A court in the City of Buenos Aires on Tuesday suspended the presidential elections in Boca Juniors, one of Argentina's most popular sports clubs. Some 100,000 people were called to the polls to elect the new president of the club between Juan Román Riquelme, current vice president and one of the most beloved former soccer players by fans, and Andrés Ibarra, an economist supported by the former president of Argentina and former leader of Boquense, Mauricio Macri, who has entered the race as a candidate for vice president. The judge has suspended the elections after accepting a complaint by Ibarra about alleged irregularities in the registration of at least 13,000 voting members during the current administration. Thus, the second most bitter political battle of the year has run aground in the courts with no new date to take place.
After the victory of the far-right Javier Milei in the presidential elections of November 19, Argentina's eyes fell on the Boca Juniors elections. The morbidity generated by witnessing a confrontation between the footballer who has given the most joy to fans in recent decades and the former political leader who sought to get rid of him by challenging his authority, was only part of the attraction. The battle for Boca had also entered the election campaign.
Milei, who had received a boost from Macri to defeat the ruling Peronism in the national elections, faced the last phase of his campaign with Argentine soccer teams campaigning against him over the proposal to turn the social clubs that run professional soccer into anonymous companies open to private capital. More than 100 professional teams rejected the president-elect's proposal, and among the big ones, Boca Juniors led by its current president, Jorge Ameal, and his vice-president, Juan Román Riquelme, was especially critical. "Faithful to its origins, respectful of the clear principles defended for almost 120 years, Boca Juniors ratifies its character as a non-profit civil association and the premise that our club belongs to its people, members and members who make it bigger every day," Boca said in a statement. Milei won the presidential election even with the soccer teams against him, and Macri decided to double down and go for revenge at the club that had catapulted his political career.
Mauricio Macri, on November 13, when he presented himself as a candidate for vice-president of Boca Juniors.Juan Ignacio Roncoroni (EFE)
The Macrist candidate's complaint, accepted by a civil court, has pierced one of the club's biggest problems. Boca Juniors has 315,879 members, according to data from the Argentine Football Association (AFA), of which almost 175,000 are listed as "adherent members", that is, they pay a lower monthly fee than a full member and do not enjoy the same rights, such as being able to enter the stadium during matches or to vote in elections. La Bombonera, Boca's stadium, has a capacity of about 57,200 people, and all adherent members pay about $10 a month in hopes of advancing in line that will make them full members.
According to the court ruling that has disqualified the elections, some 13,000 adherent members changed category between August and November 2021 skipping the queue, when the monthly figure usually does not exceed one hundred. Candidate Andrés Ibarra denounced that the "excessive growth" hid a political intention: to vote, full members must be 18 years of age or older and have been in office for at least 24 months.
The conflict was uncovered on November 22, after a judicial raid that sought figures on the partners. Then, Boca spread the official version on its social networks: according to the current leadership, the club has fewer members today than in December 2019, when it received the transfer of Macrist Daniel Angelici. They also stated that during that tenure, between 2012 and 2019, the number of active members had doubled to 114,665. "The inopportune moment chosen (...) Ten days before the elections to elect the club's authorities, it shows once again that Mr. Andrés Ibarra, candidate of the opposition front, only intends to damage the institution and the electoral process," the statement said.
It was not the first raid on the Riquelmo administration. In August, after another operation, the vice president's brother, Cristian Riquelme, was charged with fraud and illicit association for an alleged resale of tickets. He is due to present his statement to the court on Wednesday.
Riquelme has been denouncing for months a "dirty campaign" by Macrism in which the Justice and the Government of the City of Buenos Aires have played an active role. Between the court cases and the constant suspensions of the stadium for "exceeding its capacity", Riquelme has managed to sustain the narrative that Macri uses his political power to muddy the field. Mauricio Macri is the most powerful man in Buenos Aires since he left the leadership of Boca in 2007 to become mayor of the Argentine capital. He was president for eight years, until he became president in 2015, but his party has not stopped governing the city. His last dauphin at the head of the Buenos Aires government is none other than his cousin, Jorge Macri, who managed to run in last October's elections after a pirouette by a court that enabled him despite the fact that he did not meet the primary requirement: to be domiciled in the city.
"They want to privatise the club, use it for politics," said Riquelme, who was leading the polls for the suspended elections. The former idol, the last captain from Boquense to lift the long-awaited Copa Libertadores, has in his favor having reinforced some of the club's structures: the women's professional team is the local champion and a great South American competitor, basketball has returned to the Argentine elite, and men's professional soccer has been filled with home-grown talent. Against him, Riquelme has not been able to take care of the two white elephants of the club: the expansion of the stadium and winning again the Copa Libertadores that the team last won in 2007.
Ibarra and Macri have proposed their solutions. The former president claims to have the funds to undertake the reform of La Bombonera, and has the medal of having been the president who led Boca to the top of the world at the beginning of this century. His promise includes kicking out the player who helped him then on the pitch and who, like few others, is not afraid to raise his voice against him.
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