Playing against Death
The 'Disaparecidos' Team: La Plata Rugby Club
As much as many sports governing bodies or sports followers may not like the mixing of sports and politics, it is somewhat naive to think that the two do not or should never mix. No matter the country or city you hail from, take a good look into the sport you follow and you’ll see how politics sits within it with a very disguised but comfortable sofa. Those who follow the La Plata Rugby Club closely, know about the painful dark happenings which hovered around the club and its players some forty years after the club was founded. La Plata Rugby Club, a leading Rugby Union club from the city of La Plata, Buenos Aires, holds in its history, the stories of the disappearances of the club’s players under the Argentine authorities in the 1970s.
In March 1976, Argentina experienced a change of power. Isabel Peron, the country’s democratically elected President was expelled by a military coup. During Peron’s time as President, many political disappearances and murders occurred. When the following military regime of right wing dictator General Jorge Videla, had forced itself on the country, things escalated even more. Anyone thought to be in solidarity with the left or in opposition to the government was arrested, kidnapped, tortured and/or killed. Now this is where La Plata Rugby Club comes into the picture. Young middle class leftist Argentines who lived around the La Plata area used to meet at the Rugby club. The young men would meet up at the club to play and also discuss issues related to the political reality at the time. The government did not like this as the club was known to have many leftist figures. Though the club’s players were some of the best in Argentina at the time, they were never invited to the national team.
Till today, not many know about their stories. The players are only honoured by La Plata Rugby Club, their families and human rights organisations. In Argentina, many of the younger generation are only just beginning to know about La Plata Rugby Club’s players who disappeared. 15 La Plata players who disappeared have never been accounted for.
The last La Plata player disappeared in 1978, three days after Argentina won the FIFA World Cup. Though there were whispers of the atrocities of the Argentine government during this period, the government did all it could to hide its repressive and bloody activities. Just like the La Plata players defied the government, there were campaigns against the staging of the World Cup in Argentina. Amnesty International kept records of the numbers who were disappearing and released statements to bring awareness to the reality on ground. The disappearances were either blamed on terrorists or people moving abroad by the local media. The press had no free hand of their own and had to parrot whatever the regime wanted. The military junta were able to control the media sufficiently enough that even some Argentines only saw what the government wanted them to see.
Checkpoints were common all over the country. People and vehicles were stopped at random and asked to present identity documents or give bribes. Many were kidnapped, even pregnant women. Some of the women would be allowed to deliver their babies in captivity after which they would be killed and their children would be given to families with military ties. Many had to play to the junta’s tunes.
Apart from Fava’s book, many of the players’ stories can be found in Claudio Gomez’s book, Maten al Rugbier (Kill the Rugby Player). The families of the disappeared players still seek for justice. These stories are only just beginning to gain proper momentum outside Argentina, and they are indeed shocking ones.