When Soccer Triggered An Armed Conflict

Posted

Soccer violence on and off the field is universal like the game itself, but in 1969 the world’s most popular sport triggered an actual war between two countries. Though the tensions between El Salvador and Honduras were historically rooted, it was a series of World Cup qualifiers that finally sent the central American nations into armed conflict.

In June, 1969, Honduras and El Salvador met in a two-leg qualifier for the 1970 FIFA World Cup. The first match took place in Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras. The visiting team arrived on June 8th and spent a sleepless night in their hotel after local fans kept them up with hostile chants, car horns and firecrackers. The next day, the hosts won the game 1-0.

A week later, it was the Honduran squad that endured fan rancor when the second match moved to El Salvador. The violence was even more pronounced as local supporters broke the hotel’s windows, threw rotten eggs, dead rats, and stinking rags. At game time, the Honduran players were forced to be transported to the stadium in armored vehicles, which also whisked them away to the airport after they lost the faceoff 3-0.

Events turned deadly at the border when two visiting fans from Honduras were beaten and killed, scores were hospitalized, and a hundred and fifty cars were burned. For a few hours, officials closed the frontier between the two countries.

Brewing at the surface was more than just soccer passion and national pride. For generations, El Salvador and neighboring Honduras struggled with issues of demographics and land reform. More than five times the size of El Salvador, Honduras was home to 300,000 Salvadoran immigrants who made up 20% of its population.

In the early 1960’s, newly-enacted land reforms stripped away the rights of Salvadoran squatters and granted Honduran citizens property that was both legally and illegally occupied by foreigners. By the end of the decade, thousands of Salvadoran laborers, migrants, and long-term settlers were expelled from the country.

Tensions boiled over as the 1970 World Cup approached. Two years earlier, El Salvador qualified for the Olympic Games in Mexico City for the first time. For a variety of reasons, mostly due to travel costs, the country had never bothered participating in a World Cup qualification.

Similarly, Honduras had never been to the World Cup even though it joined FIFA in 1946. But the quadrennial event had now arrived to North America for the first time and after Mexico received automatic entry as host, only one other slot was open in the group.

The battle lines were drawn to see which of the regional national teams would head to the Cup. In the early rounds of those matches, El Salvador defeated Guyana and the Netherland Antilles, while Honduras dispatched Costa Rica and Jamaica. The border foes were now facing each other.

After playing two matches to a 1-1 tie in their respective turfs, the third game in the series moved to neutral grounds in Mexico City on June 27, 1969. Running the pitch under the watch of 1,700 police officers at the stadium, El Salvador prevailed 3-2 in overtime. They would move on to face Haiti, while Honduras was out of contention.

Following the game and on the same day, despite spirited handshakes and embraces between the opposing players, the winning team’s government back home broke diplomatic relations with its counterpart. El Salvador claimed that 11,700 Salvadorans were recently chased out of Honduras in an atmosphere of intense violence with no protection or compensation.

As the problems next door worstened, El Salvador resorted to military action on July 14, 1969 by launching air raids and a ground invasion into Honduras. The conflict lasted 100 hours before the Organization of American States (“OAS”) was called in to intervene and force a cease fire.

Fought mostly on Honduran soil, the “Soccer War” was responsible for an estimated 900 civilian deaths on the Salvadoran side and over 2,000 in the Honduran camp. In addition, several hundred thousand people were displaced, exacerbating the social and economic conditions of both countries.

In October, El Salvador went on to overtake Haiti for a berth in Mexico City the following summer. While the troubled Central American nation ended up at the bottom of Group A in the opening rounds of the Games, it was their first time qualifying and first time making the Cup.

Other Articles Enjoyed:  Soccer's Uglies, Colombian Soccer & The Drug Lords, U.S. At World Cup

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here
Please log in or register to add your comment

Shop For Our Books & DVD's

WEEKLY SPORTS PUZZLE

View larger Puzzle archive


THIS WEEK

10 years ago

BASEBALL April 2, 2010  Former MLB pitcher Mike Cuellar dies at the age of 72. A 2x World Series champion and 4x All-Star, Cuellar started off with the Cincinnati Reds in 1959 and played for 5 teams, spending the most years with the Baltimore Orioles. He won the AL Cy Young award in his first season with the dynastic Orioles and was their starting pitcher at the 1969 World Series against the NY Mets. Cuellar closed his career with an ERA of 3.14 and 1,632 strikeouts.

20 years ago

BASKETBALL April 2, 2000  At the 19th Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship, the Connecticut Huskies defeat the Tennessee Volunteers 71-52. Led by their famed coach Geno Auriemma, the Huskies claimed their second national title. They would win another 9 championships and become the nation’s most successful women’s basketball program to date. The Connecticut ladies dispatched Penn State at the Semi-finals before taking on Tennessee for the crown.

30 years ago

GOLF April 8, 1990  Nick Faldo wins the 54th annual Masters Tournament held in Augusta, Georgia. Shooting a 278 (-10) and tying Raymond Floyd in the final round after the latter bogeyed on the 16th hole, Faldo emerged victorious in the playoff showdown. It was his second consecutive win at the Masters and third of what would be six career majors. Born in Herdforshire, England, Faldo turned pro in 1976 and has won more majors than any other modern European golfer.

40 years ago

OLYMPICS April 12, 1980 The U.S. Olympic committee announces their boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. A total of 66 countries chose not to attend the games due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, 80 other nations did agree to send their athletes to the first Olympics that were held in a communist country. Four years later, the Russians and their East European allies would follow-up with a boycott of the Los Angeles games.