Relegation in Argentina – is the system fair?
Olimpo, a modest team from the port city of Bahia Blanca on the windswept Atlantic coast in southern Buenos Aires province, are doing well in the Clausura championship. They are in fourth place three points behind leaders Velez Sarsfield.
Boca Juniors, one of the big clubs from the capital, are 14th — seven points off the pace.
Yet Olimpo, promoted this season, are in greater danger of relegation than Boca. Their fourth place in the table does not save them from also occupying one of the promotion playoff berths as a result of the three-season points averages.
The averages were introduced 28 years ago and although the move was not presented as such, it was designed as a safety net for a poor season by one of Argentina’s big clubs after San Lorenzo suffered a humiliating relegation in 1981, though it failed to save Racing Club in 1983, the first year of its implementation.
River Plate, third two points off the pace, began this season in the promotion playoff places and are now only just outside them with the constant fear of slipping back into them with a defeat.
The bottom two sides in the 20-team division go down automatically, those in 17th and 18th place meet teams from the second-tier Nacional B championship in two-legged playoffs.
River’s delicate position was due to a very poor 2008-09 season and failure to redress the balance enough the following season. They finished the Apertura championship in the first half of this season in fourth place and have been doing even better in the Clausura, edging away from danger — although playing pragmatic, defensive football a long way from their traditional, attractive attacking style.
The Argentine season is divided into two championships, Apertura and Clausura, and Olimpo, though doing well now, are dragged down by their poor first half of the season.
Promoted teams whose relegation average is calculated over the single season are obliged to do well in their first season in the top flight to secure survival.
All Boys, promoted in mid-2010 alongside Olimpo, had a good Apertura but their mixed results in the Clausura have them three places above the playoff berths. Their points average is 1.266 and that of River and Tigre 1.264. Olimpo’s is 1.200.
The Argentine Football Association, which introduced the two championships per season in the early 1990s, has talked of reverting to a single all-season-long championship, possibly as soon as August. However, changing the relegation parameters is unlikely to follow suit.
PHOTO: Olimpo’s Julio Furch (2nd R) is congratulated by teammates Juan Tejera (L), Federico Dominguez (2nd L) and Pablo Gerez (R) after Furch scored his team’s second goal against Boca Juniors during their Argentine First Division Championship soccer match in Buenos Aires March 20, 2011. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian