Che Guevara, an Argentine in the fray

All his life, he loved to write. Books, many books with evocative titles: Guerrilla War, Socialism and man, Memories of the Revolutionary War, Global Justice … Not to mention, of course, his diaries in Congo and Bolivia. So much for the political bibliography of Ernesto "Che" Guevara (1928-1967). But the revolutionary icon, fellow Castro brothers in Cuba in the 1950s, had also tried another type of writing: sports journalism. His favorite field? Rugby.

Like many Argentines from a good family, he enjoyed the sport and practiced it with passion. This passion of youth, widely treated by his biographers, led him to live a journalistic experience passed more unnoticed: the creation in Buenos Aires, in 1951, of a rugby weekly baptized Tackle ("Plating", in English). The adventure was brief – eleven numbers between May 5 and July 28, 1951 – but intense, and revealing of the young man he was then.

Covers of the weekly "Tackle", created by Ernesto "Che" Guevara. National Library of Buenos Aires

At the time, Che is 23 years old; he studies medicine and has not yet gone on the roads of Latin America to confront his Marxist convictions to reality. Rugby, which he has been practicing for nine years, is passionate about him as his father, Ernesto Guevara Lynch, an architect by profession, is ready to finance the launch of a newspaper. The editorial staff, limited to a handful of young people, including one of his five children – Roberto, 17 – will be living in a corner of his office, at 2034 Paraguay Street, in the heart of Buenos Aires. They are all apprentice journalists, themselves rugby players in select clubs in the suburbs.

The art of play in the mud

Some Che articles already give a clear idea of ​​his social concerns. For example, these lines on the Argentine roots of his sport: "In Buenos Aires, those who started rugby belonged to high society and therefore had fortunes, and so could, thanks to their money, form pleasant clubs with solid structures. On the other hand, in the cities of the interior of the country, rugby did not take, among the rich classes and, with exception, a small bourgeoisie practice, people who can only give their enthusiasm to the sport, nothing more. " Conclusion: " All this causes a vicious circle; the public with little or no interest in the sport does not know rugby and, therefore, not knowing it, it is difficult, of course, to introduce it to its practice. "

In the weekly "Tackle", an advertising insert for the architectural firm of the father of "Che", Ernesto Guevara Lynch, who also housed the editorial staff at the number 2034 Paraguay Street, Buenos Aires.
In the weekly "Tackle", an advertising insert for the architectural firm of the father of "Che", Ernesto Guevara Lynch, who also housed the editorial staff at the number 2034 Paraguay Street, Buenos Aires. National Library of Buenos Aires

These passages are reproduced in The Fabulous History of Rugby, a collective work published for the first time in 1973 (Editions O.D.I.L.), under the direction of Henri Garcia, of the newspaper L'Equipe. They are also found in a guide of the daily sports newspaper tracing the year 1983, and entitled Rugby. This guide is the journalist Jean Cormier (1943-2018), a familiar figure of French oval, who had shown it to us at his Parisian home, a pretty collector's haunt curious about everything. This former big reporter from Parisian was fascinated by Che's fate. He had devoted several books to him, as well as a photographic exhibition, and knew his father. But Jean Cormier had no other excerpt from Tackle than those already mentioned. To read more, and try to reconstruct the brief career of Che in sports journalism, so we must chase copies of the weekly. Absolute rarities …

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Here we are first at the National Library of Buenos Aires. Miracle, a plastic bag contains nine of the eleven magazines. Six decades after their publication, the other two, Nos. 2 and 4, have disappeared. "Flights are frequent"apologizes an employee of the "BN". Four Che articles are searchable, but not the one mentioned in The Fabulous History of Rugby. These texts are signed "Cho Chang", deformation to the Chinese sonority of his usual nickname, "Chancho" ( "Pig"). His friends gave it to him in reference to his art of playing in the mud, but also because of its deliberately neglected aspect, far removed from the suit-tie de rigueur in rugby clubs. Let's face it, the articles are somewhat disappointing. This time, no sociological analysis but simple stories of matches, revealing his fine knowledge of the game.

"Subversive material"

To find the missing numbers of TacklePerhaps he should turn to the Argentine Rugby Federation or the very select San Isidro Club (SIC), whose jersey he wore, in the posh suburbs of Buenos Aires. In one case as in the other, not the least trace of the weekly. Our last hope? Hugo Condoleo, an 87-year-old sports journalist, the ultimate survivor of this editorial adventure. Verification made, it is besides him who had written for Henri Garcia, in 1973, the Argentine passage of The Fabulous History of Rugby.

We meet him at a café in Buenos Aires. He does not have the two missing numbers either. But his memories are so vivid that they make him an exceptional witness. Of course, the article on the sociology of Argentine rugby appears in No. 2, dated May 12, 1951. "Ernesto had toured the country and, on his return, wrote a paper, the only one, outside the usual commentary of matches where his social concerns appear. " This article, entitled "Rugby from the inside", was a profession of faith. Ernesto, explains his friend, "Claimed the fact that rugby is played not only in Buenos Aires but in all provincial towns and all social classes, not just the richest".

