Monday, October 18, 2010
I don't know how many of you followed the unfolding drama of the 33 Chilean miners trapped for 69 days one-half mile below ground, but I found the rescue mesmerizing. Each miner had a particular trait that the news media used to label him, and so we got to know the miners as the one from Bolivia, the one who had a new daughter, the one who had a mistress, and so on. They each have names, of course, but we got to know them not as Luis or Pedro, but as some aspect of their private lives, now made glaringly public. One miner had been a professional soccer player in the 80s and 90s, Franklin Lobos. The media spoke often about his soccer playing and how he had even played for Chile in a pre-Olympic international qualifier. He spent most of his career on teams in either the 2nd or the 1st Division, so he was known around the country. He began on his regional team in the Atacama Desert where he returned in 2005 to drive trucks for the local mine. His soccer nickname was "El Mortero Màgico" – the Magic Mortar – a bit ironic for someone trapped in a collapsing mine.
While trapped, the miners received feeds of Chilean soccer games for entertainment, which makes sense. It's their most popular sport and a good way to kill two hours of the many they spent underground. I was a bit curious as to how they watched the games. I understand sending down a cable through which programming could be provided, but what did they watch it on? Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer never seemed to find that a curious enough question to pursue. Did they project the game on a sheet on the cave walls or did they manage to send down a 19" TV that 33 men were supposed to gather around to watch? I digress. My point is that soccer seems to make its way into lots of the world's events no matter how remote they may be from actual soccer.
So here's the kicker (excuse the pun). Chilean President Sebastian Pinera has announced that there will be a soccer game between the miners and the rescuers. The miners will be captained by Frank Lobos. No word on who will captain the rescuers. The game will take place Oct. 24, and I suspect CNN will carry it live either on the network or on its website. The President stated that the winners would get the presidential palace La Moneda and the losers will have to go back into the mine – ha ha. You know how comics say that sometimes it's too soon to joke about something? Well President Pinera should have heeded that advice.
First of all a contest to determine a winner between men who narrowly escaped death and the men who brought them to safety seems a bit macabre. Would I want to get into the boxing ring with the policeman who saved me from a kidnapping? Would a family want to challenge the fire department to a game of street hockey a few hours after surviving a house fire? It may be that I really don't understand the full allure of soccer in other countries since we aren't as fanatical in the U.S. But the prospect of a contest between rescuers and the rescued makes me wonder if anyone could be a winner in that situation. Will there be trash-talking, cheap fouls, aggressive play? Will the referees issue cards? Will there be a Cup?
Sports are a matter of pride for those who play them. Yes we play for fun, but we never play just for fun. Ask anyone on a U-8 team or on the sidelines during a "friendly" game what the score is and everyone knows. Sports embody competition. So how will winning or losing a soccer game help the psychology and post-traumatic stress of the miners? If they win, they have just defeated their saviors and if they lose they will take another public ding to their fragile self-confidence. Right now I would think that everyone involved would want to find ways to restore their sense of well-being. How can defeating their rescuers or losing to their rescuers accomplish that? Nevertheless, according to news reports, the miners "warmly" greeted the idea, cheering and clapping when the president proposed it in the hospital. Realistically I'm not sure they were in a position to show any dissent if they felt it given that the president was the one who organized and authorized the expenses for an aggressive rescue. Some of you may say I'm over-thinking this entire event; after all it is just a game and might be a bonding experience. But if that is the case, then I suggest they play a game in which the teams are mixed with rescuers and miners on both sides. And I absolutely suggest that President Pinero refrain from jokes making losers return to their worst nightmare. Find a way to make everyone a winner because right now that's what they are.