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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
World Cup goal
Ecuador has qualified for the World Cup for the very first time. But whilst two thirds of the team are black, only 6 or 7% of the country's population are Afro-Ecuadorians. Linda Pressly reports on how the squad's success could affect the position of this, the country's most marginalised community.
Football-loving Ecuadorians are beside themselves with excitement.
Always the poor relation to Latin America's mega teams of Argentina and Brazil, Ecuador's qualification for the 2002 World Cup has given a huge boost to national self-confidence.
Ecuador's number one fan
Diego Galindo is proud to be known as the team's number one fan by Ecuador's media. He is saving madly for Japan, and believes the team's success even this far will mean a massive increase to the country's coffers because of the potential of tourism.
Diego is a middle-class, professional man who has devoted his spare time to promoting and supporting his team.
He's also from the dominant white/mestizo community. The majority of the football team are not. They are Afro-Ecuadorians who trace their roots back to slavery.
Ecuador's black community
The black community is a tiny one in relation to the general population which consists of white/mestizos and indigenous peoples. It is a community that has struggled against an endemic racism that has left it perhaps the poorest in Ecuador.
And, it seems, enormous success in the public domain does not necessarily buy you an escape from the effects of negative stereotyping.
Hugo Guerron plays for Deportivo Quito and the national squad, and was recently involved in a fracas with the police after being stopped while driving an expensive four-wheel drive car.
An altercation took place, as a result of which CS gas was sprayed directly into his eyes. Hugo Guerron is recovering well and is back on the pitch, but the experience has clearly shaken him.
He says, of course, this is not his first encounter with racism, and blames the whole event on bad elements in the police who do not respect black people. But he is cautiously optimistic about racist attitudes in Ecuador, and says as a result of there being more national football players, Afro Ecuadorians are gaining "a little more respect" from the white/mestizo community.
Hugo Guerron is from the village of Juncal in the Chota Valley, about three hours drive north of Quito along the Pan-American Highway. After Esmereldas on the Pacific coast, this valley is home to the second largest concentration of black people in Ecuador.
The community here scratches a living from subsistence farming in the midst of grinding poverty. But Juncal is also the birth place of Ecuador's biggest football star, Agustin Delgado, who currently plays for Southampton FC in the UK.
The Football School
'Tin', as he is known affectionately by Ecuadorians, is a man with a social conscience. In Juncal he has set up and maintains financially La Escuela de Futbol - the Football School.
Over three hundred boys and young men arrive every afternoon to enthusiastically hone their skills on the football fields that here in the village consist of sand, grit and dirt rather than grass.
But the school is not only interested in providing young black men with a way out of Juncal to the bright lights of the big cities' football clubs. There is an emphasis on building self-reliance, self-esteem and literacy - no child is allowed to come unless they attend or have finished primary school.
It is an impressive organisation involving the whole Delgado family, with Tin's formidable sister, Diana, co-ordinating the whole operation. She says people from outside the valley always say that black people are useless - not good for anything at all.
She hopes that with the school, they have started to show other Ecuadorians that they have hopes and aspirations like everyone else, and they CAN organise for themselves.
People in the valley do have skills away from the football field, she says, but they need the opportunities to prove it.
Racism in Ecuador
But can an enterprise like La Escuela de Futbol, and the fact that so many black players have made it to the national team make a difference to the success of black people in Ecuador both on and off the field?
Cesar Montufar is white/mestizo, and a political scientist at the Simon Bolivar Andean University. Ecuador is, "probably one of the most racist countries in South America", he says.
He believes the dominant white/mestizo community in the country has always used minorities for their own purposes - the exoticism of indigenous peoples to sell tourism, the sporting achievements of black people to booster national pride.
But woe betide those who attempt to step out of these pre-ordained boxes. Cesar Montufar doesn't believe that the spotlight now shining brightly on the nation's football squad will substantially change anything for Afro-Ecuadorians.
Juan Carlos Minda is black, and an English teacher in Quito. He is a man who works in the classroom nine hours a day, and then studies into the small hours in his quest to be a petro-engineer.
Juan Carlos translated for us in Ecuador. He believes the success of the national football team has had a positive effect on Afro-Ecuadorians: it has made them feel proud of their achievements, and given them a higher motivation to achieve more.
But he does not believe the team's success has had an impact on white/mestizo people's racism. "White people still need to learn to respect black people", he says, "they need to understand that we can be non-sporting professionals too.
They must understand that, and to treat us as human beings who need better opportunities in life."
Ecuador: Thursday 18 April 2002 on BBC Radio 4 at 11:00 GMT
Reporter: Linda Pressly
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