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Macri's Ties To Soccer Boost His Chances In Argentina's Presidential Runoff


Next, we go to Argentina where the man expected to win this Sunday's presidential election is getting some mileage out of his pre-political resume. In that soccer-mad country, the front-runner Mauricio Macri is famous for his connection to a wildly popular team, the Boca Juniors. John Otis has this report.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in Spanish).

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: Boca Juniors zealots are jammed into a bar called Crazy for Soccer, watching their team play for the Argentina Cup.

At halftime, fan Dario Nairotti explains that for many Argentines, the connection to the team starts at birth.

DARIO NAIROTTI: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "The first thing my father did was to buy me a Boca jersey and make me a Boca fan. And I did the same thing for my son," he says.

The team is based in La Boca, a working-class barrio of Buenos Aires. It's now one of the most successful soccer clubs in South America and has fans all over the world. The person most responsible for Boca Juniors mania is Mauricio Macri. A millionaire businessman and politician, he was team president from 1995 to 2007, when the team took home 16 national and international titles.

JUAN IGNACIO COSTA: If you want, you can come inside over here and take some pictures inside the fences.

OTIS: Tourists flock to the stadium as if it were the Roman Colosseum. Guide Juan Ignacio Costa says their devotion can go way overboard.

COSTA: For example, I don't know, their grandfather passed away, and his dying wish was to come and take the ashes and throw them in the stadium.

OTIS: Die-hard fans can also be buried in caskets with the Boca Juniors logo carved on the lid. There's a Boca Juniors museum and a theme hotel. The merchandising push was the brainchild of Team President Macri. The experience helped him jump into politics, says Enzo Pagani, who heads outreach programs for Boca Juniors.

ENZO PAGANI: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: "Macri became one of the two or three best-known people in Argentina, and he knew how to capitalize on his name recognition," Pagani says. In 2007, Macri was elected mayor of Buenos Aires, a post he still holds. He's won praise for improving public transport and police.

But Luis Sanchez, who sells souvenirs in La Boca, says Macri's triumphs in soccer convinced him that he was presidential timber.

LUIS SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

OTIS: Polls show Macri leading Daniel Scioli, the candidate of the long-ruling Peronist party, in the run-up to Sunday's election. Meanwhile, Macri's old team keeps winning. Back at the bar, fans explode as Boca Juniors scores to win the national title. For NPR News, I'm John Otis, Buenos Aires. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: November 20, 2015 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous headline misspelled Mauricio Macri's last name as Macree.