On 27 February 2010, Chile was hit by a massive earthquake that measured 8.8 on the Richter scale, one of the most powerful in recorded history. Concepcion, a town halfway down the country’s elongated coastline, had the misfortune of being closest to the epicentre.
At the time of writing, over 700 people are believed to have lost their lives to the catastrophe and 1.5 million homes have been destroyed. But less than two weeks after the disaster, Chilean football is already making great efforts to get back on its feet.
“I’m here to offer my personal, heartfelt thanks to the FIFA President and the entire football fraternity for their tremendous solidarity and generosity,” said Harold Mayne-Nicholls, President of the Chilean Football Association (ANFP), who was in Zurich today for discussions with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter.
The damage to the South American nation was considerable, particularly in the VII Maule and VIII Biobio regions in the heart of the country, with estimates of rebuilding costs varying between two and three billion US dollars. Football was affected, but only suffered material losses, as Mayne-Nicholls pointed out: “I visited the Maule and Biobio regions last week – they were badly hit. We have eight professional clubs within these regions."
"But I must say that our overriding feeling is one of relief, because we do not appear to have lost anyone from the football family. Some players did lose their homes, however, and we will help them to rebuild. In the same vein, office buildings belonging to certain clubs collapsed – in Concepcion and Talca, for example – and we will offer our help there too."
Football rallying round
“Some stadiums experienced considerable damage; the home of Naval, the club from Talcahuano that plays in our country’s second tier, is one such example," said the head of the ANFP.
"On top of that, clubs in the Biobio region are unable to train because they simply don’t have basic amenities such as running water or electricity. All the league matches involving teams from this area have been postponed until the clubs are up-and-running again.”
The entire football world has stood up to be counted in the wake of the catastrophe, offering financial assistance and other forms of support. “Last weekend, a country-wide telethon was held – FIFA donated 250,000 US dollars, as did the Chilean national team, while CONMEBOL gave 100,000 dollars, which was matched by Chilean clubs. Altogether, the football family managed to collect some 800,000 dollars,” said Mayne-Nicholls.
"But let me be very clear – money is not the most important aspect. Of course we are in need of funds to rebuild, but what has really inspired us most of all is the spirit of solidarity shown by the football community."
"We have been touched by initiatives run by clubs such as Almeria, West Bromwich Albion, Palmeiras, and numerous Argentinian and Mexican teams. As well as by the gesture made by Real Madrid in their match against Sevilla, by seeing Chilean flags flying at matches in Italy, by the minute of silence instigated prior to the recent France-Spain friendly and by so many other demonstrations of support. We have received hundreds of letters from friends, other football associations and clubs, from all over the world.”
Best foot forward
There is nothing the ANFP President would like more than for football to come back even more strongly than before, in order to help people get through this difficult period: "Two rounds of league matches were suspended, as well as the international matches we had planned on 3 March in preparation for the FIFA World Cup."
"But this weekend, football is back. It was our wish, in agreement with the government, to get back to normality as soon as possible. Football is an integral part of this country’s culture, after all, so we think it’s important to people that we bounce back quickly.”
With that in mind, the Chilean Football Association plans to start a football-related fund to help the worst-affected regions. “Anyone will be able to contribute to the fund, the goal of which will be to build stadiums with artificial pitches, good-quality floodlights and changing rooms for five badly damaged towns – Curico, Talca, Concepcion, Talcahuano and Constitucion.”
Before returning to his homeland, an emotional Mayne-Nicholls spoke from the heart: “These are not just throw-away phrases – it is difficult to explain how emotional and comforting it was for us. It is during these moments that you realise that football really is capable of bringing people together, through shared values of solidarity and unity, and that it remains much more than just a game.”