Four countries remain in the hunt to become champions at the World Cup currently being held in Brazil. Among the four elite teams looking to win at soccer’s premier tournament is Argentina, which eliminated Belgium in their quarterfinal match on Saturday. Next up for los albicelestes is a semifinal duel with the Netherlands, a rival who Argentina beat to win its first World Cup in June 1978.
That tournament thirty-six-years ago was hosted by Argentina in the middle of the Dirty War era where an estimated 30,000 people where killed or “disappeared” at the hands of a ruthless, authoritarian government. Then-strongman Jorge Videla used the World Cup as propaganda to convince skeptical Argentines and critics around the world that all was fair and well in the South American country. Yet amid the festivities of the tournament, individuals deemed as “subversive” by the state where kidnapped, tortured and killed.
One of the most infamous “torture centers” was the ESMA naval school located blocks away from the River Plate stadium where the final was played. ESMA prisoners were forced by guards to celebrate during the match with them or run the risk of additional beatings and possibly being murdered. For Miriam Lewin and Graciela Daleo, their captors had a sadistic plan for them following Argentina’s 3-1 win in the final against the Dutch:
The guards forced prisoners into a convoy of waiting cars. The gate slid up and they drove into the madness. Fans packed the avenue, waving blue-and-white flags, chanting, "Argen-tina! Argen-tina!" The guards demanded the prisoners look out the windows.
"Who remembers you?" one of them taunted.
Daleo asked permission to stand up through the car's sunroof. The cold wind hit her gaunt face and shivered her thin frame. The people looked right through her. Nobody knew she was disappeared, the single most important detail of her life, which meant that she didn't exist to them. The guards demanded that Daleo and Lewin celebrate. Miriam felt the stares. "If you weren't happy," she'd say decades later, "you were heading straight to the death flight."
She sat in the middle of the back seat, trying to look happy. The cars parked at a local restaurant, and the guards took the prisoners inside. Waiters pushed tables together. The torturers ordered beer and pizza and shared them with young women they'd raped with a cattle prod. Lewin looked around, feeling pale and skinny, like an alien, as the place exploded with joy and noise. People danced next to her, right in her face.
The following video is a 2002 documentary on the contrasting feelings caused by the 1978 World Cup in Argentina and the Netherlands. This film examined, for instance, how Videla espoused a “peaceful” Argentina while police harassed and attacked the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo while several Dutch politicians and activists failed to conic their country’s team to boycott the tournament:
Nearly four decades after that tournament, Argentina is still coming to grips with the political legacy of the 1978 World Cup. Players and staff from that title-winning side expressed regret over being used by the military regime. (“I was deceived and must admit that I was a fool who couldn’t see beyond the soccer ball,” admitted Ricardo Villa). Several hundred former military and senior government officials have stood trial for crimes against humanity and some have been imprisoned for their actions including Videla prior to his death over a year ago. For a few Dirty War survivors, the contrasting feelings of 1978 strongly reappear every four years.
“It makes me feel it could happen again,” admitted Lewin to ESPN.
Video Source –YouTube user Electricalfilms
Online Sources - ESPN; Time.com; 20minutos.es; The Guardian