youthful approach to the game. One fan, in particular, vividly reveals the passion that exists for Diego Maradona and explains why he is so idolized in Argentina. 

 "[Maradona] represents this state of perfection and freedom when we disregard the most negative traits of an individual. Spontaneity, to be fresh and to do things just right away without thinking on the negative consequences are qualities that we [Argentines] appreciate. A great football [soccer] player must have these qualities" (Armstrong 35).

Maradona is a visible, real person who was an exceptional player. However, his status amongst his fans creates almost a second alterego, one covered in myth and divinity. For devoted followers, Maradona crossed that line of human athlete to a realm of almost supernatural existence and ritual. For fans, Maradona was and continues to be "a gift from God....[having] a mythical style [that was realized] in the body and the performances of Maradona" (Armstrong 39).

Author Eduardo P. Archetti reinforces this belief through his personal research in Argentina. According to Archetti, "Maradona's performances were remembered in a kind of ritualized, commemorative bodily communion or as a genuine expression of joy... the visible image (the concrete achievements of Maradona as a player) triggers particular experiences and emotions which can be re-enacted..." (Armstrong 34).

Evidently, Diego Maradona is considered a legend, a myth, a symbol of the people. Yet, through all of this, Maradona is more importantly a reflection of the Argentine ideal. In his social community, he encompasses the desired status of reckless childhood and freedom. He demonstrates the respected qualities of not only a soccer player but of a society. Even during his troubled years in which he was found to be a drug user and suspended as a result from FIFA participation, he continued to be a national model of morality and social values. Fans were confident that he would overcome this and demonstrate his will. In this manner, he then became a symbol of "hope, confidence, and faith" (Armstrong 33). Indeed, no matter the timeframe, Maradona himself has become a cult, a following. Through his success in soccer, he has become as powerful as any politician in his country and has defined many aspects of Argentine life and passion.

BBC reporter Gary Lineker provides visible insight into the cult of Diego (Video was done some time after Diego's best years in soccer)