It is one of the most boring World Cup matches ever. After 45 minutes of muscular defending from the Socceroos and listless attacks from the Chileans, the match suddenly springs to life early in the second half. Just after the break, a small group of protesters who had been chanting "Chile si, junta no", enter the field holding a large Chilean flag inscribed with the words Chile Socialista. They are quickly mobbed by police and escorted from the pitch.
That 0-0 draw between Chile and Australia in Berlin in June 1974 is the Socceroos' first point at a World Cup. One small step for most football nations, it is a giant leap for Australia.
For Chile, that match is a window into a much darker history. The events weave together a story of political protest, international solidarity and sport. Australia has a complicated, multi-faceted and continued role that goes well beyond football.
Just nine months before the World Cup, on 11 September 1973, the United States sponsored a military coup in Chile. General Augusto Pinochet overthrew the democratically elected president, Salvador Allende, which started a 17-year military dictatorship in which thousands of political opponents were tortured, beheaded, burned alive and ‘disappeared’ by the new leader’s goon squad. Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano wrote that the coup “submerged Chile in a bath of blood.”
Football was never far from politics in Chile, most noticeably with their qualification for the 1974 World Cup. The National Stadium in Santiago was used by the dictatorship as a detention camp for political prisoners, and when the Soviet Union were scheduled to play there in a World Cup qualifier just months after the coup, they boycotted in protest. Fifa delegates toured the stadium, the prisoners were hidden, and the match was given the go ahead. Footage from the “match” shows farcical scenes of Chilean players walking the ball into an empty net.
Galeano called it “the most pathetic match in the history of football”, while Carlos Caszely, Chile’s portly moustachioed midfielder, later said it was “an international embarrassment”. Caszely took part in a deeply symbolic protest, refusing to shake the hand of Pinochet before the match. He also played in the match against Australia in June.
"I was only one month in the stadium," Manuel Valenzuela tells Guardian Australia from an apartment in Sydney's inner west. "There were many people, they were sick and hungry. Every day hungry. [We had one meal] per day. Just one meal. Everyone was hungry. We slept on the concrete, in the dressing room."
As a member of the Communist Party and a worker in a department of Allende's Popular Unity Government, Manuel was 'disappeared' to the National Stadium in early 1974. He considers himself one of the lucky ones, but can remember the terror of imprisonment. "Terror for your family," he says. "Not for yourself, because you know where they can go with you, but not for your family.
"The worst part was waiting for the interrogation. We had friends that were interrogated, and some of them didn't return. I was blindfolded, and they asked me to take off my clothes, with only the underpants, and they put me on the grill. The wire. They put me on the electricity."
Manuel believes they used electrocution to try and force him into giving information about a suspected 'people's militia'. "The military were insecure," he says, but after the police couldn't build a case against him, he was released. In the winter of 1974, just after the World Cup, he left with his wife and four children to Australia, arriving in the East Hills Hostel in Sydney.
“A transnational solidarity movement emerged from the relationship between exile communities, international organisations, and opposition groups in Chile,” wrote Brenda Elsey, the author of Citizens and Sportsmen: Fútbol and Politics in Twentieth-Century Chile. “Activists founded hundreds of organisations, some in likely places such as Mexico, Sweden, and Scotland, and others in less predictable places such as Japan, Somalia, and Egypt.”
Similar groups also appeared in Australia. Manuel joined the current president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, as just a few of nearly 10,000 Chileans who sought asylum in Australia between 1974 and 1981. Unlike the previous waves of Chilean migrants, many were of the working class and were supporters of Allende. The Chilean exiles in Australia established many solidarity groups, some of which still exist today. Manuel became involved in the Chile Solidarity Committee soon after he arrived, along with his friend Patty Castro.
While Manuel and Patty were some of the first forced into exile, Emilia (she did not wish to use her real name) was one of the last. An avowed ‘Allendista’ since she was 15 years old, Emilia reluctantly left Chile with her husband and children in 1988. At the Casa Latinoamericana in Marrickville in Sydney's inner west, I ask her why she left so late. “You want to make me go through that again?” she asks wearily, before beckoning a friend over to light her cigarette.
“We didn’t want to leave” she continues, “but we had to think of the children.” Like Manuel, her house had been raided by the police, and while her husband was tortured in one room, she had her pregnant belly bayoneted in another. Luckily, the child survived. “A miracle,” she says.
Like Manuel and Patty, when Emilia arrived in Australia she immediately thrust herself into the Chilean solidarity movement. She is a member of Memoria Viva Sydney, a group that works to preserve the memory of the victims of human rights abuses during the dictatorship.
In Australia, it was the left that first took an interest in the plight of the newly arrived Chileans and their struggle for democracy and human rights in their homeland. “Waterside workers, building workers, seamen, metal workers, and a variety of other unions very active in supporting their brothers and sisters from political parties and trade unions in Chile,” explains Andrew Ferguson, a former secretary of the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Energy Union and long serving secretary of the Chile Solidarity Committee.
In February 1974, unionised airport workers grounded a LAN Airline carrying a Chilean air force general in Sydney. Within a month, a delegation of trade unionists travelled to Chile, producing a report that led to Chile’s expulsion from the International Labour Organisation. According to a member of the delegation, Jim Baird, “it was the first international action which received publicity and exposed the Pinochet government.”
The ILO ban had far-reaching consequences as Chile became a pariah state. In 1980, the Australian Soccer Federation invited the Chilean national team to tour Australia, but after pressure from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the ASF president Sir Arthur George cancelled the tour and apologised to the ACTU. According to Ferguson, thousands of trade unionists were on standby to protest if the tour was not cancelled. It wasn’t until 1996, six years after the end of the dictatorship, that the Socceroos played Chile again.
