BACKGROUND

The Iglesia Maradoniana, or the Church of Maradona, is a religion based in Argentina that worships the Argentinian football player Diego Maradona. The symbol for the church is D10S, which combines the Spanish word for Gods, Dios, and the shirt number of Maradona, 10. The church was founded on October 3rd 1998 by fans that claim Maradona as the greatest football player in history (Howland-Jackson 2008). While some define the Iglesia Maradoniana as a syncretism of Catholicism rather than a religion of it’s own, it has undeniable similarities to other mainstream faiths, such as it’s own set of commandments and prayers (Franklin 2008). According to the church:

“Football is the religion and, like all religions, has a God. The God of football is Argentine and his name is Diego Armando Maradona”

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Photo by AFP 1986 (http://news.ugo.co.ug/story-every-fifa-world-cup/)

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CUSTOMS

Similar to many other religions, the Iglesia Maradoniana also has a set of commandments, including, ‘love football over all things’, ‘defend the colours of Argentina’ and ‘do not proclaim the name of Diego in the name of a single club’. Furthermore, the church has created a chant that is repeated at all ceremonies and worship services (Franklin 2008). The Iglesia Maradoniana meets twice a year, once to celebrate the birth of Maradona on Maradona Christmas, and another for Maradona Easter, the date that the Argentinian team beat England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals with the goal from Maradona known as the infamous ‘Hand of God’ (Bilbija 1995, p. 1). 

THE HAND OF GOD

The hand of god, or mano de dios, is the name given to the notorious goal scored by Maradona in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals, which allowed Argentina to knock England out of the competition. In the 51st minute, Maradona scored the goal with his hand, yet it was still allowed by the referee, and to this day is celebrated by the followers of the Iglesia Maradoniana (Murray 2014). After the game, Maradona famously commented that the goal was scored “a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God” (Williams 2008). 

This goal holds enormous cultural significance for Argentinians for several reasons. Firstly, it occurred only four years after the Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom, which intensified the rivalry between the two teams (Carlin 2002). Additionally, it combined the Argentinian dedication of both football and religion, with many people believing the goal itself held religious divinity.

Maradona Hand of God Goal (2008)

THE ARGENTINIAN HERO

Throughout Argentinian history, it is clear that national celebrities are not only praised for their excellence in their specific field, but also often worshipped in other realms of life. This is noticeable with such figures as Eva Peron, who was not merely known as the wife of Argentine President Juan Peron, but also as an admired and revered character to citizens of the country (Adams 1993, p. 14). This is similarly the case with Maradona, who is seen as a celebrity both on and off the pitch. According to Brach, it is not only his football skills but also his cultural and popular perception that has determined his popularity (2012, p. 416). The Argentinian admiration of Maradona, as well as many more of their heroes, has to do with his humble origins, and his representation of a true Argentinian identity (Bilbija 1995). As stated by Soriano, Maradona was a hero who “did everything in reverse: he did not marry a princess, nor did he bow in front of the powerful; neither did he open the bank with the money he earned” (1994, p. 122). This is a quality that is much admired by Argentinians and is a shared trait among their many heroes and celebrities.

THE ARGENTINIAN IDENTITY

The devotion to Maradona and his religious following have much to do with the Argentinian identity, and the way in which football encompasses and defines the way of life in Argentina. In much of Latin America, football is not just a game, but also the glue that holds together the identity of the nation through patriotism and loyalty. Fans invest significant amounts of their emotion and identity into the sport. Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano summarised this phenomenon best when he said, “When the ball turns, the world turns” (1998), showing the links between football’s effect on society and that of religion.

