The Economist | 5/20/2011 3:00:00 PM
May 20--The worst of times for Colombia’s security were the best of times for its professional footballers. In the 1980s and early 1990s the capos of Colombia’s drug gangs engaged freely in politics and legitimate business. Sport was no exception.
Since then Colombia’s government has broken up the mobs. But football clubs have had trouble adapting. Per-game attendance has fallen: last year it was just 8,099. Colombia’s national team have not qualified for the finals of a World Cup since 1998. According to Rafael Arias, the general secretary of Dimayor, the league’s governing body, the old influx of easy cash encouraged clubs to spend freely. When the money dried up, they were left with huge debts.
América de Cali, which won five consecutive national titles in the 1980s, has been on the United States Treasury Department’s list of groups tied to drugs for 12 years, crippling it financially. It now owes its players ten months of back pay. Last month Coldeportes, the government’s sport regulatory agency, barred it from playing until it pays its wages. Deportes Quindio, whose players refused to travel to Bogotá last month over withheld pay, and the Once Caldas club were also penalised.
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