The Football and Society Podcast

Football as a peacemaker? How Colombia's government used sport to combat the threat of the FARC

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Episode notes

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known as the FARC) were formed in 1964, and for over half a century they were locked in a gruelling, bloody struggle with Colombia’s government. During this time, the Colombian authorities attempted to use the national football team as a means of unifying its citizens against the perceived threat of the FARC.

In this episode, Peter Watson joins us to discuss how successive Colombian presidents presented the FARC as the significant Other threatening a sense of national unity - symbolising what he calls ‘Narco-lombia’: the darker, notorious world of drug trafficking, violence, and criminality. 

For decades, the FARC was also associated with Communism; early on in the national football team’s history, a draw with the Soviet Union in the 1962 World Cup was heralded as a triumph over Colombia’s Communist foes, with one magazine describing the draw as ‘the most glorious page of Colombian sport in history’. 

In later years, Colombia’s political and criminal feuds had a direct and sinister impact on events on the football pitch; Andrés Escobar, who scored an own goal during Colombia's World Cup campaign in 1994, was murdered by men with cartel links on his return to Colombia, a tragedy that rocked the footballing world. 20 years later, as a new national narrative was emerging during peace negotiations between the FARC and the government, President Juan Manuel Santos was using football as a bridge and means of conciliation to incorporate the FARC back into the idea of a national ‘us’.

  • How did drug cartels infiltrate Colombian football?
  • How did the Colombian government undermine the guerillas using football?
  • How optimistic should we be about Colombia's future?

...all this and more in the 36th episode of the Football and Society podcast.


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Each week, Ash, Chris and Norman explore societal issues through the lens of the beautiful game. From the ethics of gambling sponsorship to what a stadium move means for fans, we’ll be covering it all each week with expert guests from the worlds of sports journalism and sociology.