[dropcap1]M[/dropcap1]ost days here in Barrancabermeja, a small, sleepy oil town sizzling with tropical sunbeams and an internal conflict largely tied to the petroleum that pumps under her skin, are void of any social or cultural events or atmospheres exciting enough to warrant a stroll downtown. But the first week of November proved otherwise.
For some odd reason, the organizers of the AMF Women’s Futsal World Championship decided to host this year’s games in Barrancabermeja. This meant that the city was adorned with an array of colours; the main avenue dressed with the flags of Paraguay, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Morocco, and China among others while the street vendors strung up Colombian jerseys from XXL to newborn onesies, mustard-yellow screaming hometown pride.
First game of the tournament: Canada vs. Colombia. Couldn’t have been a better start. My fellow Canadian co-worker and I secured our tickets the day before and dug up the Canadian flags from storage (fortunately washed of the blood they bear during direct actions with CPT). The taxi ride to the stadium buzzed with anticipation. We strode into the stadium wrapped in the maple leaf with our chalk-coloured limbs, obviously sticking out in a field of mustard-clad sun-weathered Colombian costeños. And then we lost 16-0.
But thankfully, I’m one of those sports fanatics who might not be allowed to consider myself a fanatic per se, since I often forget the score before I even get home. What was so definitive for me, and left me with 10 more ticket stubs and no more stipend, was the energy inside that place. Seeing as it was futsal, and women’s at that, I did not expect a great turn-out but the place was packed.
In a place where violence, corruption, and despair hang heavy like the monsoon clouds, this event has brought life. I attended almost every game, quickly becoming known as the crazy Canadian who runs around the stadium at half-time, cheering on her countrywomen. But the experience moved me. Strangers ran up to hug me, friends cheered us on from the crowd. Police and firefighters smiled shyly, probably wishing they could be up in the stands with us. Kids (and even some adults) timidly approached us wanting to take our picture. Canadian moms thanked us for supporting the team, expressing how meaningful it was that we came.
We met Australians, cheered alongside Russians, and even donned the stars and stripes because it’s not really their fault they’re from the States. We watched little kids run lengths of the stadium after spotting a player, sharpie in hand, accumulating autographs, and we ate hamburgers and popsicles, while helping the folks around us pronounce ham-BOOR-gare and PAP-see-col. Here in Barranca, for the month of November, the world was one.
Now that is what sport is about.
Tonight’s final: Colombia vs. Venezuela.
Tomorrow? World peace.