- Red Card: Soccer and Racism
At the FIFA World Cup held in Germany in 2006, the Ecuadorian team was said to be one of the biggest surprises of the tournament. It was not only making the World Cup championship for only the second time ever, but most of its players were black, which brought some to jokingly wonder if Ecuador was a Caribbean country. In fact, an Argentinean soccer commentator, el Loco Gatti, pointed to the malaise felt by some as a result of this major black presence in an Andean country's team. He suggested that these black players were actually not real Ecuadorians and that they must have been brought from Nigeria. His comments provoked uproar in Ecuador, as Ecuadorians at home and abroad began a series of discussions in the press and on the Internet about Ecuadorian national identity. This was a time when the black team captain from the Chota-Mira Valley, Agustín (Tín) Delgado, was revered as a national hero, after the team's excellent performances at the Mundial.
The Ecuadorian black players' increased and indeed global visibility as a result of their victories in the qualifying rounds for the 2006 Mundial and in their first two games in Germany shook, for a little while, the Ecuadorian racial order and the foundation of conventional understandings of national identity and their attendant construction of Ecuadorian blacks as ultimate Others. It opened up a very special space—particularly after the second victory on June 15, 2006—to talk about race. A fundamentally black team was representing, in the biggest global sports arena there is, a country that elites have usually defined as mestizo (mixed Spanish/European and Indian/indigenous ancestry) since the beginning of the twentieth century, and that many outside of Ecuador see as one of the Andean countries with the biggest indigenous population.
Rodolfo Muñoz's film wants to touch upon all these issues. Above and beyond illustrating the daily anti-black racism of Ecuadorian society, the film deals with the various aspects and possible interpretations of the burst of violence on December 17, 2006 at the end of a match between the Liga Deportivo Universitaria de Quito (mostly identified with the Andean capital city) and El Club Barcelona (mostly identified with the country's biggest city, coastal Guayaquil). An altercation ended up in a major fistfight in which Tín Delgado played a dominating role. As a result, the Federación Ecuatoriana de Fútbol (FEF) banned Tín Delgado from playing soccer for an entire year and fined him heftily. The population of the country divided in two groups: those in favor of the sanction against El Tín, who were mostly from the coastal region and who also support Barcelona, and those against the sanction who were mostly from the highlands and who also support Liga Deportiva. To this regional dimension, Muñoz adds the role played by race, and by blackness particularly.
Disentangling, and most importantly, explaining the intricate importance of all the components of this violent brawl and its representations in the press was a respectable and [End Page 151] ambitious objective. From the perspective of an American public that does not know Ecuador, the film might seem a bit esoteric. Indeed, it often seems as if Muñoz had mostly an Ecuadorian audience in mind when making the film and editing it. Things that should be explained are assumed to be known. Unfortunately, Muñoz also wastes time on issues completely unrelated to the main narrative line, instead of keeping track of the target initially chosen: making sense of the brawl and its representations. There are long passages where the audience is asked to follow the peregrinations of a citizen from Benin, West Africa, to Quito and the Chota-Mira Valley, in the northern Ecuadorian Andes, a region with an Afro-Ecuadorian population. These fragments of interaction with him, inserted here and there in the film, are nothing better than distractions and wasted time, which...