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Cows on the field illustrate Uruguay's problems

By Conrado Hornos

MONTEVIDEO, Dec 22 (Reuters) - When Rocha won the Uruguayan championship earlier this month, a cow joined the players as they completed their lap of honour.

Although the animal had become the team's lucky mascot, it was also symbolic of the tough realities of life in the Uruguayan first division where one recent match produced an official attendance of eight and most players struggle on a few hundred dollars a month.


Uruguay was once a major power in the world game and had a big influence in shaping its history.

In winning the football tournaments at the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games, Uruguay delighted European crowds who had never previously seen anything like their short-passing game.

The country also hosted and won the inaugural World Cup in 1930 while many European teams short-sightedly shunned the tournament.

The Sky Blues went on to win another world title in neighbouring Brazil 20 years later, memorably beating the shell-shocked hosts in the tournament's decisive game.

Today, however, Uruguay exports its top players and the domestic championship struggles from year to year.

Rocha, who have become the first team from outside the capital to win the championship in its 73-year history, are a case in point.

Founded in 1999, the club has a monthly budget of around $15,000 and the training pitch is located next to a field of cows, who often amble over for a graze. When one was photographed among the players, it became an instant hit and was adopted as a mascot.


Uruguayan international midfielder Omar Pouso, who plays for Danubio, once said that he often went to sleep on an empty stomach.

"When I came from the interior, I had almost nothing and I had to support my family," he told Reuters. "They gave us money for transport, for lunch and dinner and after that it was every man for himself."

Most first division players earn around 10,690 Uruguayan pesos ($442) a month while their second division colleagues scrape by on wages as low as 5,345 pesos ($221).

Yet, despite the low wages, some clubs still struggle to pay their players on time.

Two second division clubs were barred from this season's championship because they owed money while another three dropped out during the course of the competition.

The big pair, Nacional and Penarol, who share eight South American Libertadores Cup titles between them, have a better infrastructure but are also in difficulties.

Neither can afford big signings and nowadays are routinely dumped out of the Libertadores in the early rounds.


Private investment has come to the rescue of some clubs such as first division Rampla Juniors.

"Since August, a group of Mexican investors have been at the club and for the time being they are looking after the wages of the players and coaching staff, the kit and the team training camp," said director Sarks Kouyoumjdian.

"An investor is the only possible way out," said Mario Miguez of second division Huracan Buceo. "Of course, you lose some independence, but it's much better than not competing."

There is, however, only so much investors can do with such a small market.

Uruguay's population of 3.5 million is not enough to support a two-division professional league and attendances at most first division games struggle to reach four figures.

Deportivo Colonia's visit to Paysandu on the last day of the current season attracted a record low of eight paying spectators.

According to a recent report in the newspaper El Observador, the total gate receipts of the Apertura championship won by Rocha were around $460,000 -- considerably less than players such as David Beckham and Ronaldo earn in a season.

Updated on Wednesday, Dec 21, 2005 8:00 pm EST

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I came across a couple of matches from Uruguay on GolTV. If I'm not mistaken, one of them was played at Rocha? I can't remember. Anyway, I was quite surprised at how small the stadiums were and how generally "amateurish" the setting looked (no better than a Lynx match, except with people (but not many) lining all sides of the field). I didn't realize how poor the situation is there. Thanks for the article.

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