Matthew Monk is a school teacher
from the UK who has the World Cup as one of his greatest passions. He will share his views about the past, present and future of
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Travellers Tales - Sucre, Bolivia
Some places are naturally relaxing, with peaceful,
unimposing plazas and streets. They have long
sweeping boulevards and tree lined avenues, where -
if you want to - you can hide away from the stresses
and strains of the world, forgetting your troubles and
recharging your batteries. What is more, these places
are still quite easy to find, and some of them appear
in the most unexpected of places.
Sucre - the official capital city of Bolivia - is one
of these places. Fundamentally it is a university
town, and is populated almost singularly by students
of one sort or another. Even the 'locals', the
residents who live here permanently rather than only
in term time, seem to have adapted to the slower pace
of life. Things don't get done in a hurry in Sucre,
but they still get done. Life still goes on, it is
just that it takes place at a much more human rate.
And of course, even here you still cannot escape the
tentacles of global football.
Bolivia is one of the poorest countries in the Western
Hemisphere - only the likes of Haiti and Cuba can
really outstrip the level of poverty that exists here.
This is not to say that everyone is uniformly poor -
far from it, La Paz, Sucre, Potosi and all the other
towns boast strong and influential middle and upper
class populations. But you cannot escape from the
fact that money is tight everywhere, and that little
is spent on what Europeans take for granted like
communications infrastructure. Unless that is the
infrastructure is to be used by tourists. Internet
cafes are more prevalent than petrol stations, tourist
hotels, cafes and restaurants can be found on every
corner. Bolivia wants the hard currency and US
Dollars us gringos bring in, and they are providing
every comfort they can think of. Sure, few Bolivians
actually use these facilities, but tourism is the
fastest growing industry here and in a few years it
will be twice as big.
In almost all the 'tourist hotels' you find a
television, and about the only thing most people watch
on them is football. But unusually, I have not seen
very much Bolivian football so far. The first game I
saw in Bolivia was a rerun of a Bayern München against
1FC Köln in what must have been a German Cup Final or
Semi Final from the mid 1990's. Bizarrely, no
Bolivians or South Americans were playing - as far as
I could work out anyway - and it certainly did not
seem to be a very exciting game. But down in the
hotel reception there was a crowd of Bolivians avidly
watching every kick and scramble. Now even though the
game was very obviously quite old, everyone watching
was glued to the screen as if we were watching this
year's Champions League Final live.
Two days later the same thing happened again - this
time for the Boca Juniors vs Man Utd friendly. At
least this time it was a live game - broadcast all
across South America on Fox Sports - but again, there
was no obvious Bolivian interest, and certainly
nothing - you would think - to justify the crowd
huddled around the TV. In between I did manage to
catch some Bolivian Fútbol on TV, but I gave up after
five minutes, such was the poor quality of the sound
and picture. It was like watching something on a
pirate video or DVD, and looked as if it was being
filmed illegally on a camcorder.
Only later did I find out that it was being broadcast
on the main commercial channel, and involved
top-flight teams. This time there was no crowd
huddled around the lobby television. You could still
see the game flickering away in the background, but no
one seemed that interested in it. This was not Boca
or Man Utd or Bayern - it was only Bolivian, and that
isn't very interesting. The players are not high
profile enough, you see - where was Veron, Beckham,
Ferdinand, or even Jurgen Klinsmann?
This is the problem football in Bolivia has: no one
much is interested in the local Bolivian players, and
while I did see one sun-weathered poster of Marco
Etcheverry advertising shoes in La Paz, the Nike
posters with Ronaldo, Figo and even Hidetoshi Nakata
smiling out, were everywhere. Argentinian shirts -
and especially the almost universally worshipped Boca
- are on display all over. Even the 'police officer'
who came on our coach and demanded a 10 Boliviano
'entrance fee' in Copacabana was wearing a Boca cap!
Bolivian football is just not sexy enough to compete
with Argentina or Brasil, and cannot even beat out
seven year-old German cup matches.
But football is still watched avidly, and Bolivia
boasts a well-maintained, well resourced national
stadium, complete with a eighteen-month old message
from Uncle Sepp picked out in tasteful aluminium
lettering. Yet even here - in what would be a tourist
attraction in many other cities - Bolivia seems to
have chickened out. Right in front of the stadium's
main concourse is a partly subterranean museum filled
with Tiawanaku ruins. Standing guard, while the small
boys struggle to find any interest in their Bolivian
flags, a huge red monolith dominates the plaza and
attracts the tourists. Bolivia does not seem too
interested in Bolivia.
Even on Independence Day there is not too much sign of
rampant national pride away from the central plaza.
There the President is being inaugurated in front of a
stage managed display of his pink clad supporters, and
national pride is high on the agenda. But by the time
you get to Prado, down on the main strip where the
rich Bolivians parade themselves, it is only the
schoolgirls who display the green, red and yellow
national colours. If the shops weren't closed you
wouldn't even know it was a national holiday. And
what Fútbol match is on TV tonight? Bolivia famously
beating mighty Brasil right here in the ultra high
altitude of La Paz? Not a chance - Barcelona against
Newcastle seems to be the match of choice in the hotel
It almost seems as if the locals have given up on
Bolivia as an international force. The 'glory days'
of 1994 are long, long gone, and with Boca and Brasil
taking up residency in much the same way as the G14
have done in Europe, there seems little room for a way
back. Bolivia are always going to have a chance of
reaching the World Cup Finals, simply because they
play home matches 4000m up, but until they do get back
onto the biggest stage no one much will care. Maybe
one day Boca will sign a Bolivian superstar, and he
will be profiled on ESPN or Fox Sports. Then the
customers of Mongoes in La Paz or the Joy Ride in
Sucre might even look up from their Corona or Heineken
beers and take some interest. I wouldn't hold out too
much hope of that happening anytime soon though.
Info on how
the World Cup was founded and about the trophy as well.
on every match in every tournament.
Interesting columns about the past, present and future of the World Cup.
with appearances in the World Cup. Detailed info on every country.
of many of the most influential players in history.
An A-Z collection
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since it was introduced in 1966.
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