Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Boca Juniors vs River Plate: Examining the media coverage of the ‘hipster’ Copa Libertadores final

Posted on 14 December 2018 by Benjamin Lang

Boca Juniors vs River Plate. The Copa Libertadores final 2018. The biggest derby in South America played out on the biggest stage possible. It was billed as ‘The Final to end all Finals.’

It also became the final that never seemed to end. Over two legs, the match was abandoned three times. The winner was eventually decided on Sunday night at the Santiago Bernabeu as River Plate ran out 5-3 victors on aggregate. But the game itself was just one chapter in a long, sprawling story.

The excitement for this rare two-legged instalment of the Superclasico — the last of its kind before the Copa Libertadores final becomes a one-off fixture in a neutral venue — was palpable from the moment it was confirmed on October 31st.

The enormity of the event saw it receive purposeful attention from the British media, more so than any South American domestic match that had come before.

But certain factions of Britain’s football-watching public saw it differently. To some, it was nothing more than a ‘hipster’ event.

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The ‘hipster’ term is not inherently offensive. It simply describes an individual who follows trends outside the cultural mainstream. But this particular use of the term insinuated that some British people were fabricating their interest to appear different, despite it being the most significant club tie in the history of South American football.

This conviction appeared questionable when it was suggested prior the first leg’s 2-2 draw at La Bombonera. But then came the crowd trouble at El Monumental, followed by its messy aftermath, which became a parable of the modern game. At this point, the hipster tag became a falsity.

It typifies the inwardness that exists in those who swear by English football and overlook the wider picture of the current footballing climate. Major events elsewhere in the world are capable of having a weighty impact on the British game due to the globalised nature of the sport.

The River fans’ feverish attack of the Boca players’ coach before the original second leg was almost brushed aside by Conmebol. South American football’s governing body pushed for the game to go ahead to appease its broadcasting partners. This divulges the force of external cash-centric influences on the sport.

When Boca refused to play, it was abruptly decided that Buenos Aires was no longer capable of playing host to such a momentous fixture. The game was then put on the market.

Colombia, Miami and Qatar all staked their credentials, but Spain was the chosen location. The Copa Libertadores final was to be held in Madrid; ironic for a competition named after South America’s liberation from Spanish colonial rule.

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The game at the Bernabeu saw no such trouble which permits footballing authorities to argue for the merits of holding domestic matches outside their country of origin.

This comes at a time when footballing authorities are hungry for the monetary incentives that such an occasion could offer, with La Liga’s attempt to stage Girona vs Barcelona in Miami providing an exact case in point.

If the Copa Libertadores final in Madrid ran so smoothly, who’s to say UEFA won’t try to hold the Champions League final in the US?

Global football is reactive. This made the Copa Libertadores final far more than a ‘hipster’ event. Instead it provided an insight into the workings of modern sport. The British media’s increased coverage of South American football was wholly necessary.

The extended media coverage of the final also allowed an insight like no other into the current state of Argentine society. The experience of foreign sport is an easy way for British viewers to form judgements on a different culture as, for many, football is a microcosm of society.

Argentina president Mauricio Macri recognised this and said the game was a chance to forge a positive image of the nation despite its economic woes.

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However, the crowd violence at El Monumental merely reinforced the image of a flawed Argentina. But some Argentinians felt the intensity of Boca and River’s rivalry — and the media’s coverage of it — unjustly portrayed their whole society as barbaric.

This is the consequence of sport as a microcosm of society. Whatever unfolded in front of the cameras was always going to be a way of drawing conclusions on an entire nation, whether Argentina liked it or not.

An interesting comparison can be drawn with British society. Just because our football is no longer immediately associated with violence, does that mean our society should be perceived clean? What about Britain’s 12% rise in knife crime over the last year? Should that be dismissed just because it isn’t broadcast live around the world?

This is by no means to excuse the violence in Argentina, or to suggest that Britain is as bad; 93 people have been killed in Argentinian football violence over the past decade. But wide interest in the media’s football coverage means such associated violence easily shapes perceptions of a society, for better or worse.

The Copa Libertadores final quickly became a prime example of the influence of the media and the state of modern sport. It was initially labelled a ‘hipster’ event, but in reality it couldn’t be more relevant to the mainstream.

Featured photograph/Pablo Dodda/Wikipedia Commons