By Ralph Hannah –
Timewasting in South American football is rife, and players, like Chilean goalkeeper Roberto Rojas, for example, often resort to radical measures. In 1989, in a crucial World Cup qualifier at the Maracaná he went down, seemingly hit by a firework. It was revealed in a subsequent investigation that he had actually cut himself with a razor blade—Brazil were awarded the game and Chile found themselves banned from the 1994 World Cup.
While rural Paraguay wasn’t witness to a timewasting ploy quite as extreme, a minor effort at timewasting was the catalyst that exposed a reprehensible side to the sport: The incident developed on the sidelines at the Unión Agricola towards the end of the Santaní vs Capiatá league game on Sunday between the Santaní club president and an innocent journalist.
The home side held a slender 1-0 lead with around 15 minutes to go. They had recently been reduced to 10 men and were desperately trying to hold on for their first-ever top division win in this stadium. Photographer Johanna Cuquejo was pitchside when she heard a shout from one of the substitutes who was warming up: “Hide all the balls!” ordered Gustavo Romero.
At that point she photographed him, and thought nothing more of it. It had simply been an interesting scene to record. Johanna then moved over to between the subs bench to talk to the match official. She knew the game was drawing to a close but with neither stadium announcer nor electronic scoreboard in the newly refurbished Juan José Vázquez stadium she had no idea exactly what time it was.
It was at that point that Johanna was confronted on the other side of the fence by a man hurling sexist abuse: “You bitch…what you need is a cock in your mouth” and further offensive language. The man in question turned out to be the President of Santaní, Nestor Arévalos, who was incensed because he believed that the journalist would report on his substitutes for hiding the remaining match balls.
Despite the fact that he was both obscene and mistaken, the President has not appologized personally. Johanna has received a text message from the club’s press department saying that the incident arose in the “heat of the moment” and was “a misunderstanding”—a response that is hardly praiseworthy.
President Arévalos exhibits some of the worst features of Paraguayan football and indeed society. The opportunity for machoism and unacceptable use of power that comes with a title was, in this case, appropriated by someone who also shows a total ignorance of how to use the press to your advantage. Journalists like Johanna had trekked 150 km from the capital Asunción to San Estanislao towards the north-east of the country to cover the only game that would not be televised that day to help give extra exposure to the newly promoted club. It is hardly the welcome she should have received and it is unlikely she’ll return after that experience. At this point, an apology from the miscreant, although late, would be welcome.
Finally, did the timewasting work? Gustavo Romero came on as a sub in the 80th minute and Santaní went on to score two more goals to seal the game 3-0. Hiding the balls probably wasn’t necessary.
*Photos by Johanna Cuquejo
Ralph Hannah is Londoner living in Luque with a keen interest in Paraguayan football history and statistics. A frequent traveler throughout Latin America he attends games throughout the region and has written for a variety of publications and set up the first English-language blog on Paraguayan Football. When not in the Defensores del Chaco he’s looking after his 2 daughters. Follow Ralph on Twitter @paraguayralph.