The Football War

There are those that say that sport is just a sport, and not war. That was not the case for the citizens of El Salvador and Honduras who went to war over a game of football (soccer) in 1969.

El Salvador defeats Honduras in Mexico City, 1969

El Salvador defeats Honduras in Mexico City, 1969

By the time the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers had rolled around in 1969, tensions between El Salvador and Honduras were at a crisis point, mainly due to Honduras's new land reforms.

At the time, over 300,000 Salvadoran migrants were living in Honduras, who were working and occupying a large amount of Honduran land. The Honduran government had been pressured into creating reforms to protect the wealth landowners from the migrants who were coming in, which led to land being taken off the Salvadoran immigrants and given to native Hondurans. This in turn led to Salvadorans being displaced with many workers kicked out of the country.

Tensions reached fever point during the qualifying matches between the two nations for a place in the 1970 FIFA World Cup, which became the catalyst for the outbreak of war. The first two matches (one in Honduras and one in El Salvador) were met with extremely violent clashes at the respective stadiums due to the brewing economic tensions. When El Salvador won the play-off match held in Mexico City on 26 June 1969, El Salvador immediately severed all diplomatic ties with Honduras on the same day.

On 14 July all hell broke loose when the Salvadoran Air Force began bombing targets in Honduras including their main airport, using passenger planes with explosives strapped onto the outside of the plane. Later that day Salvadoran ground forces invaded Honduras.

Salvadoran ground forces make their way into Honduras

Salvadoran ground forces make their way into Honduras

By the next day the Salvadorians had breached 8km inland into Honduras, capturing nine cities, and were about to advance on the capital of Honduras (Tegucigalpa). That same morning the Honduran Air Force was carrying out bombing raids near the Salvadorian capital (San Salvador), which included the Salvadorian oil fields which they were so dependent on.

Honduras was desperate for assistance with their capital under siege, and called on the OAS (Organisation of American States) for help, which led to the organisation demanding a ceasefire.

The ceasefire had come into effect by the 18 July, but El Salvador resisted international pressure until early August when it finally withdrew its troops from Honduras.

Once the conflict was over both sides had suffered significant casualties (mostly civilian) even though the war only lasted 100 hours, with over 900 Salvadorian losses, and over 2,000 Honduran losses. There was also 300,000 Salvadorian citizens that were displaced from the fighting and ended up travelling to Honduras as refugees of the conflict.

The economic dispute between the nations exists to this day.