Bolivia’s President Evo Morales has become the first President to my knowledge to play professional sports while in office. By signing a contract to play Soccer for Sports Boys in Bolivia’s First Division, Evo will not only be living up to a dream come true, he will be showcasing the beauty of soccer and the importance it has in the lives of those who play it.
I am part of a collective called Futbolistas, a space where all skill levels are welcome. It is a space where Womyn, Trans, Queer, Children, and people from a variety of skill levels come and kick the ball around. There is no slide tackles in our games. For those who have never played or have limited soccer experience, we allow them to touch the ball and dribble the ball with the ability to make a pass. We want people to fall in love with the Sport and we emphasize more on passing the ball and having a good time than on winning. Our philosophy is the game always ends 2-2. One of our motto’s is: To Change the World, You Have to Change the Way You Play.
I bring this up because Evo Morales is a “Futbolista” at heart. On the video above, you see him playing against the Colombian President. And guess what the final score was: 2-2! 🙂
LA PAZ, Bolivia—Professional soccer has a new star, a player sure to lure fans despite his plumpness and middle age.
President Evo Morales, 54 years old, signed on to appear briefly in a handful of matches starting in August for Sport Boys soccer club in Bolivia’s eastern lowlands.
“He has a great right foot and dominates the ball,” the team’s president, Mario Cronenbold, said in an interview this past week.
Mr. Morales, who won’t receive a salary, said his move was intended to promote his favorite sport among youth. “It’s an invitation by Sport Boys that will be an example for young people,” Mr. Morales, whose No. 10 jersey features his first name, told a local TV station.
Presidents the world over sometimes make a point of showing off their sporting skills: President Barack Obama plays hoops, Russian President Vladimir Putin, sometimes shirtless, hunts and fishes. Mr. Morales frequently dons cleats to play soccer, or fútbol, as it’s known here.
“We have a saying here—where love is made, football is played,” he said earlier this year when the World Cup trophy made a promotional stop in Bolivia.
News about the president’s new undertaking has delighted some Bolivians and prompted groans from others who see it as a political stunt ahead of the October vote in which Mr. Morales seeks to be re-elected.
“For people in politics, any act is a political act,” said Guido Loayza, president of Bolivia’s top football team, Club Bolivar.
Mostly, though, Bolivians like Gerardo Corimayta, 37, a builder from La Paz and an amateur league soccer player, said support Mr. Morales’s move.
“This is a good thing,” he said. “I’ve never heard of a president participating in professional football. It makes me proud to play.”
To the world, Mr. Morales is known as Bolivia’s first indigenous president, a staunch leftist and former head of the coca grower’s union who frequently criticizes U.S. policy. But Mr. Morales is also outspoken—in words and actions—about his obsession for soccer.
At a 2012 summit of Latin American leaders in Colombia, President Juan Manuel Santos’s government organized a game against a Bolivian team led by Mr. Morales (it ended in a 2-2 tie). Mr. Morales has kicked the ball around with retired Argentine superstar Diego Maradona and played a “friendly” in Tehran against a team led by then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Mr. Morales also regularly tours this landlocked country with a “presidential team” made up of retired Bolivian professional players. He uses the presidency to promote soccer for the poor—directing public funds to install artificial turf and spectator seating and floodlights at public fields.
Once, he dragged aides and foreign reporters up a 19,700-foot glacier to play and demonstrate to soccer’s governing body that it was safe to stage matches in this country, where many of the fields are located at high altitudes.
The team that snagged Mr. Morales’s services is an up-and-coming, first-division squad from Warnes, a town just outside the agricultural hub of Santa Cruz. “It’s a great support for the club,” said Mr. Cronenbold, who is also Warnes’s mayor.
—Juan Forero contributed to this article.
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Tags: Bolivia, Bolivia's First Indigenous President, Evo Morales, Evo Morales Futbol, Evo Morales Soccer, futbol, Futbolista, President Evo Morales, Soccer, Soccer 2-2, Soccer for Sports Boys, Summit of Latin American Leaders