Sunday, 4 July 2010

Political Football

I have not blogged much these days, in part because Twitter is a bit all-consuming, and in part because politics in Chile seems to has taken second seat to soccer during the World Cup, a contest in which Chile, as my previous post graphically illustrates, did reasonably well (but not as well as the graphic illustrations would imply).

The idea that politics disappeared, though, is deceiving. It didn't, and it even made itself felt in many ways through -- and not only despite -- the World Cup.

International sports has always had a political element. Take the mutual Olympic boycotts during the Cold War, for example. But the local implications of international sporting events are interesting too.

Chile's coach during this world cup was Marcelo Bielsa, an intense, almost autistic, Argentine, who by most accounts got on well with Michelle Bachelet. On the two occasions where President Piñera has tried to use the Chilean national soccer team for photo-ops, Bielsa has been -- to put it politely -- uncooperative.

Ascanio Cavallo makes an excellent analysis
of the relationship, but his final point is most important. The way the government has handled the footy-photo-ops is indicative of a far deeper problem: its communication strategy. Several earlier posts have alluded to this problem, and almost half a year (one-eighth) into its term, the Piñera administration has yet to get a grip on its message.

The Bachelet experience shows that it is possible to recover from a shaky start, and recent polls show that Piñera's start is even less shaky than was Bachelet's. But Bachelet fixed it by dramatically changing the approach. Behind the smile, Bachelet was actually quite ruthless in doing what she had to do -- changing ministers, supporting an unpopular finance minister, dropping gobierno ciudadano.

Piñera is a pragmatist, and there is reason to believe he is capable of analyzing and taking steps to remedy a situation. That is why the Bielsa affair is, while seemingly unimportant, so interesting. From a policy point of view, Cavallo explains the conflict... and the conflict of interest. From a communications point of view, Piñera committed the same mistake twice.


No comments: