Copa America anti-discrimination campaign to meet its acid test

Thu Jun 18, 2015 12:16pm EDT
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SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Copa America's anti-discrimination campaign of asking fans to be respectful of the opposing team's national anthem will face its acid test when Chile and Bolivia, South American neighbors embroiled in a bitter border dispute, face off on Friday.

The campaign, titled "America unites us. Don't you make the difference," is co-sponsored by the United Nations children's agency UNICEF and has thus far been a hit among the crowds packing the stadiums.

Fans are asked to hold up a green card, placed on every seat in the stadium, and remain silent during the singing of the national anthems as a sign of respect to the opposing nation, a request that has by and large been followed.

"I want to thank the Chilean people for the gesture that they had with our national anthem. That's why I believe the Mexican team gave it 100 percent, to play a game these people deserved," said Mexico coach Miguel Herrera, after a thrilling 3-3 tie with Chile on Monday.

However, there is concern that the courtesy shown at other matches might not be repeated seen when some 50,000 fans fill Santiago's National Stadium to watch Chile and Bolivia square off.

In the culmination of several years of dispute, landlocked Bolivia went to the World Court in May, seeking to force Chile to negotiate the granting of a corridor of sovereign territory giving it access to the sea for its natural gas and mineral exports. Bolivia lost its coastal territory after being defeated by Chile in the 1880s War of the Pacific.

Respect for the national anthems "is a contribution to make the spectacle of sport, the soccer matches, as we've said all along, a celebration, and not just for Chile but for all of Latin America," said Chile government spokesperson Marcelo Diaz.

(Reporting by Antonio de la Jara; Additional reporting and writing by Anthony Esposito; Editing by Marguerita Choy)