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SPORTS | 22-12-2023 13:47

Boca election result is a victory for Riquelme and clubs nationwide

Ibarra and Macri proceeded in a desperate campaign to link Boca’s legendary ex-playmaker with some sort of shadowy plot to construct the Xeneize as the last bastion of evil Kirchnerism. Their gambit backfired.

After all the wranglings and bitterness that marked the preceding month, Boca Juniors‘ actual presidential election proved to be something of an anti-climax. But one thing is for certain: newly crowned supremo Juan Román Riquelme – or indeed the tens of thousands who braved awful weather conditions to cast their vote last Sunday – will not care a jot.

Riquelme faced down the full fury of Mauricio Macri's political-judicial machine and came out not only unscathed, but seemingly strengthened and emboldened by the ordeal. It quickly became apparent within the first few minutes of counting that victory over the former Boca and Argentina president and Román's formal rival, Andrés Ibarra, was a foregone conclusion. The only question would be by how much the legendary number 10 had thrashed his opponents; and by the early hours of Monday morning a crushing margin of 31 points had been established and Ibarra's rather curt concession speech delivered.

Cue wild celebrations around La Bombonera as fans celebrated this convincing electoral triumph that was made all the more sweeter by the nonsense and foot-dragging that delayed proceedings for a full fortnight before ballots could finally be cast.

From the outset it was difficult to see exactly what Ibarra and Macri's strategy was in the face of such a formidable incumbent. Delaying the vote on an ultimately futile objection over member eligibility now seems a huge own goal, given that it gave Riquelme further breathing space following the disappointment of falling short in the Copas Libertadores and Argentina, while also motivating countless Boca fans who may have been previously on the fence in a crusade to defend the club's democracy – a charge that Macri, with a history of supporting private control of teams, is particularly susceptible to.

The second front of the opposition's assault also proved ineffective. Rather than focus on Riquelme's record at the helm of Boca during his previous vice-presidential term – decent, at least domestically, but with no international honours to speak of – Ibarra and Macri proceeded in a desperate campaign to link the candidate with some sort of shadowy plot to construct the Xeneize as the last bastion of evil Kirchnerism. That gambit brought national politics into what had previously been a purely Boca affair and also dragged in President Javier Milei on the side of his new partner, while Internet trolls worked tirelessly to link Román with the recently defeated Peronist forces.

It was a plan that may have looked promising on paper but which quickly fell apart. Aside from a few old photographs with Tigre neighbour Sergio Massa there was nothing to connect Riquelme with any sort of political manoeuvrings, and that approach proved a dud with voters. Indeed, the only figure to feel the wrath of the Xeneize faithful was Milei, whose decision to vote at La Bombonera amid widespread boos and jeers while Bahía Blanca lay in ruins following Saturday's megastorm constituted the first substantial (and completely unforced) error of his nascent Presidency. His ill-advised presence only helped to enhance Riquelme's giant-killing feat: he took on Macri, the head of state, the courts and much of the traditional Argentine media establishment, sporting and otherwise – and wiped the floor with all of them.

Above all, it was a victory for this most unique and treasured football model. Boca, San Lorenzo, Tigre and Colón all went to the polls on Sunday and while each club is enjoying different fortunes at this time, all held exemplary elections in which the voice of the fans was heard loud and clear. It is not perfect, for sure, but no other system in professional sports allows such an opportunity to endorse or repudiate those in charge; and any attempt to change or eradicate it, to remove control from the supporters and members, carries a heavy political cost.

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Dan Edwards

Dan Edwards

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