The activism of the unions stood in contrast to the role of the Australian intelligence services, which investigative journalist Florencia Melgar detailed in a report for SBS. Melgar’s research raises many questions over the role of Australian intelligence in Chile in the lead up to the coup against Allende. To what extent did they aid the CIA? Under whose directives were they operating?
As prime minister Gough Whitlam supported Allende's progressive government, and it was Whitlam, through the United Nations, who assisted the release of hundreds of political prisoners from concentration camps in Chile to be resettled in Australia. Patty's husband, a union leader, was one of those prisoners, and when they arrived in Australia, they were listed as 'subversives' in Chile and not allowed to return during the dictatorship.
According to differing accounts, when Whitlam learned of the presence of ASIS agents in Chile, he either ordered them home immediately or took several months to make a decision. In any event, in 1977 Whitlam confirmed that “when my government took office, Australian intelligence personnel were working as proxies of the CIA in destabilising the government of Chile.” To this day, there has been no apology or formal recognition of this involvement from the Australian government.
This week, almost 40 years to the date since Australia played Chile in a World Cup, the two countries will meet again in Brazil. The circumstances in which they meet, of course, are vastly different. There will be no protests, no placards, no politics.
But football between Chile and Australia has long been a place where political issues have been raised, and the World Cup is a unique opportunity for Australians to engage with the immigrant communities living here. Such is the nature of our multicultural society that of the 31 other nations represented in Brazil, there is always a group of Australians somewhere with dual loyalties. As the second largest group of Latin American immigrants in Australia, it is important that we understand why the Chileans are here, what their interests are, and the history of our complex relationship.
Indeed, the ghosts of the Pinochet era haunt many Australians of Chilean origin. In September 2013 New South Wales Liberal Party MP Peter Phelps celebrated General Pinochet as “a reluctant hero” and “a morally courageous man.” Emilia was present in the NSW parliament when Greens MP John Kaye demanded an apology from Phelps. “He just laughed,” says Emilia. Her friend next to her sobbed at the callousness on show, but Emilia says she didn’t want to show any weakness. “I am not a survivor, because I still fight,” she said.
As the Socceroos prepare to play Chile, Emilia’s group, Memoria Viva Sydney, is involved in a campaign by several Chilean solidarity groups to protest Bachelet's appointment of James Sinclair as ambassador to Australia. Sinclair is alleged to have helped destroy material relating to investigations into the right wing terror campaign of Operation Condor.
Memoria Viva Sydney is also working with the National Campaign for Truth and Justice in Chile to lobby the Australian government to cooperate with Chile’s extradition request of Adriana Rivas. Rivas lives in public housing in Sydney, and is ordered to stand trial for her role in the kidnapping and torture of several Chileans in 1976 and 1977. In interviews, Rivas denies the allegations, saying that she was simply a secretary and a nurse but is unmoving in her support for the dictatorship. It is believed there are hundreds more Chileans who worked with the Pinochet government currently living in Australia.
"I saw [Rivas] on television and it was really bad for me" says Patty. "It brings up lots of things. Personally, I think it’s good to bring it up, because there is always a layer of healing that we have to do."
For Patty, who has made a new life in Australia, the presence of individuals like Rivas is about more than just political differences. She, like many other exiles, has had to live with the uncertainty of people connected with the Pinochet regime in her new home. "When I arrived here, we got a threat [by note] to my husband and my children" she explains. "What does that mean? We never felt 100% safe, even though we had support. We have to do something about it to have some reassurance."
The extradition request by Chile has been sent to the Australian government, and the Chilean community and the solidarity groups have sent their own letters to the Attorney General, George Brandis. "As the offence of aggravated kidnapping... is an offence in Australia and was an offence at the time Adriana Rivas committed her crimes in Chile, we are of the view that Australia must grant this request", the letter reads. The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, has also presented a petition signed by members of the community in federal parliament. Rivas remains in Australia.
Before Allende’s death in La Moneda Palace in 1973, he spoke directly to the Chilean people over live radio. “I am certain that the seeds that we have planted in the good conscience of thousands and thousands of Chileans will not be shrivelled forever," said Allende.
When I asked Manuel to recount his difficult experience of being tortured and imprisoned in the National Stadium, he calls it "my tribute to Allende". Indeed Manuel, Emilia and Patty embody the spirit that Allende spoke of in his final speech. "The contribution that we made, we passed onto our kids," says Patty. "We never made our kids go to the functions or rallies. But now, you find that our kids are there demonstrating there. The seed is there. That gives you satisfaction and hope for the future."
Forty years after the protest at the World Cup in Germany, the international solidarity movement for Chile is still strong. Manuel, Emilia and Patty are just a few of the many Chileans around the world who continue to work for justice and truth in their homeland. “I am a Chilean living in Australia” Emilia says. “I am grateful to Australia but I know my roots and people are in Chile.”
For Patty, the question of which team to support this week is a little complicated. A true internationalist, she explains: "I don't believe in borders and nationalities, wherever you are there are things you can do to improve your conditions. If I had to choose I'd probably support Chile, but if I was in Chile I would probably support Australia. I like going with the underdog."
Four decades after arriving in Australia, Manuel says he will be supporting the Socceroos. “I will probably be more interested in Australian soccer," he says. "But I'm still Chilean. I didn't forget Chile. I always was thinking I'll be back soon. Soon, soon, tomorrow, tomorrow. But that tomorrow never came."