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Meet George Forsyth – The Ex-Dortmund Goalkeeper, Businessman And Playboy Aiming To Be Peru’s Next President

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George Forsyth has always been an unconventional figure inside football, juggling his keeping duties with life in politics among other interests

It may be one of football’s most used cliches, but there is still a grain of truth in the old saying that goalkeepers are made of something different to their outfield colleagues.

A dose of eccentricity has long been thought to be of benefit to those who occupy this loneliest of positions, making goalkeepers among the most unique characters in football.

Ex-Peru No.1 George Forsyth, though, is a fascinating personality even by the high standards set by his glove-wearing peers – and he is now gunning for the presidency in his home nation.

The son of Peruvian diplomat and politician Harold Forsyth and ex-Miss Chile Veronica Sommer, Forsyth was born in Venezuela in 1982 while his father worked in Peru’s embassy.

Later, the family would move to Canada and Germany due to Forsyth Sr.’s ambassadorial duties, only permanently settling in Peru around the time of George’s 10th birthday.

Nicknamed ‘Ken’ for his supposed resemblance to Barbie’s plastic paramour, Forsyth quickly rose through the ranks of Alianza Lima, based in the tough district of La Victoria on the north side of Peru’s capital. That was a world apart from the sheltered, privileged existence he had enjoyed growing up.

“Alianza Lima exposed Forsyth to common people,” Dr. Paula Munoz, a professor of political science at Lima’s Universidad del Pacífico, opined to Americas Quarterly.

“It brought him closer to knowing that world.”

Aside from a brief spell as Borussia Dortmund’s reserve goalkeeper at the start of the 21st century and a later stint in Italy with Atalanta, where he played a single Coppa Italia game, Forsyth spent his entire career in Peru, with the bulk of that time spent between the posts for Alianza.

The club won five titles during his time in La Victoria, while Forsyth also picked up seven international caps along the way.

He was just as likely, though, to be spotted in the gossip columns as in the sports section, thanks to a string of high-profile romances with a bevy of local celebrities, earning him the reputation as a ‘playboy’ in his home country.

However, in 2014, while still only 32, football began to take a back seat in his life. Injuries had taken their toll, but there was another compelling reason: he had just taken over as mayor of La Victoria.

“The pressure of being mayor is similar to how one feels for a decisive penalty,” he joked to reporters upon taking up the interim role, having entered politics four years earlier as a district councillor for the region.

“I don’t have the [Alianza ultra group] Comando Sur breathing down my neck now; I have the unions!”

Politics was far from the only extra-curricular activity Forsyth engaged in while keeping goal for Alianza and Peru.

As a young man, he studied Administration and Industrial Engineering at university level, although his football activities forced him to drop out without graduating. He also speaks four languages fluently and has founded multiple businesses in areas as diverse as fashion, gastronomy and security.

The former saw him build his own fashion label, G & F – for which, it may not be surprising to hear at this point, he modelled the clothes personally.

His love of the limelight remains undimmed, having appeared in Peru’s version of Dancing with the Stars in 2017, where he met future wife and soap opera actress Vanessa Terkes.

Forsyth hung up his gloves for good in 2016 and, two years later, returned to the office of mayor of La Victoria with a successful electoral bid. One of his first acts was to move the mayoral headquarters to an abandoned sports centre in one of the neighbourhood’s most marginalised areas.

Last year, though, amid the political crisis that shook Peru and saw the nation go through three presidents in the space of a week, he resigned his office in order to launch his own bid for power.

Polls released at the start of 2021 ahead of April’s elections placed Forsyth, who has positioned himself as a pro-business, socially-liberal conservative loosely allied with Peru’s growing evangelical movement, as the most popular of 17 potential candidates, albeit with only 17 per cent of projected support.

The big doubt now, though, concerns whether the 38-year-old will be allowed to run at all.

On February 10, the Lima Special Electoral Court excluded him from running, on the grounds that he had omitted information about his income on a mandatory sworn affidavit necessary to confirm his candidacy. According to the body, his Victoria Nacional party admitted the “mathematical error” and asked to addend the required data – a petition that was rejected as improper.

Forsyth will appeal the measure, while telling Cuarto Poder that claims he is no longer in the race are “completely false… You cannot bring down a candidacy due to paperwork.”

“You have to declare your activities, your incomes. The state has all this information and now says we did not comply,” he fired. “They mislead you because the format says ‘2021 elections’ and indicates ‘declare the previous year’, which is 2020. We declared that correctly.”

For now, Forsyth continues on the campaign trail and still heads most recent polls, albeit having fallen around six points compared to January.

He is confident that his appeal will prosper and that come April 11’s election his name will be on the ballot as one of a huge variety of hopefuls, including ex-president Ollanta Humala and Keiko Fujimori, the daughter of jailed former dictator Alberto who herself spent 13 months in custody while awaiting trial for corruption charges. 

His case is most likely helped by the electorate’s deep distaste and distrust for mainstream politics. A 2018 CELAG survey showed eight out of 10 Peruvians had negative feelings, from anger to uncertainty and fear, about the country’s political situation, while an almost identical number professed to care “little or not at all” about politics.

Every major figure in the same poll returned negative approval ratings from those consulted, up to 80% in some cases; in such a context, Forsyth’s non-political background is perhaps his greatest asset.

The presidential office in Peru has proven something of a poisoned chalice in recent years, with four incumbents coming and going since the last elections in 2016; two of them, Pedro Kuczynski and Martin Vizcarra, impeached and removed by Congress.

Forsyth might be used to staring down the Comando Sur and putting his body on the line, but should he get his candidacy back on track and triumph this would be a challenge beyond anything he faced on the football pitch.

One man in particular will also be watching his fortunes with interest: ex-Paraguay goalkeeping idol Jose Luis Chilavert, who is planning his own presidential run back home in two years’ time.

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