The death of Diego Armando Maradona had a worldwide impact. Millions of people cried, and not only the sports media, but also the international press dedicated its headlines to him. A very controversial figure during his life, the polemics continued with his death.
By: IWL-FI Women International Secretariat
Some media published on its front page “Murió DIOS” (GOD died) and many soccer fans in Argentina and in the world thought or felt the same. There were sectors that highlighted some of his most progressive political expressions and his “rebellious” character. In France, a demonstration against police violence was led by a flag with Maradona’s image. From other sectors, there was harsh criticism of the tributes for the omission or justification of his sexism. Finally, there were those who expressed that, beyond his humble origins, he was ultimately a functional figure for the bourgeois system.
Not even his funeral could be peaceful for his family or for the masses who wanted to say goodbye. The Argentine Kirchnerist government (supported by Maradona) tried to take advantage of the popular passion for the dead idol and held the wake in the Government House, with public access. Everything ended in real chaos, with repression in the Casa Rosada courtyard and in the Buenos Aires downtown streets. This, not to mention the impact that this irresponsible attitude can have on the dynamics of the coronavirus pandemic, which is already very strong in the country.
Such a complex and contradictory life and meaning cannot be summarized in a single idea, a single paragraph, and possibly not even in an article. We will try, then, first to “disarm” this complexity by looking at some of its components, and then try to reconstruct the whole, and what, in our opinion, is the result.
The exceptional soccer artist
Firstly, the most obvious, is that he was an exceptional athlete, which some described as a “genius” or a “magician”. We can define him as an artist, as someone capable of doing poetry with his feet and with his moves. The second goal against the England team at the 1986 World Cup (reproduced millions of times and described as the best goal in soccer history) will remain forever a “work of art” to be remembered and admired, along with some that other great artists produced in music, theater, cinema, painting, sculpture or dance.
This work by Maradona, and others perhaps smaller but also valuable, was produced in a special area: “soccer, a crowds’ passion”, as an old Argentine radio commentator said. Therefore, this goal was his definitive passage to the idols Olympus that the masses build in their hearts.
The show business and its idols
But professional soccer, besides generating this popular passion, is also a gigantic capitalist business, a specific form of what is called show business. This business needs to build idols to sell as merchandise, in exchange for a luxurious life and the idea that everything is allowed. In this context, it often destroys the people it has turned into “gods”. Maradona’s addictions are an example of this, but there are many other cases in sports and other areas.
Meanwhile, capitalism uses them as part of the “bread and circus” that the ruling classes of ancient Rome used to keep the masses quiet or, to paraphrase Marx, as a modern “opium of the peoples”.
Also as a false model for workers and the most impoverished layers of society, especially if the idol comes from these sectors. It’s a message of profound individualism, contrary to organization and collective struggle: “if you have the virtues and know how to take advantage of them, you can get there, and when you get there, everything will be allowed”.
As a central issue arising from the previous one, this accentuated Maradona’s sexism and his attitude towards women. It’s not just that he was a “womanizer”. It is much more serious than that and was a constant in his life. He refused to admit some of his children (like the Italian Diego Sinagra) or only did so after legal proceedings. His former companion Rocío Oliva denounced him several times for assault, he was denounced for harassment by a Russian journalist in 2014 and a long list of similar facts that include the permanent use of prostitution.
This sexism is the most repulsive face of Maradona, which cannot be “forgiven” or justified by the joys he gave us in soccer or by the contradictions that every person can have due to his or her social origin or the development of his or her life. Sexism must be fought in all cases and in any context that it manifests itself.
The fact that Maradona was a public figure, far from diminishing this need for combat and repudiation, makes it even more necessary because he was seen as a “model” by millions.
A lumpen that kept its “rebel flame”
Diego Maradona was born in Villa Fiorito, one of the poorest neighborhoods in Greater Buenos Aires. According to the Marxist language, we can consider he was born within the lumpem proletariat.
But he had magic in his feet and then joined “Los cebolitas”, young talents of the club Argentinos Juniors; afterwards to debut in his first division at 16; later, for national teams, Boca Juniors and the world. He lived his life in the voracious way that someone who came out of the worst poverty and begins to receive gold in abundance. His excesses and addictions mined his physical condition and that charged its price. In a way, he sought his death.
In his life, he somehow remained a lump, although now he had a lot of money and could live a luxurious life. However, unlike other idols like Pelé or Beckenbauer, who became (socially and psychologically) bourgeois, he never fully integrated into the system and always maintained a rebellion flame.
Sometimes this rebellion manifested itself in an almost comical way. He had bought a house in Barrio Parque, a luxury gated community. There he organized very noisy parties with his friends and family. His closest neighbor, the actress Flávia Palmiero (then partner of megaentrepreneur Franco Macri, father of the one who would become president of the country) denounced him for “annoying noises”. Maradona bought a double tow truck, parked it in the neighborhood and the “neighbors” asked him to take it off. He answered: “I’ll take the truck if those who live here tell how they made their money. Everybody knows how I did it”.
Its political significance
Another facet of this “rebellion flame” is that he has always defended the soccer players’ rights against the “owners of the business”. In the first half of the 1990s, he promoted the formation of a union and started trying to recruit other famous players. FIFA “punished” him for this, in the 1994 World Cup, with a harsh sanction for drug use.
But in 1995, together with others, he founded the International Association of Professional Football Players (AIFP). He was elected president of the union and the Frenchman Eric Cantoná as vice-president. At the time he declared: “The soccer player is the most important and we will defend his claims to death” .
Along with this, although he was never a political activist, as a highly influential public figure, his political opinions and attitudes were highly relevant. In this regard, we do not share the position of those who present him as a “socialist revolutionary”.
Maradona declared himself Peronist and, as we said, supported the current Argentine government. However, he essentially identified himself with what we call “Castro-Chavismo”. He was even a Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez personal friend. He believed that this was the current with which he could face Imperialism. We are not Castro-Chavists, and for many years we have struggled against this current. We don’t believe this is the article to return to these debates.
What must be highlighted is that, on several occasions, he showed this anti-imperialist profile with very progressive positions. For example, he denounced the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 and said that Bush was a “murderer”; he made a call to mobilize against the FTAA in 2005 and participated in the demonstration at Mar del Plata (Argentina). His call contributed to make this mobilization much more massive, and it became the biggest anti-imperialist demonstration in the country since the Falklands War (1982). He had always expressed his solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle against Israel.
Some final considerations
We tried to see some of the various facets of a complex personality and life, which must be combined in their right balance. In other words, an extremely contradictory personality; a soccer artist in the midst of a macho, misogynistic and ultra-competitive environment, born “in the mud” but making a fortune with his exceptional ability; living as a bourgeois, friend of the famous and powerful, but keeping in his personality a part of the “mud” of his origin and, in many cases, being in solidarity with the oppressed and supporting their struggles …
In Argentina, years ago, a “Maradonian Church” was founded in which Diego was the Dios (God). For us, there are no gods: only a class society and, in it, human beings, with their virtues and their evils.
We will always miss Maradona footballer, and we say “Thanks Diego for the joys you gave us”. To the man Maradona, we criticize hard his sexism. From Maradona, a public figure, we want to remember this rebellion flame and the most progressive manifestations of his anti-imperialism. With the masses who mourn his death, we share and understand their pain.