Maradona, as interpreted by his Argentinian fans, is the epitome of a pibe, a culturally significant term throughout the country referring to a young and reckless boy who plays football without teaching or supervision, usually in a restless and undisciplined manner (Brach 2012, p. 419). This runs into the daily life of a pibe, where, according to Archetti, disorder is expected and chaotic behavior is the norm (1999, p. 184). This relates strongly to Maradona’s life, one riddled with controversy and drug use, and helps to explain the Argentinian captivation with his life. While this may seem contradictory to his heroic status, this chaos is one of the reasons Argentinians love him so much. According to Brach, “the more fuss Maradona makes around him, the more naturally he becomes the embodiment of a pibe” (2012, p. 421). On top of this, it adds the myth and legend surrounding Maradona himself. For many, including the members of the Iglesia Maradoniana, Maradona is much more than a great player. He is a vox populi, who has been transformed into a contemporary mythical hero (Brach 2012, p. 424).

CONTROVERSY

While Maradona is arguably one of the most popular and celebrated figures in Argentinian history, there is also much controversy surrounding his fame and veneration. Maradona has held a controversial private life, riddled with drug addiction, health problems, obesity and crime. He has also held many divisive political beliefs, such as supporting the oppressive dictatorship of General Videla, then turning to the neoliberals and even later showing support toward Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro (Brach 2012, p. 420). These issues have caused many people to be skeptical of the worship of Maradona, particularly through the Iglesia Maradoniana. Many Argentinians feel that it is an insult to hold someone with such a controversial past as a national hero, let alone as a God. Carlos Tevez, an Argentinian football player, holds this opinion, claiming that while he believes in Maradona on the football pitch, he questions him when it comes to life, “as he is wonderful in football and fabulous as a coach but lives a poor and dear life” (ESPN 2012).

Furthermore, as Argentina is a traditionally Catholic country, the notion of worshipping another deity is one that has offended many. According to one follower, however, there is no difference between a religion worshipping Maradona and that of a mainstream one, who asks:

“What has Jesus done that Maradona hasn’t? They have both performed miracles, just that Maradona’s are actually on record. The ideologies aren’t so different” (Howland-Jackson 2008).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Adams, J. R. 1993, Latin American Heroes: Liberators and Patriots from 1500 to the Present, Ballantine Books.

Archetti E. P. 1999, Masculinities: Football, Polo and Tango in Argentina, Oxford, Berg.

Bilbija, K. 1995, ‘Maradona’s left: Postmodernity and national identity in Argentina’, Studies in Latin American Popular Culture, Vol. 14, p. 199.

Brach, B. 2012, ‘Who is Lionel Messi? A comparative study of Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi’, International Journal of Cultural Studies 2012 Vol. 15, p. 415.

Carlin, J. 2002, ‘England v Argentina – A history’, The Guardian, 19 May 2002, viewed 4 September 2014, < http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2002/may/19/worldcupfootball2002.football2 >.

Franklin, J. 2008, ‘He was sent from above’, The Guardian, 12 November 2008, viewed 4 September 2014, < http://www.theguardian.com/football/2008/nov/12/diego-maradona-argentina >.

Galeano, E. 1998, Soccer in Sun and Shadow, trans. M. Fried, Verso, London.

Howland-Jackson, R. 2008, ‘Iglesia Maradoniana – Argentina’s Real Religion?’, The Argentina Independent, 1 December 2008, viewed 2 September 2014, < http://www.argentinaindependent.com/life-style/undergroundba/la-iglesia-maradoniana-argentinas-real-religion/ >.

Maradona Hand of God Goal, 2009, video, uploaded by mojeda111, 3 March 2008, viewed 30 August 2014, < http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eZhBCqh8l8 >.

Murray, S. 2014, ‘World Cup: 25 stunning moments… No9: Diego Maradona’s Hand of God’, The Guardian, 8 April 2014, viewed 2 September 2014, < http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2014/apr/08/world-cup-moments-maradona-hand-god >.

Soriano S. 1994, ‘Es un Mundial posmoderno’, Noticias De La Semana, 3 July 1994, p. 122 – 123.

Williams, B. 2008, ‘Life and crimes of Diego Armando Maradona’, The Telegraph, 29 October 2008, viewed September 7 2014, < http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/international/3278819/Life-and-crimes-of-Diego-Armando-Maradona-Football.html >.