Thursday, February 9, 2012


The own-goal that cost Andre Escobar his life.

I just watched ‘The two Escobars’ (2010) [new tab], a documentary about two Escobars (naturally) from Colombia who died violent deaths related to the drug trade in the 1990s. Pablo Escobar was a billion-dollar drug lord, and Andres Escobar was Colombia’s football team captain, most famous for scoring in his own goal, costing Colombia the 1994 World Cup. Andres was shortly after killed in an altercation with mobsters furious at his mistake. These events weren’t that long ago; you might have read them in the papers when they happened.


It struck me that the Colombian situation related quite well to the Philippines. Here was a country whose own government was intent on cleaning up its image via superficial means, that is, by aiding in the success of their football team.

Pablo Escobar
I don’t know how it would have mattered if Colombia went on to win the World Cup, if underlying factors made for a perpetuation of violence and instability in the country. But apparently, politicians like then-president C├ęsar Gaviria were satisfied with having their football team overshadow harsher realities, or perhaps they hoped that a champion football team would translate to a growing economy.

In the Philippines, the situation isn’t too far off. We have a Department of Tourism which managed to come up with “It’s more fun in the Philippines” [new tab], but what is there to show for such a claim? How long can Filipinos bank on the country’s natural wonders, when much of it remains undevelopable (due to lack of capital)? Add to that the fact that most Filipinos are in poverty; conflict rages in Mindanao; journalism is an especially dangerous profession; traffic sucks; etc.

And then there’s the Manny Pacquiao phenomenon, where being ‘proud to be Filipino’ is supposed to make a difference in people’s lives. Heck, there’s that semi-successful football team, the Azkals, behind which Filipinos rally. At least Colombia managed to make it past the qualifiers.


Traffic. More fun in Colombia!
The success of Colombia’s football team is attributed to funding by Pablo Escobar, a football fanatic. After Pablo’s death, much of the financing stopped. Many in the documentary believed that sans drug money, Colombian football was doomed. To me, this is a rather myopic view of the situation.

With a community largely in poverty, it is only natural that people’s priorities will not be recreational activities like sports. But as prosperity grows, so does demand for ‘non-essentials.’ One would be mistaken to believe that it takes coercive funding for programs to succeed.

Football doesn’t need a drug lord benefactor or government subsidies; it needs the growth of capital, which is best achieved by leaving businesses alone to seek ways to satisfy consumers. From this profit motive comes employment, output and a better standard of living.

Some analysts are bullish on Colombia [new tab], partly due to increasing economic freedom in the area. If such freedom and progress are sustained, I’d wager that the country’s soccer program would take off once again.

Similarly, the Philippine government should lay off on funding sports. It can very well abolish the Philippine Sports Commission, and should just get out of the way of markets. If a certain sport succeeds, this should be on account of consumer preferences, and not the whims and guesses of politicians.

Like most governments, the Philippine government is on a ‘war on drugs.’ Such a war is futile, even counterproductive. If politicians were really sincere in stopping the violent operations of drug lords, they would stop prohibition.

Who do you think suffers the most when drugs are legalized? Is it the youth? The mothers?

No, it’s the mobsters themselves, who find their monopoly in jeopardy. They now have to face legit competitors, which brings prices down and makes the business far less lucrative. With competition also comes higher quality and safety standards, and more openness to seek assistance in cases of addiction. Whatever horrors society faces by a legalization of dangerous drugs, the alternative, of market capture by violent elements, is always worse.


Stability of a community rests on more than popular memes and celebrity teams. The Philippine situation may not be as bad as what goes on in Latin America, but this shouldn’t lure us into complacency. Alas, it may take a crisis of some proportion for Filipinos to see beyond cheap gimmickry and ethnocentric diversions.

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