Last Thursday, several of the BFS 2017 students, along with some of the UCB students we met on the Waliki Friends tour met to attend a fútbol match between the Bolivian team “The Strongest”, and the Argentine team “Lanús”. I don’t usually enjoy watching sports, but I was excited to attend the game anyway, as I saw it as an opportunity to hang out with my BFS friends, as well as get to know the Walikis a little bit better. When we got to the stadium, many of the BFS students decided to buy “The Strongest” gear to show our support for our adopted team, and I myself bought a yellow baseball cap. After dawning our fan gear, we entered the stadium and went to our seats, which were in the second most expensive part of the stadium. After a few minutes at our seats, we realized that where we really wanted to be sitting was in the next section over, where the die-hard fans were. This other section was completely full more than forty-five minutes before the game began, and was a literal sea of black and yellow, the team’s colors. Despite the cold, there was a group of young men who were shirtless, and had spelled out, “STRONGEST” across their chests in black paint, who had what seemed like an unlimited amount of energy and team spirit as they jumped up and down and chanted encouragement nearly the entire first half of the game.
As the game began, it was a pretty even match between the two teams, and despite the fact that neither team was scoring, the enthusiasm from that section was unwavering. Even as their team missed kick after kick on the goal, they kept up their excited chant of, “Tonight we have to win!”. The opposing team scored, which brought them ahead with a score of 0-1. As the clock ran down in the second half, it began to look like our team would lose, and when the game went into stoppage time, and The Strongest still hadn’t scored, I began to lose all hope. The tension in the stadium was palpable, as The Strongest fans became desperate. I heard cursing and groans from The Strongest supporters around me, as they became more and more frustrated with the team’s performance. But then, miraculously, they scored, with fewer than three minutes left of play. The stadium, including myself and the other BFS students, erupted with deafening cheers and applause, as we all rejoiced that our team had tied up the game.
I was surprised by how engrossed in the game I had become, despite the fact that my affinity for the team was artificial, and that I don’t particularly like to watch sports in the first place. I noted the numerous similarities between this match, and Ole Miss football games, which in some ways surprised me as this game was not only a different sport but also in a different country. In both places, fans braved harsh temperatures to come out and show their support. In both places, the fans proudly wore their team colors and fed off the energy of other fans to create a buzzing atmosphere of excitement before the game. In both places, a bad performance by the team upset the fans so much that they felt the need to yell their frustration to the players and other fans. In both places, a win caused an uproar of triumphant screams, with the fans jumping out of their seats in excitement. It seems to me that sports fanaticism is a cross-cultural phenomenon that manifests in much the same way everywhere. Despite the many differences between Mississippi and La Paz, I have found that attending a sporting event is a very similar experience in both places.