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Hugo Condoleo says that an Argentinian diplomat, whose name escapes him, would have taken the complete collection to Paris. Another collection belonged to one of Che's brothers, Roberto, who died in 2018, but it would have disappeared at the time of the military dictatorship (1976-1983). "At that time, the Guevara family was suspicious, He recalls. A military commando raided Roberto's house and seized the numbers of Tackle, believing it was subversive material. "

Years later, under the Peronist government of Carlos Menem (1989-1999), Mr. Condoleo undertook to recover the missing copies. "I asked for help from General Martin Balza, whom I knew as a sports journalist, because he was a great swimmer. " Las! The chief of staff of the Argentine army explained to him that he could not do anything about it. The latter was an officer of the army. But it was especially the navy troops who conducted the search operations during the "years of lead".

From meadow to jungle

At the time of TackleHugo Condoleo was 17 years old – six years younger than Che – but he remembers the "newsroom" in the architectural cabinet and Ernesto "Running out of medical school, white blouse on shoulder". They met at the beginning of the week around a table to type the comments on the games of the weekend. "Ernesto had a real passion for journalism, insists Condoleo, who has not forgotten either "Great sense of irony" : "It was he who had the idea to introduce cartoons of the players in the pages of Tackle. "

Hugo Condoleo, the last survivor of the "Tackle" editorial team and friend of "Che".
Hugo Condoleo, the last survivor of the "Tackle" editorial team and friend of "Che". Christine Legrand / The World

In "rugby from the inside", Che returns to his debut as a player. "Every time we build a field, with its lawn, its white lines, we see the changing rooms, the showers with hot water, the bar, that is to say everything that makes a club; we can not fail to remember our rugby debut – in an inner city. " As the story unfolds, the picture becomes clear: "We were a dozen volunteers and we were looking to find among the curious who were there two daring to swell our ranks. And we entered the field keeping an eye on our clothes, lest we be stolen. The third half, this beautiful rugby-like custom, was just as unknown to us as all the amenities mentioned above that helped make the sport so enjoyable. "

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Che plays the oval ball between 14 and 23 years old. He plays there despite his asthma, against the advice of doctors and his father. This one will bring back the words of his son in a book, Mi Hijo, el Che ("My son, Che", Planeta, 1981, untranslated): "Dad, I love rugby and, even if I have to die, I will continue to practice it. " Hugo Condoleo recalls the moment when Don Ernesto Guevara Lynch, anxious, forced his son to leave the CIS, of which he had been a member since 1947. "Disgusted, he went to play secretly in a rival club, the Atalaya. That's where I had the opportunity to play with him, " the old man continues, very moved. In a letter to his mother, Che told how much the sport helped him overcome his asthma and endure life in the Bolivian jungle.

The beginnings of a revolution

The future revolutionary discovered this sport in Alta Gracia, in the province of Cordoba, where his family lived for a while, in search of a dry climate. It was also there that he met Alberto Granado, then coach of the Estudiantes de Cordoba club, with whom he will later undertake his first motorcycle trip through Latin America. A journey accomplished between December 1951 and July 1952, a few months after stopping the ephemeral Tackle, overcome by the cost of paper and the low number of subscribers …

Ernesto "Che" Guevara with the Atalaya club of Buenos Aires.
Ernesto "Che" Guevara with the Atalaya club of Buenos Aires. private collection

Guevara then practiced other forms of journalism. It's as a photographer that he covers for a South American news agency the second edition of the Pan American Games in 1955. The competition is held in Mexico, where he will meet Fidel Castro. 1st January 1959, the two men overthrow Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. That same year, Che contributed to the creation of Prensa Latina, the "voice of the Cuban revolution" around the world. Half a century later, in 2006, this same Castro went to Argentina, accompanied by the Venezuelan Hugo Chavez, to visit the famous white cottage of Alta Gracia where lived the Che. Elsewhere in Argentina, his memory is more neglected. In Buenos Aires, no street bears his name. In Rosario, a simple plaque on the sidewalk indicates his "Birthplace", and it was not until June 14, 2008 that a statue was erected in a local park.

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Che rugbyman, so there are the memories of his former colleague Hugo Condoleo, and some passages from Tackle. This one, in particular, where he evokes the arrival of the XV of France in Argentina, in 1949. "We remained under the spell of their high-quality game and we learned what we did not know until then: to know that rugby played well is a nice show, even for those who totally misunderstand its rules. " Six decades later, the French team again faced, and dominated, the selection of Argentina (23-21) on 21 September, in Tokyo, for its first meeting of the 2019 World Cup. The Pumas are now ready to defy England, Saturday, October 5, still in Tokyo. A match that we would have read the report in Tackle. Sign "Cho Chang".


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