By Matt Hawkins –
Marcelo Hugo Tinelli is Argentina’s best-known media personality. He is now set to become the next president of the Asociación de Fútbol Argentino (AFA). After the death of longstanding AFA President Julio Grondona last summer, it was widely believed that Tinelli was one of the frontrunners in the race to succeed him. AFA bylaws, however, require candidates to have at least four years experience in the directorship of a club. This was, until recently, a stumbling block for Tinelli, who had become vice-president of Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro in September 2012; yesterday, a committee of club presidents, led by San Lorenzo’s president Mattias Lammens, voted to delay elections till March 1, 2016, which allows Tinelli to qualify for the election. The committee also, for the interim, created a second vice-president position within the AFA, to be occupied by Tinelli.
Showmatch – A Stepping Stone to Success
In 1990 Tinelli had risen to fame as the creator and host of the television program Videomatch . With low initial ratings and no money in the budget, Tinelli turned to sports bloopers and hidden cameras and the popularity of the satirical midnight program exploded. Within a few years, Videomatch had transformed into a variety program with sketch comedy and musical performances, while continuing to use edited video to keep the audience laughing. In 1997, Tinelli created his production company Ideas del Sur and in 2005 Videomatch left the channel Telefe, and eventually landed at the rival ElTrece with a new name— Showmatch.
Showmatch presents itself as a reality program, and in its various configurations is more akin to an Italian variety program in its use of sex, scripted conflicts, and comedy to drive its popularity. Always pushing the limits of social acceptability, Tinelli’s programs also exploit stereotypes and the sexuality of women. Outside its evening time-slot, Showmatch is a major topic of daytime talk shows, which expound on the scripted conflicts between the show’s various personalities and celebrities. It has been a highly successful formula. Since his rise, Tinelli’s programs have always been amongst the top rated programs in the country and are broadcast internationally across the region. From his beginnings with Ideas del Sur, Tinelli has built a powerful network of contacts amongst the country’s most important advertisers.
A childhood fanatic of San Lorenzo, Tinelli has been one of the club’s most well known supporters alongside Pope Francisco. In 2011 San Lorenzo was in financial and political crisis. Tinelli backed Mattias Lammens to replace Carlos Abdo who had renounced his presidency at the club and Tinelli became vice-president. The combination has been widely popular within the club’s voting members. Lammens has been credited with dramatically increasing revenues and improving the non-football club activities of San Lorenzo. Membership numbers have peaked at over 50 000. Marcelo Tinelli’s media presence has undoubtadly been a part of the significant turnaround in the club’s fortunes. In 2014, San Lorenzo won its first Copa Libertadores and faced Real Madrid in the 2014 Club World Cup final.
Controversy over Third-Party Investments
This was not Tinelli’s first foray into club politics—an earlier involvement was tarnished with controversy. In 2006-8, he had become involved with a group of third-party investors when he took up a position within San Lorenzo under then president Rafael Savino. The player contracts organized by the group of investors obligated the club to pay excessive wages. When it came to the sale of contracts for players like El Pocho Lavezzi, Gonzalo Bergessio, and Andrés D’Alessandro it was the investors rather than the club that made a profit. Despite a championship in 2007, the model was a disaster for San Lorenzo. Tinelli quietly left Savino’s administration as the debt ran up.
Back within AFA, Hugo Moyano, president of the trade union federation CGT and recently elected president of Independiente de Avellaneda, has been the spokesperson for the small bloc aligned against Tinelli. Fearing that Tinelli would side-step Article 50 on the limitations for presidential candidates to win the previously scheduled October election, Moyano told reporters: “You can’t decide to comply with the rules just when they benefit you… If you want to follow the rules when it’s convenient for you, you can’t do the opposite when it’s not.” It is widely reported in Argentina that Tinelli’s biggest opposition comes from current interim AFA president Luis Segura and the vice-president Claudio Chiqui Tapia. Both are seen as part of the continuing legacy of Julio Grondona.
Recent experiences within San Lorenzo suggests the possibility of a reformed Marcelo Tinelli. The club has quickly become a model of effective management in Argentina. Backed by the financial stability provided by an increased membership, as well as new deals with sponsors and merchandise suppliers, San Lorenzo has been able to pay down a large portion of its debt. On the football field, the club has moved away from short-term big name contracts, and is instead focusing on a stable core of veterans sparked by the creative infusion of young players. San Lorenzo put an end to the practice of third-party ownership in 2012, and ensured that all new contracts would be owned 100% by the club. Over the past year, the club has sold rising star Ángel Correa to Atlético Madrid, Ignacio Piatti to Montreal Impact, Wálter Kannemann to Atlas of Guadalajara, and Gonzalo Verón to New York RedBull. The financial benefits of these contract sales went into club revenues. On the field, San Lorenzo is now consistently a top five club and is currently leading the league. Improvements to the club’s facilities are a signal to members that the institutional aspects of the club will no longer be ignored. In large part, it is the day-to-day management by president Mattias Lammens that deserves the credit, but the backing of Tinelli and his influence in the media has been a significant benefit.
Yet, questions linger about Tinelli’s commitment and his motivations for seeking the presidency at AFA and it is difficult to predict the direction in which he would take the federation. While AFA’s legacy of corruption is well known, Argentina has continued to be internationally competitive without succumbing to the most destructive aspects of market-oriented football, which have transformed football in neighbouring Brazil. It is likely that the Primera División will once again be reformed, given that San Lorenzo came out in opposition to the 30-team format in the lead-up to its inaugural season. For fans, another question is whether Tinelli can manage a return of visiting fans which has been banned since 2013.
In the wake of the maneuver on Tuesday, however, there seems to be a broad acceptance of the impending arrival of Marcelo Tinelli. Luis Fernandez Segura, vice-president of Argentinos Juniors and son of Luis Segura said today, “in March there will possibly be just a single list with Tinelli on top.” With Marcelo Tinelli already well placed as vice-president and his opposition falling into line, we are likely to see the reorganization of AFA starting immediately.
Matt Hawkins is a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at Carleton University, Ottawa. His research covers the intersections of football and politics in Argentina. His dissertation focuses on the Return to Boedo campaign by supporters of Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro. He writes infrequently on supporter culture for stonymondayriot.com and can be followed on twitter @mhawkin2.