The Argentine Diego Rivarola is a striker who is fully identified with the colors of Universidad de Chile, one of the most important clubs in Santiago. He is surprised and at the same time grateful that fans of the rival team Colo Colo greet him with affection in the street and even offer him the chance to try the jersey on, something that would be “hard” to see in his country. “At least they would not be so nice,” he reflects.
The life of professional football players is a very nomadic one. Their careers rarely last over 15 years, which means that they tend to wander the world in search of the best conditions, as the glamorous tournaments of North America, Europe and, lately, the Near East, tempt them with their millions.
And despite sharing the neighborhood with powers like Argentina and Brazil, the Chilean league has shown positive progress over recent years, a characteristic that makes it a valid alternative for dozens of foreign athletes, who appreciate it without reserving praise and, above all, highlight the optimal conditions that the country offers them.
Quality of life
The aforementioned Diego Rivarola is perfectly familiar with national reality. He crossed the mountains in 1999 to defend Santiago Morning, Palestino, and Universidad de Chile, the club he won two national tournaments with, becoming a reference to its fans. “This country has taken a fairly interesting organizational course over the last few years and has moved much closer to other tournaments like the Argentine or Mexican ones,” he emphasizes.
Married to a Chilean woman and with a son born in the capital, the goal scorer acknowledges that a return to his homeland is far away. “This is a country where you can see progress being made and in which you can really feel comfortable. It is a nice place to live, calm for families, and that is something not easy to find,” he says, based on his own experience in Mexico, Venezuela, and Cyprus.
In concrete terms, the country ranks in the top places in Latin American human development (UNDP, 2008) or quality of life (The Economist, 2005), among others.
His compatriot Facundo Imboden, an emblematic defender at Universidad Católica, is another person who appreciates the advantages that the country offers. While his wife is Argentine, both of their children hold Chilean nationality. “My wife was recommended a doctor who was very good with her from day one, as if he had known her all his life. Since we started trying to have children she told me that she wanted to have them here. We got that trust from everybody, including my colleagues,” he says.
The fullback trained in Boca Juniors appreciates the “goodwill” with which he was received, something that “helped a lot to make these four years go by very quickly for me, as I feel like I am at home.” Another fundamental thing has been “the stability and peace of mind to buy a nice car, be able to use it, go out to eat with your family, return at midnight and stop at a traffic light without anything happening to you.”
Another who is currently a coach but had a brilliant sporting and charity career that led to him being awarded nationality by grace, is Marcelo Barticchiotto. He was champion of the Copa Libertadores with Colo Colo in 1991 and recalls his arrival as an unknown 21-year-old at the most popular club in the country.
“I always felt like I was treated well and respected. And as far as quality of living is concerned, Chile is a country that works and where ordinary citizens are respected,” says the retired football player, who has lived in our country for over two decades, only interrupted for two years during a stint in the Mexican team América.
The house in order
In 2005 Chile passed a law that requires every club to adopt a modern format that makes their administration viable. Two years later, President Michelle Bachelet herself received athletes in the government palace to promulgate another law that regularizes their labor relations.
With the exception of the “Pelé law,” which brought players into line with the rest of Brazilian workers in 2001, when the football idol was minister of sports, “our legislation ranks us as among the best of South America,” Carlos Soto, president of the local football players’ union, says proudly.
One of its most transcendental points is that the regulation establishes fixed duration contracts of no less than one season and no more than five; renewals on mutual agreement for a minimum of six months; the right to receive at least 10% in a transfer; monthly salary payment, in addition to benefits for image rights.
Another aspect whose development athletes have acknowledged is the constant improvement in the local tournament, which the Federation of Football History and Statistics ranked 8th in July 2009.
“When I arrived in 2005 I noticed the difference in pace compared to Argentine football, as it was slower and there was less pressure. Since then it has improved 80% and that not only benefits football, but it also helps all sports to find the same path of regularity and disputing qualifiers with players who are figures abroad,” Imboden states.
The fullback Imboden highlights the investment made on the stadium network, such as the US$ 40 million announced to renovate the National Stadium in Santiago, the scenario of the 1962 World Cup final whose 66,000 seats are filled every time the adult national team plays.
For the Buenos Aires native, ideas like the remodeling of the main sports complex in the country “help the show a lot. Regardless of whether a game is good or bad, it attracts because you can see a nice facility and that is very important. I am happy that President Bachelet has emphasized this”.
His colleague Diego Rivarola agrees with him, adding that “a faithful reflection” of the activity’s development is the strong performance of the national team, which is running second in the qualifying round for South Africa 2010 and was ranked 27th of the 203 affiliated with the FIFA in July 2009. “What the clubs have achieved in the most recent international tournaments and the players who have emigrated, who are on the same level as any other South American, is also very important,” he complements.
This post is also available in Spanish