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The Beautiful Game
Punting for Political Points: Argentina and the World Cup

As the world looks forward to the final World Cup showdown, Argentinians can thank their government for providing free viewership. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner took over private broadcasting rights for the World Cup so that Argentinians can watch matches for free, as the WSJ reports:

Justifying the takeover of broadcast rights, Kirchner stood beside soccer legend Diego Maradona in 2009 and accused the private sector of “kidnapping goals” from viewers the way the 1976-1983 military dictatorship kidnapped and tortured thousands of Argentines.

“I don’t want a society of kidnappings anymore,” Kirchner said.

This kind of incendiary, populist rhetoric may get crowds riled up, but won’t do much to address the country’s skyrocketing inflation rates and encroaching default crisis.

Other governments are also using free World Cup viewings to score political points. Thailand’s military junta allowed Thais to watch all 64 matches of the World Cup for free in order to “return happiness to the Thai people.” Other policies haven’t made the Thai public particularly happy, some of which

curbed freedom of expression, banned political assembly of more than five people…[and] summoned and temporarily detained hundreds of activists, politicians, academics and journalists who have been warned not to criticize the coup.

With the World Cup occurring every four years, these countries’  leaders can’t expect the bread and circuses effect to last.

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