Evo Morales signs contract with Bolivian soccer team

Bolivian President Evo Morales can add “professional soccer player” to his resume as he recently signed a contract to play with Sport Boys Warnes, a…

Bolivia’s President Evo Morales participates in a soccer match in New York Thursday Sept. 26, 2013, to support UNiTE To End Violence Against Women while in New York for the UN General Assembly. (AP Photo/David Karp)

Bolivian President Evo Morales can add “professional soccer player” to his resume as he recently signed a contract to play with Sport Boys Warnes, a professional Bolivian soccer team.

This will certainly please the Bolivian head of state as he is known to be a lover of the sport. Additionally, seeing him on the playing field will increase his popularity leading up to the country’s December elections, where it is expected that he will be re-elected.

Nevertheless, one important critique is that the time Morales will spend on the field could be better spent by trying to solve the country’s problems, including the fallout from an April protest by hundreds of Bolivian soldiers.

The deal

President Morales will earn the country’s minimum salary of $214 USD on his new team, Sports Boys Warnes and he will play this upcoming 2014/2015 season, which starts in August. Additionally, he will use the number “10” jersey, making him a striker.

Nevertheless, it is unclear how many games he will play and how much time he will spend with his teammates practicing prior to a game since he is still the country’s commander-in-chief. It is speculated that he will play around 20 minutes per match and, according to the Spanish daily El Pais, he will play three games next season.

It seems unlikely that the team’s coach will have much of a say on whether President Morales, age 54, is fit to play in a specific match since it would certainly be a bad career move for any coach to bench the country’s head of state.

President Morales’ longstanding passion for soccer has had tragic consequences in the past. In one memorable incident in July 2006, he broke his nose during a friendly match in the town of Independencia, located in Bolivia’s Cochabamba region.

As for his future team, Sports Boys is currently in 9th place out of the 12 teams that play in the country’s first division. The leaders of the league are Universitario with 41 points and San Jose with 38, while Sport Boys only has 26.

Even though Sport Boys’ priority is to avoid relegation, it will be interesting to see what would happen if the team manages to qualify to an international soccer tournament like the Copa Libertadores or Copa Sudamericana next season. Would the Bolivian head of state attempt to play in these prestigious soccer championships?

Presidents, sports and national priorities

Most heads of state exercise regularly and some tend to do so in public places, a practice which provides positive publicity while demonstrating their fitness and making them more relatable public figures.

For example, President Obama is known to love basketball while Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has been seen jogging through the streets of Lima as well as abroad (he jogged while visiting France in 2012).

As for contact sports, Russian President Vladimir Putin participated in an exhibition hockey match in early May at Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Putin displayed some good ice skills and even scored. Nevertheless, one could argue that the opposing team players were in no rush to hit the Russian head of state and former KGB officer.

This begs the question as to how opposing professional players will react when President Morales plays. Since he will play as a striker, other team’s defenders will have to face him for the ball. Would any of them try to slide and hit the head of state?

Evo Morales has a deep passion for football.

Bolivia President Evo Morales runs with the ball during his friendly soccer match in Bergamo, near Milan, Italy, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

While it is commendable that President Morales wants to maintain his health and pursue one of his passions, Bolivia has plenty of issues that he should also prioritize. For example this past April more than 700 Bolivian soldiers and sergeants took to the streets to protest the humiliating way their superiors had been treating them. The event marked an unprecedented display of anger from the country’s armed forces.

Today, Bolivia’s situation is not particularly dire. Certainly, it cannot be compared to the tense moments that the country experienced in 2008, when violent separatist protests almost toppled the Morales presidency and could have split Bolivia into two states.

Nevertheless, President Morales must pay attention to pressing issues like the military’s protests and a new mining law which was recently approved by the Bolivian Congress.

While his re-election in the upcoming December 2014 elections is all but certain (this will be his third term in office) hopefully President Morales does not forget that aside from being a professional player for Sports Boys Warnes and a presidential candidate, he is still the head of state.

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