Twenty three-year-old Racing Club midfielder Oscar Romero was sensational in his side’s 4-1 victory over Bolívar to open up Copa Libertadores’ group stage play on Wednesday. He dished out a dime of a pass in the eleventh minute to assist the first goal of the night, and broke through the defense more times than we can count en route to a player of the match performance.
But his most important contribution of the night? Courage.
Towards the end of the first half, some rowdy Racing fans began to chant “Son todos bolivianos, paraguayos, que sólo sirven para botonear.” Xenophobia at its worst. Not only is the very nature of the rallying call insulting – promoting the idea that one race, religion/nationality is superior to others – it reflects and legitimizes abuse that some fans are subject to day in and day out. In this particular case, as Martín Estévez points out in his beautiful opinion piece for El Gráfico, the cry “promotes aggression against a country whose devastation and suffering over the years was, in large part, due to the Argentine government.” From 1864 to 1870, a combined force of Argentine, Brazilian, and Uruguayan army men killed between 300-450,000 Paraguayans (two-thirds of the country’s entire population.) And while this may seem like a dark, distant memory, the country still suffers the side effects in many varied forms.
Wednesday marked the first time that a futbolista – a young Paraguayan striker with everything to lose by way of club contracts and conflicts – “preferred dignity to demagoguery in the middle of a match, with 30,000 people watching him,” writes Estévez.
According to his account, Romero looked up at the tribuna popular and motioned with his fingers “No.” He called for silence. Some mindless neanderthals continued to chant and cheer their ugly xenophobia for all to hear, but the majority moved on. “Romeeeeero, Romeeeero,” they cried.
Wow. Who would have guessed that Racing’s #10 would be the first to take a stand and receive a standing ovation for his efforts? It makes you wonder – might it be as simple as a Chicharito, Andrés Guardado, or Hector Herrera standing up at El Tri’s next big match to make our dream of eradicating the “eeeh puto” chant for good a reality? Fútbol is meant to serve as a unifying force, the teams we support son los equipos de todos. And while we’ve been busy wracking our brains about how to resolve the infuriating reality of xenophobic and homophobic inclinations in world fútbol, Romero might have just provided us with a viable answer.