Futbol! Why Soccer Matters in Latin America.
Futbol (futebol for Brazilians) is a way of life in Latin America. The sport is practiced by millions of youths from every social stratum of society. The sport is adored by millions of people due to its grace and it is an escape from poverty for many. Some of the world's most famous soccer players have come from humble beginnings. There are the pibes (poor youth of Argentina) such as Messi and the favelados (poor youth of Brazil) such as Neymar. In this fascinating book, Joshua N. Nadel explores why soccer matters in Latin America. The answer is because it is woven into regional identities and the historical narratives of Latin American nations (p. 2). In other words, soccer helps explain the history of modern Latin America. Nadel's book examines the intersections between soccer and the nation. Soccer is not only a sport but also a lens through which cultures are formed and perpetuated with its anecdotes and histories. According to Nadel, "soccer appeared and gained popularity as Latin American narratives were in the process of being formed, and for that reason, the sport became an integral part of those national stories" (p. 3). Nadel's chapters follow a loose chronology from the arrival of soccer in Latin America in the 1800s to the present day. In addition, each chapter can be read thematically or nationally, as each chapter is a self-contained episode that highlights one aspect of the relationship between sport and country.
Soccer is more than just a game. It is a social driver in societies in Latin America and the rest of the world, especially in the globalized world of the twenty-first century. Soccer explains not only Latin America but also the world, according to Franklin Foer in his How Soccer Explains the World (2004). One such driver of social change in Latin America and an integral part of soccer is the myth of national soccer styles. According to Nadel, "national styles were actually carefully crafted historical creations invented at the precise moment that Latin American countries were grappling with their national, racial, and ethnic identities" (p. 44). For many Latin American nations, soccer became a "source of national pride and evidence of Latin American social development" (p. 45). In other words, Latin American nations do not have to copy what comes from abroad (i.e. Europeanize and whitened Latin America) in order to be successful.
Each Latin American nation's style of playing soccer shows its ability to adapt and adjust to the beautiful game (futebol bonito). The creation of national soccer styles also offered an opportunity for Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and German immigrants to become a part of the nation (p. 46). Regardless of one's place of birth, soccer unifies the nation by bringing together different ethnic groups. In addition, soccer is a mechanism by which the most vulnerable members of society can shine for at least ninety minutes. Since many soccer players come from the poorest segments of society, the game offers an opportunity for the poor to "surpass the elite" (p. 46). In many Latin American countries, soccer originally was played only by the elite in organized soccer clubs in which the poor were merely spectators. As Nadel points out, "samba went from being the dance of poor and black Brazilians to official recognition as a national art. And soccer, already the king of sports in Brazil, received increased visibility as the idea of a national style was attached to the game" (p. 65).
One place where the dominant Latin American narratives of both soccer and nation can be challenged is women's soccer (p. 15). Females were late-comers to the game because it was considered too violent and thus a risk to potential mothers. In May 1940, Brazil's president Getiilio Vargas, known as the father of the poor in Brazilian politics, charged his minister of health "with protecting women from football" (p. 219). This paternalistic behavior was codified under Decree Law 3199, which also created the National Council for Sports, enacted in 1941. Soccer, along with other traditional masculine sports such as judo and rugby, was considered incompatible with the nature of women. In the early twentieth century, females' greatest contribution to the motherland was deemed to be motherhood. As Nadel states, "motherhood was seen as the patriotic duty of women--especially women with the 'right' racial and socioeconomic profile. The nation needed healthy mothers to raise good citizens to benefit thepatria" (p. 218). According to public health officials, the game endangered young women's reproductive capacity and thus threatened the nation. Instead of playing soccer, females were encouraged to pursue other activities in order to become more "efficient housewives and mothers, and to inculcate their children with patriotic zeal" (p. 220).
This book will be of interest to anyone interested in sports history and, more specifically, those interested in how soccer can have a force multiplier effect in society as it is woven into regional identities and the historical narratives of Latin American nations. Soccer is more than just a sport in Latin America. It is a way of life and a catalyst for social change and social mobility for millions of poor youths. This book "helps to shape the narrative of nation and gender, of race, and politics. Moreover, the sport often provided counterpoints to the dominant versions of history, creating spaces in which alternative stories about the nation can be told" (p. 243). As such, soccer is one way to explore, examine, and understand Latin America.
JOSE DE ARIMATEIA DA CRUZ
Georgia Southern University
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|Title Annotation:||LATIN AMERICA|
|Author:||da Cruz, Jose de Arimateia|
|Publication:||Journal of Global South Studies|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2019|
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