Friday, July 16, 2010

On "The Two Escobars"

As a commemoration  for its thirty years of existence, the U.S. television channel ESPN has launched a series of documentaries about the people and events that transformed the sports landscape in the last three decades. The series includes athletes such as Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, OJ Simpson and Mike Tyson, and other personalities like Nelson Mandela, Donald Trump and the recently deceased George Steinbrenner. One of these documentaries, of particular interest to Colombians and soccer fans around the world, is the one called "The Two Escobars." It deepens on the well-known relationship between the drug business and soccer in Colombia and some of the connections in the deaths of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar and the soccer player Andres Escobar.

While the history of the leader of the Medellin cartel has been widely documented in similar media, for example in "Killing Pablo" by the History Channel or "King of Cocaine" by the Discovery Times Channel, the emphasis of this documentary on the world of soccer makes it special when compared to those. "The Two Escobars" breaks with earlier formats by relating the life of Pablo Escobar with one of the most memorable victims of drug trafficking within and outside Colombia, Andres Escobar, who became worldly famous for scoring an own goal in the soccer World Cup USA 1994 and being killed days later in the city of Medellin.

The documentary deals with familiar topics concerning the links between the drug mafias and professional soccer clubs in Colombia up to the mid-nineties. Thus, it delves into issues such as the configuration of teams for carrying out gambling among drug lords, money laundering in multi-million dollar transactions of players, building of playing fields and installation of lighting by drugs mafias and threats and murder of referees, among others. "The Two Escobars" covers these events from different angles, for which it includes interviews with several important players, coach and team manager of the time, as well as relatives and close friends of each of the protagonists. It also includes the stories of drug traffickers such as the security chief of Pablo Escobar and one of his closest men, John Jairo Vasquez Velasquez alias Popeye, the DEA Special Agent Tom Cash, and former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria.

For those of us who grew up in Colombia during those years, either with the jersey of a professional soccer club or supporting the national team, today it is still shocking to see how the skill level of the players, professional and national teams, went hand in hand with the number of deaths of drug trafficking, the terrorist attacks in major cities, and the power of drug gangs in Colombia and overseas. It also causes indignation to see the socio-economic status of Medellín in the sixties and seventies, a city in which the only life alternative for thousands of young men was soccer; well,... soccer and the drug business. The linkage of these two alternatives would be so strong that the sentiment of several players towards Pablo Escobar is none other than of gratitude for his support. "The Two Escobars" documents several of these facts and even shows how, at some point in his successful career, the entire national team visited the Envigado prison to play soccer with the famous drug dealer and some of his henchmen with whom he shared prison. All this, of course, falling under the radar of the media and beyond the reach of the public opinion of the time.

 Some of the feelings that come from watching the documentary are those of smallness and impotence: thinking that the passion of a soccer fan is used to satisfy interests that are far beyond imagination; knowing that what is at stake in a game is much more than what a fan sees in the field; thinking that the faults, goals and own goals mean millions of dollars, mafia wars, and in some ways, a challenge to the state: drug trafficking in Colombian took the sport to levels that the politicians never could. Hopefully this type of unfortunate examples shows the need to think twice about being part of a mass of people that unknowingly promotes undercover business, political or criminal objectives, so the very existence of these masses is a guarantee to having their support and, thus, to promote the darkest interests.

See trailer of the documentary here.


  1. Quiero unirme a las palabras de Eduardo Galeano cuando decía que muchas veces los números y la gente no parecieran tener niguna relación... y pone como ejemplo los prosperos años 80 en colombia, donde la economia era prospera (por la droga) pero rios de sangre corrian sin cesar. Y pareciera que el futbol no se salva de esta misma sentencia... seguramente fue esa epoca en la que el futbol colombiano tuvo mayor reconocimiento, generó mas dinero, e inclusive fuimos reconocidos como uno de los favoritos para ganar el mundial del 94. Al final, el auge de la drogra en el deporte no solo nos quito a uno de los mejores defensas del pais sino la capacidad de entender el deporte como una de las mejores salidas a las presiones economicas y sociales del pais.

  2. Muy acertada la conclusion del articulo. Enardecer la pasion de las masas es el mejor instrumento para encubrir toda clase de agendas politicas (o criminales). Esto ocurre especialmente con el deporte.
    En un muy diferente panorama, observese hoy la estrategia de la Presidenta Kirchner. Recibir con honores al equipo argentino que se desempeño pobremente en el mundial y aumentar la facilidad para la transmision de los partidos, ha hecho que los argentinos se concentren en el futbol y que ,al menos los fans (que son una gran mayoria), vuelvan a ver a sus dirigentes con gran optimismo.

  3. Mis respuestas a sus comentarios:

    Disonancia: respecto a la relación entre números y la gente, no hay nada más absurdo que las mediciones del creimiento económico: por un lado las grandes noticias respecto al 3%, 4%, o 5% de cada año y por otro -completamente opuesto- el creciente desempleo y la rampante desigualdad.

    Ya veremos en unos años -sino es ya mismo- el descalabro social que estos "prósperos años" -citando el discurso oficial- han significado para Colombia.

    Charlie: respecto a los deportes yo diría que estos junto a los conflictos internacionales han siempre sido la opción perfecta de los gobiernos para desviar la atención de los problemas de fondo. Desafortunadamente seguimos con la pasión por un balón y nos olvidamos de la horrible realidad que vivimos.

    Gracias por sus comentarios.