Role of Cartels in Colombian Football

There are various reasons why the major drug cartels in Colombia became interested in football as a business and as a sport. Financial benefits were the primary motivation for the cartels to invest their millions in the various football clubs. However, many of the high ranking drug lords also had a lifelong affiliation and passion for the game.

Evidently the key reason for the huge influx of money into football clubs like América de Cali and Athletico Nacional, from drug cartels, was for the laundering of illegal money made from the drug trade. The cartels had to find a way to legitimise their cash earnings. Football clubs handle hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash every week as entry to the game was usually paid on match days in cash. With thousands of different payments in such short spaces of time, it was extremely easy for the cartels to fix the books and add a few dollars extra onto every ticket sold, therefore legitimising their money earned from drugs. (González, 1994)

Although this explains why the cartels got involved with football clubs, it doesn’t explain the reasons for which the drug barons kept investing thousands and even millions back into the football clubs and back into the local community. One explanation is that the drug lords had a real love for football. They grew up playing football on the streets in their local neighbourhoods, supporting their local teams. They were real fans of their respective local clubs and given that they now had an almost unlimited supply of money, they really did want to invest in and improve their team. (Pablo Escobar, el auge y el entierro del fútbol colombiano, 2013) Any football fan wants their club to be the best and now the drug lords had the power and money to make this a reality.

It also must be noted that drug barons like Pablo Escobar with Athletico Nacional, the Orejuela brothers with América de Cali and Jose Rodriguez Gacha with Millionarios, lived luxurious lifestyles of excess. They were extremely competitive and would do almost anything to be the best and defeat their opponents. This mentality was transcribed into the respective football teams, as each drug lord wanted their team to be better than the rest. The clubs acted as a vehicle for the drug barons to show off their wealth and power to the rival cartels. The football teams were the toys of the drug lords, with which they could play with, gamble huge amounts of money with, and show off to the world. All children want their toy to be the best and most desirable, which meant that the drug lords would invest huge amounts of money into them, to ensure that they really were the best.

Lastly, the narco-world that they lived in was extremely stressful and violent. Football was a way for drug lords to escape the ferocious, corrupt, dog eat dog life of the drug cartels. It was a means to relieve the stress of day to day business and enjoy the passion and pride of having a successful football team.