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Revolution and the World Cup

Argentina soccer fans celebrate Argentina's goal.

Argentina soccer fans celebrate Argentina's goal. Credit: AP / Jorge Saenz

It’s World Cup time. Which means I’m shouting at the screen and getting stirred by the symbolism of it all.

This, naturally, makes me think about revolution.

When I played soccer as a girl and young woman, I held the defensive position of “stopper” and often used shouting as a defensive tactic. Once, a sports photographer captured this in the local newspaper: me running, mouth wide open, yelling at a player who’d slipped past me.

The next year, 1990, I’d play on a women’s club team at Pennsylvania State University, which didn’t inaugurate a women’s varsity team until five years later. I like to think my running and shouting helped.

In 2015, the U.S. women’s team won the World Cup, its third championship since the inaugural tournament in 1991. This year, the U.S. men’s national team didn’t qualify. That’s a shame - all that camaraderie, all that global shared experience, and no United States. Given the state of geopolitics, it’s also disturbingly symbolic.

Trump’s “America First” policy is looking more and more like “America Isolated and Alone.” A new Gallup poll finds world confidence in U.S. leadership at just 30 percent, a new low.

There are many reasons for this. There’s the Paris climate accord, signed by 195 countries, from which President Donald Trump withdrew. There was the recent G-7 meeting, where Trump championed Russia, arrived late, refused to sign a join statement, and insulted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Twitter.

Then there’s the mounting trade war sparked by the Trump administration. And the ongoing nightmare on the Mexican border, where Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy has separated more than 2,000 immigrant children from their parents. As psychologists warn of lifelong trauma for those children, the rest of the world watches in outrage. The United Nations condemned this policy, and Trump withdrew the United States from the U.N.’s Human Rights Council.

It’s enough to make me scream.

Which brings me back to the World Cup, where I’m reminded that so much can change on a dime.

Watching the games often makes me think of the late 1990s, when I lived in Ecuador, where fútbol fandom takes on epic proportions. When the national team played and beat Argentina, I shouted my head off in the stadium during the “Olé” chants and hugged strangers.

But another epic event happened during those years.

In 1996, the country elected as president Abdalá Bucaram, aka “El Loco.” Bucaram was rude, potty-mouthed, and flamboyant. He ran as a populist and won 54 percent of the vote by promising homes and social programs to the poor. He never delivered.

Ecuador’s cost of living rose dramatically, and El Loco’s economic plans lost him favor with both the poor and the elite. On Feb. 5, 1997, a massive demonstration of students, workers, indigenous people, and intellectuals demanded that El Loco step down. He did, the next day, after the Ecuadorian Congress finally deemed him unfit for office.

I was in the streets that day with Ecuadorians, as witness, a bandanna over my face against the tear gas. The patriotism of the moment was riveting. Not unlike the national soccer matches.

Things change. Sometimes after decades of hard work. Sometimes quicker than we think.

Kimi Eisele is a writer living in Tucson, Arizona, whose work focuses on culture, heritage and nature.