The Fundación de Español Urgente (Fundeu), an organisation that maintains the unity and purity of the Spanish language, recently chose escrache (meaning a direct action protest) as its 2013 word of the year. The choice was not at all surprising. Languages are in a constant state of flux and as they evolve they are naturally shaped by the prevalent culture and environment of the societies that use them. With Spain still mired in an economic crisis-fuelled era of strikes, manifestations and general revolt against a system blamed for the financial woes of the citizens here, escrache may well be a worthy winner. In that context it was just as fitting that Cholismo, another nominee for word of the year, has also made it into the official Spanish lexicon, the Real Academia Española (RAE).
Cholismo has, as of yet at least, no direct translation in English. In fact, at time of writing, the RAE have not yet finalised a definition to put in the Castellano equivalent of the Oxford English Dictionary. The meaning is already well-known on the streets of Madrid however. Particularly in the working-class barrios just south of the Manzanares River on which the Estadio Vicente Calderón sits. These red and white sections of the city are predominantly loyal to Atlético de Madrid and their coach Diego Simeone, the Argentinian known as Cholo, the creator and spiritual leader of the Cholismo movement.
Simeone’s philosophy is based on the simple mantras he uses to forge a successful football team and his rojiblancos are by now well versed in his gospel. One game at a time. Never give up. Concentrate on your own role. Die for your team mates. Effort is non-negotiable. This team is a unit and our strength lies within. You will get back even more than you put in. Cholismo is a philosophy one can live by which is based upon meeting the challenges life inevitably and continuously sets you by utilising your own strength of character and effort, the faith and pride you show in your own abilities, and the belief in the collective as a vehicle for improvement.
Until last month Simeone was sticking to the line that the Spanish League is boring. That year in year out there are only two challengers and 18 others picking up whatever scraps are thrown from the top table. In his assessment, financial realities and inequalities made it impossible that either Barça or Real Madrid, who between them have lifted the past nine titles, would be deposed from the top two positions. But as 2014 is now upon us and Atleti continue to co-lead La Liga alongside Barça and five points ahead of Madrid, Cholo has been forced to reconsider his judgement.
This he did today in a press conference in which he drew a parallel between his team’s journey in this year’s La Liga and the position the average Spaniard on the street currently finds himself in – streets where rampant unemployment and spiralling personal debt are pushing one generation into despair and causing another to lose faith in promises of a brighter future. Simeone stated how, like the people, it is still one day at a time for Atleti. Like the people, they remain in an environment in which the odds are still greatly stacked against them. Like the people, Atleti need to fight to survive. Like the people, the moment they stop fighting is the moment their chances of success disappear.
Perhaps we can view Atleti as a reflection of a society struggling to come to terms with the impact of the economic crisis and a widening gap between rich and poor. A society that has lost faith in a system they believe has failed them and is losing hope that an alternative exists. Before the season began Simeone himself believed his club, and 17 others in the league, had no chance. In proving himself wrong in that respect, could Cholismo provide that missing hope to the people? Could Cholismo show that change is in fact possible? Could Cholismo even inspire a social revolution in which society focuses on its own strengths, efforts and responsibilities, on what it can control, and on what it can achieve when it works together for the benefit of the collective?
It is nice to dream.