Huachipato at risk: with nerves of steel
Just two years ago, Huachipato, the soccer club that represents the workers of the most important steel company in Chile, had to go to the Second Division. A controversial ruling by the sports court and a subsequent definition on the field – which caused a huge arbitration scandal – allowed it to remain in the honor division, but casting a pall of suspicion over the influence of its owner, Victoriano Cerda, in the decisions of the Chilean Federation.
Today, two years later, Huachipato is one of the most serious contenders for the title of champion, although a threat clouds the joy: the company is about to go bankrupt, and has requested help from the Government of Gabriel Boric to survive the crisis that is worrying to more than 20 thousand workers from one of the most important companies in Talcahuano, in the Bío Bío region.
Huachipato is a Mapuche word that means trap for hunting birds. When the Compañía de Aceros del Pacífico was created in 1946, with the impetus of the State and the private sector, an attempt was made to support the construction and infrastructure of the country, which demanded a large amount of steel. The sports club was born the following year, but it was not until 1967 that it achieved promotion to the major division of football.
Despite the name with original roots, the symbols of the institution are replicas of the Pittsburgh Steelers shield and the colors of Inter Milan. Huachipato is the only champion team in the southern zone of Chile, managing to lift the cup in 1974 and 2012, thus settling an old dispute with more representative institutions such as Concepción, Fernández Vial, Naval, Lota Schwager or the more recent Universidad de Concepción that They did not achieve that achievement, which is why the club, despite having less fans, is the most powerful in the region.
Always supported by the company, it had its own stadium, adequate facilities, a policy of attracting young values and active international representation, with two Copa Libertadores and five South American Cups. Everything changed, however, when the steel company, taking advantage of the new legislation, transformed the club into a sports limited company.
Although in official records the Huachipato Sports Club, through its partners, continues to have a majority percentage of the property, its true owners, as is the case in almost all Chilean soccer clubs, are a mystery. Victoriano Cerda, a businessman linked to the world of health insurance companies and with companies dedicated to financial investment in tax havens, always assumed representation publicly and before the National Association, although there were also powerful and influential football player management companies behind the society.
The essential business of investors is, precisely, the sale of players, and it has not been a coincidence that the club transfers its main figures. Its preferred buyer in recent years has been the University of Chile. And this year, despite being in contention for the title, it did not hesitate to sell its main figure, Javier Altamirano, to Estudiantes de la Plata.
The emergency that the steel company is experiencing today does not directly hit the club, which only continues to occupy its premises. But the eventual layoff of thousands of direct or indirect workers, and the eventual Domino effect which would cause the closure of the plant in the region, put a very economically depressed area of the country on alert. The primary factor put forward by its authorities is that Chinese subsidized steel arrives in the country at a price lower than 40 percent, which makes competition unfeasible without state protection. A working group seeks solutions for a complex situation, which involves strategic decisions for a global economy that resists financing private initiative.
Despite their successful season campaign, attendance at the stadium (built entirely of steel) does not exceed four thousand people on average. Survival is severely compromised, in a generous year on the field, but disturbing in the stands.