‘We used the military junta. I felt like a harlequin – Chile marching on the USSR, 50 years ago.

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'We used the military junta.  I felt like a harlequin - Chile marching on the USSR, 50 years ago.


In the year On 21 November 1973, Chile started their 1974 World Cup finals play-off against the Soviet Union (USSR) in the second leg after a 0–0 draw in Moscow on 26 September.

Nine passes and 17 seconds later at the Estadio Nacional Julio Martínez Pradanos in Santiago, captain Francisco ‘Chamaco’ Valdes scored on an empty netter. Austrian referee Eric Lemeyer blew the final whistle to give Chile a 1-0 win – which later turned into a 2-0 deficit – and put them through to the finals in West Germany next summer.

But Valdes’ goal was not famous for its speed, but because there were only 11 players on the field.

The USSR refused to play in a stadium where more than 30,000 opponents of Auguste Pinochet’s military coup were taken hostage and up to 7,000 arrested between September and November 1973. But football’s world governing body FIFA has urged the game to go ahead regardless.

“I think the military junta, the dictatorship, took advantage of us,” said Leonardo Veliz, who played for Chile that day and whose relatives were imprisoned. “I felt like Harlequin.”

Ximena George-Nascimento was arrested on October 11, a month after Pinochet took power. She said: “In 1973, the hypocrisy of FIFA and members of the Chilean South American confederation was shown by allowing a match to be played in a stadium where political prisoners were imprisoned, tortured and killed during the dictatorship. “

In May 1973, radio journalist Vladimiro Mimica was present at Chile’s National Stadium during the Libertadores’ second-leg final between Colo-Colo and Argentina’s Independiente of Buenos Aires.

Six months later, Mimika returned to the stadium when a delegation from soccer’s world governing body, FIFA, came to visit. This time he was a political prisoner, hidden from view under the seat. He describes the “psychological agony” of being beaten and electrocuted by guards and told his brother was killed and his girlfriend raped.

“We were told by the guards to hide,” Mimika, now 76, said. They just stood in the middle of the field and looked around. And then they came out and said everything was normal in the stadium and in Chile.

“It was very strange to see how the stadium, where we broadcast joy to the people of Chile on radio or television, turned overnight into a political prison.”

Chile was under the control of military authorities led by Pinochet, who had overthrown the government of socialist Salvador Allende, who had been elected on September 11. In his final address to the crowd before the presidential palace was bombed, Allende said: “These are my last words. , and I am sure that my sacrifice will not be in vain, I am sure that, at the very least, it will be a moral lesson that punishes serious crime, cowardice and betrayal. Long live Chile! Reach out to the people! Long live the workers.

Tens of thousands of anti-regime protesters gathered in a 75,000-seat stadium when prisons and police stations could not accommodate all the prisoners.


In the year A stadium protest for victims of the 1973-1990 Chilean dictatorship in September 2022 (Getty Images)

The coup was linked to the Cold War between the United States and the USSR.

Allende sided with Cuban leader – and Soviet-leaning – Fidel Castro. So the US is content to see a change of administration. Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell In 2003, he said on the matter: “What happened to Mr. Allende is not a part of American history that we are proud of.” We now have a more accountable way of dealing with such issues and have partnered with Chile to promote responsible democracy.

They suggested that the game be played in an independent country, stating that the USSR would not play in the stadium. The FIFA president was Englishman Stanley Roos, a controversial figure who in 1963 supported the re-authorization of apartheid-era South Africa. He sent a delegation to assess the situation in Chile. Secretary-General Helmut Kasser and Brazil’s Abilio de Almeida traveled after East Germany’s Helmut Riedel and Hungary’s Sandor Barks said they did not want to participate.

The delegation recommended that the game continue.

The USSR was enraged, the New York Times reported that the Soviet Football Federation rejected an offer to play the second leg in another city in Chile. The federation’s message to FIFA was that “a match in Chile is impossible”.

The USSR were banned and fined by FIFA for refusing to play, prompting a stern statement from Moscow: “The Santiago Stadium has been turned into a place of torture and murder.” Soviet athletes cannot play in a stadium stained with the blood of Chilean veterans.

“It is well known that a bloody atmosphere of terrorism and repression prevailed throughout Chile as a result of the Fascist uprising to overthrow the legitimate government.”

And yet the game still goes on – without the Soviets. Despite being drawn in the tournament against host and eventual winners West Germany, East Germany and Australia, Chile did not make it out of the group.

After the controversial and reduced qualifier, Chile played a friendly against Brazilian club Santos – without Pele injured – losing 5-0 in straight sets.

“The game against the opposition was not too surprising,” Veliz added. “We scored a goal and played a friendly match after the referee blew the whistle. But our heart was not in it.

Inmate Jorge-Nascimento said she knew people were being tortured, raped and killed in the stadium.

“We were scared when we were taken for questioning,” she says. “Some never came back.

“First I was taken to different places before I got to the National Stadium. Women are kept in the changing rooms of the pool. At that time, there was an open swimming pool at each end of the room.

“We would stay in the stadium until the game was played or said it should be played. Then we were taken to Santiago’s women’s prison. This was better because it was run by monks. I was released after just one year in prison.

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50th anniversary of the military coup (John Moore/Getty Images)

Half a century later, Jorge-Nascimento believes there has been no change in FIFA’s attitude, with the governing body’s decision to host the 2022 World Cup in Qatar accused of serious human rights abuses, including the criminalization of homosexuality and the mass death of migrants. Limited rights of workers and women in the country.

“Now that I think about it, I don’t think I was angry,” she says. “I think I’m angry about other things, not FIFA. Basically, I couldn’t care less about that bunch of corrupt people. “He (FIFA) constantly disregards human rights. And as seen in last year’s World Cup in Qatar, nothing has changed.

FIFA feels that they have integrated a wide range of human rights requirements into their bidding and hosting processes, including a specific article on human rights in their constitution. In the year They declined to comment directly on the 1973 incident in Chile.

Additional contributors: Peter of der Heyde, Veronika Lerena Mamani

(Top Photo: Candles at Chile’s National Stadium in September 2013. Francesco Degasperi / AFP via Getty Images)