Soccer civil rights

Obdulio Varela

A vignette about the 1949 Uruguayan footballers' strike by Eduardo Galeano, self-professed beggar of good soccer and author of Soccer in Sun and Shadow.

The grass was getting long in the empty stadiums.

Strikers on strike, and defenders too; Uruguay's soccer players, slaves of their teams were simply demanding acknowledgment of their union and its right to exist. Their cause was so scandalously just that people supported them, even as time wore on and each soccerless Sunday became an insufferable yawn.

The owners would not yield, and just sat on their hands and waited for hunger to exact surrender. But the players held firm, their spirits boosted by the example of a proud man of few words, Obdulio Varela, a black, all-but-illiterate soccer player and bricklayer. He lifted up the fallen and urged on the weary.

And that was how, at the end of seven long months, Uruguay's players won the strike of crossed legs.

A year later, in 1950, they also won the World Cup.

Brazil, playing at home in the Maracanã Stadium, was the indisputable favourite. It had just trounced Spain 6-1 and Sweden 7-1. Fate's verdict named Uruguay as the last lamb to be sacrificed on its alter in the final. And so it was shaping up, Uruguay losing and two hundred thousand fans roaring in the stands, when Obdulio, playing with a swollen ankle, gritted his teeth. Then the captain of the strike became captain of an impossible victory.

Pg. 320, Eduardo Galeano's 'Mirrors: Stories of almost everyone'.

Posted By

Jan 9 2013 00:58


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Jan 9 2013 01:43
Juan Pablo de Dovitiis wrote:

...Journalists covering sports around that time always talked about Obdulio not allowing them to photograph him. This was in part because, during a players' strike in the 40s, he was chastised by football officials and the media for standing up for footballers' rights.

In fact, when his club team, Peñarol, first signed a jersey sponsorship in the mid 50s, he actually refused to wear the logo on his chest. Hence, Peñarol played a season with only 10 players bearing a logo, and a lone Obdulio holding on to the old jersey.

"Before, they used to pull us black people from a ring in our noses. That time is past," said Obdulio, a descendant of Africans brought to Uruguay as slaves, about the jersey incident...

For soccer player, Obdulio Varela, "they were all made of wood"