‘Maradona took Argentina out of sadness’

Farooq Sulehria speaks to Argentinian sports journalist Melisa Trad Malmod about the legacy of Diego Maradonna

‘Maradona took Argentina out of sadness’
The coverage of Diego Maradona’s sad departure in such progressive publications as The Nation (USA), teleSUR or Jacobin focused on his leftist politics besides his sporting brilliance. Likewise, leftists perhaps all over the world shared his forearm with Che tattoo on their social media profiles.

However, the imperial media outlets, from The New York Times to Reuters, every commentary on Maradona was salted with his drug problem and peppered with ‘hand of god’ goal in 1986. A biting bias and discreet venom was hard to ignore. Shouldn’t one treat drug addiction as a private problem deserving sympathy? In the case of Maradona, it was scandalised even in his death.

How about Maradona’s compatriots? How do they view his villanization in the western narratives? To find an answer, TFT interviewed Argentinian sports journalist Melisa Trad Malmod. French President Emmanuel Macron’s condolence message “encapsulates what the western media think about Maradona,” says Melisa.

Like her compatriots, Melisa loves football. She has covered the Football World Cup in 2018 held in Russia for Diario Huarpe, an Argentinian newspaper. She is also active in the feminist and LGBT rights movement. Moreover, she is part of many youth international movements, including ACWAY and Women Deliver.

TFT: Major global media outlets in their reporting of Maradona’s death kept highlighting his drug problem and the ‘hand of god’ goal. How has the Argentinian media covered his death?

MTM: If I have to pick a word that describes how Argentinian media covered Maradona’s death, it would be: sorrow. He was and remains an idol. There was no other way to bid him goodbye. Media here telecast interviews with his close friends. We saw so many of them crying on national TV which is amazing because there is this ridiculous idea that a man should not cry. It was also amazing to see his football performances again on TV screens. We could see incredible things he could do with his feet. Media have also shown how every football club has honored Maradona in creative and artistic ways.

Argentinians travelled from all across the country to the capital city of Buenos Aires to attend his funeral in great numbers and the farewell became raucous because everybody wanted to catch a last glimpse of Maradona. Streets were full with people wearing Maradona T-shirts, many of them crying. On social media, reality was a bit different, a variety of opinions was expressed.

TFT: Reuters headlined ‘world mourns soccer great.’ Was Maradona seen as a flawed hero in Argentina and the larger Latin America?

MTM: Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano says Maradona was ‘the most human of the gods,’ considering how the people feel about Maradona and his flaws. Was he a flawed hero? The answer depends on who you ask. For example, football lovers regard him as a god. However, after his death, certain feminists had an interesting debate on Maradona, knowing that he was abusive towards women. Many pointed out that there was a contradiction in seeing Maradona as a god and not acknowledging these abuses. I personally think, and many others hold similar opinions, we need to reconcile with both sides. We don’t agree with his dark sides. It also raises the question if we really need perfect idols. In the future, we should try to build new idols that really don’t have such dark sides. But definitely, he was a flawed hero.
The key to understand Maradona’s bond with the people is that he never forgot his origins. He was always politically inclined to the weak

TFT: What explains a biased coverage in western media?

MTM: I think most of the western media chose to focus on the football side of Maradona. One cannot contest his greatness as a football player. However, we know that many in the West would never agree with Maradona’s political views. Most media outlets acted as if his politics did not happen.

It was interesting what Emmanuel Macron did. The French president, in his condolence message, while greatly admiring Maradona also pointed out that his expectations from Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez tasted bitter. That encapsulates what the western media think about Maradona.

TFT: Maradona was a unique sports celebrity because he linked sports, politics and social movements. He allied with the Left in Latin America. What significance did his leftwing persona hold for the Left as a whole in Argentina and Latin America?

MTM: Maradona has always been a contested figure in that sense. A lot of people loved him for his football but did not subscribe to his personal opinions. In such cases, football fans would tend to separate the idol from the person. But others of course have liked his political positions.

We can talk about his closeness to Peronism, a major movement in Argentina. He was close to the current president, Alberto Fernandes. Likewise, he was close to the former president Cristina de kirchner and many other Latin American figures. Not only in Latin America, one should also talk about his solidarity with Palestine.

Whether one agrees with his support for Cuba or Venezuela or not, one can’t deny his support for the poor, the workers, and the most vulnerable. I think the key to understanding Maradona’s bond with the people is that he never forgot his origins. He was always politically inclined to the weak. One can see that even in the geopolitical sense: he was supportive of the countries confronting imperial powers. The fact that he never forgot his origins and was always trying to help is so touching about his figure.

TFT: He remains extremely popular in Argentina. What explains his cult-like status, mere his football or a combination of his politics and sports-related stardom?

MTM: Mere football does not exist in Argentina. It is not easy to explain what football implies for my country. Crazy to explain how much it influences our everyday life, our traditions and values.

In a more poetic sense, I think football allows the possibility for a country like Argentina, that does not always have a say at international level, to balance out a little bit of all the inequalities at the international stage.

Maradona is the best example. His goal against England in the 1986 World Cup is historic for my country. We could not recover our land from the Brits (Falkland) but we could score a victory in the football field. We could kind of balance the situation. At least, spiritually.

His personality was focused on the collective. When he played, these were dark times for my country. Maradona, many say, took Argentina out of sadness. His funeral was reflective of this reality.