President Alberto Fernández said this week that he regretted that Argentina’s World Cup winning squad of players did not show up at the Casa Rosada on Tuesday to celebrate with the public, as did the previous champions in 1978 and 1986.
The Peronist leader underlined that he had placed Government House "at the disposal" of the Argentine Football Association (AFA), an offer which was rejected, but he declined to criticise the AFA chief Claudio ‘Chiqui’ Tapia and said he was not offended by the champions’ apparent lack of desire to visit the Casa Rosada.
“There is lots of speculation. I’m a consummate football fan and the truth is that I see things differently. I knew the players were wiped out and wanted a relatively brief celebration. I let AFA know that the Casa Rosada was at their disposal if they wanted but they chose something else,” he told Radio Con Vos in an interview.
The national government had everything ready on the iconic balcony, including flags, where they were hoping that ‘La Scaloneta’ would hail the crowd. But the plans changed because of the enormous masses taking the streets and the players’ desire not be exploited politically.
The proposal of Alberto Fernández was that the Casa Rosada balcony be manned by the players alone without any political or government leaders "because the president wanted to avoid any political speculation," an official source told Perfil, defending the government’s stance.
Part of the special security operation included closing down the press room for accredited journalists.
Aníbal hits out
In unison with Security Minister Aníbal Fernández, the president hailed the operation, maintaining that "everything was unfolding in order, joy and without any major inconveniences," adding: "The caravan could not continue for all the people there were."
"The players won, not us," asserted Fernández, insisting that he had always been keen not to mix football and politics.
Regarding Tapia, who questioned preparations for the parade but praised Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni, the president maintained that he would not run him down.
Security Minister Aníbal Fernández was less collegiate, however, criticising both Berni and Tapia. He even clashed with a journalist on Wednesday who questioned the operation. “Tell me, genius, what would you have done?” he snapped back after being asked why the team never reached the Obelisk.
The minister further claimed that several players communicated to him, via AFA, that they wanted to go to the Casa Rosada.
“I notified Tapia on Tuesday that no way were we going to accompany the route to the Obelisk,” he underlined, adding that the Buenos Aires City government also had concerns over the bus reaching Avenida 9 de Julio.
Speaking on Radio 10, Aníbal Fernández explained: “Yesterday I was in Ezeiza verifying the caravan and we reached agreement with ‘Chiqui’ Tapia over planning the route."
While the Argentine players were travelling in a coach with a convertible roof, it was decided that they should not go to the Obelisk because of the enormous number of fans awaiting them in the streets.
"The security people escorting us did not allow us to arrive and greet all the people around the Obelisk, they did not permit us to advance. A thousand apologies in the name of all the champion players. A pity," questioned Tapia via his social networks.
He subsequently praised Berni, whom he congratulated for being "the only one who accompanied the entire route until the entry into the capital without registering any incident."
Aníbal Fernández claimed in an interview: “We placed the helicopters at the disposal of the team as soon as we realised that the overland caravan was no longer possible. I made that decision and they accepted it without any problem while ‘Chiqui’ Tapia was threatening me via Twitter."
According to the minister, several players "accepted the decision we took, we did not want to place anybody’s life at risk."
The official assured that the operation was arranged by the national Security Ministry the day beforehand and that “Berni had nothing to do with it,” at the same time he assured that without the helicopters “we had no other way of resolving this” so that was what they did and it worked out well.
'President of three cups'
Amid the tension in the government over being snubbed by the Argentine team and AFA, the president opted to minimise the situation.
"I knew the players were wiped out and wanted a brief celebration," he explained, adding: "The only thing I did was to let the AFA authorities know that if they wanted to come to Government House, it was at their disposal but they wanted something else and that is very respectable."
In that sense he maintained: "I believe that when these discussions begin as to why they did not come because they were annoyed over this, that or the other, it does not seem to me that they lead very far, sincerely. Not that it is anything which worries me."
Dubbed as "the only president who failed to receive World Cup champions," Alberto Fernández said: "I love teaching people that football is not to be mixed with politics."
"I must be the only one who did not receive them but I also believe that I’m the only president during whose term the team won the Copa América, the Intercontinental and the World Cup," continued Fernández, concluding: "Apart from being the president of the three cups, I’m the only president since Néstor [Kirchner] who made Argentina grow three years running."
"You’re the president of the Olivos party, the VIP vaccines and the highest inflation in the last 30 years, @alferdez. The three cups belong to the team," retorted deputy and former Buenos Aires Province governor María Eugenia Vidal via her Twitter account.
The day before, Patricia Bullrich, who chairs the PRO centre-right party, had also criticised the government.
"Instead of enjoying the arrival of the world champions, we suffered disappointment and not due to them. It is evident that Argentina needs order to progress. Beyond doubt, what happened today [Tuesday] is not the path," commented the former security minister.
In the face of the criticism received, presidential spokesperson Gabriela Cerrutti commented: "Five million people in the streets paying tribute to the champions. Love and joy impose order. If you suffered disappointment today, Pato Bullrich, it is evident that you are not made of the same stuff as the Argentine people."
"Alberto Fernández today was disgraceful, passing himself off as the superstar of the three cups, which Argentine won despite him," expressed the libertarian deputy Javier Milei (City-La Libertad Avanza), hypothesising that Lionel Messi decided not to go to Government House because he remembered the "disagreeable experience with Cristina Kirchner" after the 2014 World Cup.
"His decision seems formidable to me because of that reception by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner which violated the limits of good taste. It was embarrassing. That played an important role in the mind of Lionel Messi."
Some local media speculated that ‘La Pulga’ may be angry with the current government due to an issue dating from the Covid-19 pandemic. Messi donated 32 artificial respirators to the Health Department of Rosario, his native city, via his Fundación Leo Messi in August, 2020, but they have been stuck in the airport at Customs ever since.
According to Rosario air terminal president, Eduardo Romagnoli, an authorisation was needed from the national government to unblock the respirators which never arrived. This red tape in an emergency situation reportedly triggered the annoyance of Messi.
– TIMES with agencies