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FIFA in CHILE: The Football of the Absurd

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In the qualifying rounds for the 1974 World Cup in Germany, Chile was drawn to play against the Soviet Union. When the first match, in Moscow, ended in a draw, the return was due to be played in the National Stadium in Santiago de Chile. There was one problem: the Stadium was in use as a concentration camp which housed up to 7,000 prisoners, most of them crammed into changing rooms and offices below the stands and the ‘escotillas’ or gangways leading up onto the pitch. Many prisoners were tortured and some executed there, especially in the Velodromo, the cycle track located to one side of the main stadium.

Carlos CaszelyThe Soviet authorities protested that they could not be expected to play football in such a place. FIFA sent a delegation to inspect the Stadium, who were given a superficial tour by the military authorities while all prisoners were kept out of sight. Subsequently, FIFA ordered the USSR to play the match or be eliminated. The USSR refused. On the appointed day, the Chilean team emerged onto the pitch and kicked the ball into an empty net at the vacant Soviet end of the pitch. Subsequently, when the Chilean team departed to play in Germany, General Pinochet, in cape and dark glasses, came to see them off. Many of the players were Popular Unity sympathisers. Chile’s star forward, Carlos Caszely, was one of them and he, famously, refused to shake the dictator’s hand. Twelve years later, in 1985, while the Pinochet junta was still in power, a tribute match was played in the same stadium to honour Caszely on his retirement from competition football. It became a massive rally of opposition to the dictatorship.

This radio programme, compiled by Dennis Maxwell for Radio Ambulante and posted on BBC World, tells the story of this surreal match and contains interviews with some of the figures involved, including Caszely himself. Click here to listen to the programme.