The World Cup in Mexico 86 It has been one of the most spectacular tournaments in history, he assures Francisco Xavier Gonzalez. For the sports journalist, that World Cup was not only the first one he covered on television (Imevisión, then), it also meant the crowning glory of Maradonathe best goal in the history of the soccer world championships – courtesy of the Mexican Manuel Negreteand a great breath for a country that was in an economic crisis and was just recovering from an earthquake.
In his new book 86. The year in which Mexico changed the world (Planeta), González reviews what the competition was like and compares it with the challenges facing the Qatar World Cup both in sports and socially.
Why the 1986 World Cup changed the world?
It was the first World Cup in which the broadcast rights and production costs were really high. Soccer took a very important step towards professionalism, both commercially and in the income of the players. The 1986 World Cup was the first of the big brands, the commercial war began, it revolutionized the way of transmitting the show and generated a higher mass of income.
It was a World Cup that fell to Mexico on a rebound…
Emilio Azcárraga decided through Guillermo Cañedo, who had enormous sympathy with Joao Havelange, then president of FIFA, to fight to achieve it. Originally Colombia was going to organize it, but the social moment it was going through was very complicated. In addition, since the World Cup in Spain had not gone so well, FIFA demanded things that were not originally foreseen in terms of infrastructure, communication and roads. Colombia recognized that it could not respond and President Betancourt preferred not to enter. That’s when the battle between the United States, Canada and Mexico began… in the end our country got it.
Mexico was not going through a good economic moment either.
Yes, but it won because of the support of a television station and in particular for being a soccer-loving country. I think FIFA had a bias towards the United States because of its little soccer culture, of course Qatar doesn’t have it now either.
In light of the time that the World Cup represented for Mexico, after all it came from an economic crisis and an earthquake?
It represented a great escape. When the local sound failed at the Azteca Stadium, at the beginning of the match between Mexico and Belgium, and the people sang the anthem a cappella, it was sung in a different way and the players tell you that. The fans felt proud to organize a World Cup and their team while the world gave us up for dead. In the end it was an impeccable tournament in organization. A World Cup is the ideal pretext for television stations to show their technological advances and their creatives to have great ideas, as well as for the clothing industry to showcase its development. The Mexican fans also make a difference and that is a value we have.
Was it a good World Cup in sports?
Yes, it was the coronation of Maradona, who made totally earthly footballers supernatural. The Argentine team would not have done what they did without him. I had to cover it and it was fantastic, but we also had Zico, Platini, Rummenigge and a lot of other figures at a time when football was beginning to be more tactical. We saw a great sporting performance, despite the fact that there were teams, especially the European ones, who said that due to the heat or the altitude it was not possible to play.
Will Qatar be the last World Cup for television? Will the platforms change the scheme?
I think not, in the long run digital platforms will acquire the rights to many things, but big sporting events have other aspects that make them different. I can’t imagine a Super Bowl or a World Cup where they are watching it in the living room of a house through a cell phone screen. A World Cup is a social event more than a content consumption. I think television is still very valuable because advertising is still fragmented in traditional media. In three and a half years we will have another, it will be in Mexico, Canada and the United States, and it is hard for me to think that it will be different.
The Champions League already goes through a platform.
Yes, but you see it on a television. Just as for me the best way to watch movies is in the cinema, I believe that the best way to watch sporting events is on a television screen.
Those who defend the idea of a European Super League argue that the business scheme is changing in part because young people are less interested in this type of tournament.
It is clear that young people are in a greater hurry for everything. They read shorter stuff, they watch shorter videos, and maybe for some, a 90-minute game is too long. One of the bets of the Super League was to make clips of summaries. Maybe it’s because of my age, but I think that sport is a factor of identity and therefore you want to see the entire game. The Super League was an experiment to make the wealthy clubs richer and to foreclose the rest. Soccer is an ecosystem where training clubs are very important because they sell players to the most important ones, so you can’t leave them out. The Super League would kill football.
How do you perceive the World Cup in Qatar in the political and social context?
We have different ways of seeing an inclusive world. Qatar implies a very important challenge for the organizations, the federations and for the footballers. So far there is only one video, from the Australian players about what is happening in Qatar regarding the treatment of workers and discrimination against women. A very important portal, The Athletic, sent letters to all the federations requesting their positions regarding Qatar. Only Denmark and Belgium have spoken. I think we would gain a lot if the soccer player, who today is seen as a reference, spoke out, but what are you going to ask the Mexican player who doesn’t even have an important union about human rights? The confrontation of this type of ideas, customs and cultures must bring something good: first, reflection and second, taking a position. Religion is of course respected, but human rights must be defended by all and so far three federations out of 32 have expressed themselves about what is happening in Qatar, the rest go to play their World Cup, return and life goes on the same. The world demands a greater commitment from us.
Did economic interests predominate in the organization of the World Cup in Qatar?
Of course and in every way; And I’m not necessarily talking about corruption, although there is an open file. Qatar was given the World Cup twelve years in advance so that it would be ready. It is true that there is a development plan there and one of its precepts was to create the infrastructure to have a better life and a World Cup, among other things, it can contribute. Qatar wants to show itself to the world, but it is paying a very high bill, I hope that the organization is not overwhelmed. You have never had as many visitors at the same time as you will now.
Will it be the last World Cup organized by a single country?
You have to see the 2026 experiment with Mexico, Canada and the United States. It will be the World Cup with the most teams, with a first phase of two sure games and divided into three territories, from the beginning I tell you that I don’t like it. It seems monstrous and gigantic to me. But it is also true that either the costs of organizing a World Cup will drop or only two or more countries will be able to assume them.
What is your prognosis for the Mexican team?
They go to the next phase, but in the fourth game they return it.