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Argentina’s Weird, Awesome “National Sport”

If you’re following the Argentinian World Cup soap opera featuring the wolfish Diego Maradona and the waifish Lionel Messi, you’re forgiven for assuming that soccer is Argentina’s national sport. Think again, friends. El futbol might be Argentina’s national obsession, highest-profile export business, and, with Maradona in charge of the national team, most frequent cause of mass outrage. However, officially the country’s national sport is something else entirely: pato, a bizarre amalgam of polo, basketball, and soccer played on horseback. Soccer may rule the nation’s sporting passions, but pato enjoys honorary official-sport status.

For now.


You see, a pressure group of agitating troublemakers wants to degrade pato’s standing and enshrine soccer as Argentina’s official pastime. The reasoning—such as it is—insists that because everyone in Argentina either plays, watches, or arranges their life according to soccer, the world’s game should reign on the River Plate.

As much as I love soccer (and I haven’t had a normal workday since June 11, thanks very much), I have to side with pato’s defenders. They argue that soccer is, after all, an English invention and, now, an icon of globalization as well as a source of patriotic pride. Pato, on the other hand, is pure Argentine—a national oddity that reflects the country’s pioneer heritage.


They could also add that pato appears, to this neutral observer, to be totally awesome. Among several positive attributes, consider the name. “Pato” means duck.


Apparently the sport was originally played with, yes, a living duck. Soccer is cool and all—but, come on. Pato’s got this.

Photo via Relincho Pato.

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