Football (Soccer) in Latin America
- LAST REVIEWED: 30 December 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0197
- LAST REVIEWED: 30 December 2020
- LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0197
Fútbol—spelled without the accent in Mexico—or futebol as it is known in Brazil, represents one of the most popular cultural institutions in Latin America. Whether played in the stadium or in the barrio, the sport brings together millions, often serving as the common social bond in an otherwise diversely populated region. Only baseball surpasses this popularity in the Caribbean and countries like Nicaragua, Panamá, and Venezuela. Football was introduced primarily by British expatriates living in port cities and urban industrial centers during the second half of the 19th century. Early on, only an elite few enjoyed the game, but eventually the masses would adopt it and make it their own, more often than not through the establishment of local clubs that reflected regional and social identities. With the advent of international sporting events such as the FIFA World Cup—first held in 1930—men’s football quickly became linked with masculinist nationalism, especially in Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay, countries that have won the competition a combined nine times. While the region showcases a long history of women’s football as well, government legislation and warnings from health “experts” have historically helped to sideline these participants. The construction of modern stadiums like the Maracanã and the Estadio Azteca have helped stimulate feelings of national and regional identity. However, men’s football and its venues have served as tools for several dictatorships, among these, Augusto Pinochet’s, Emílio Garrastazu Médici’s, and Jorge Rafael Videla’s neo-fascist regimes (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article in Latin American Studies Military Government in Latin America, 1959–1990). International rivalries have even resulted in conflicts such as the so-called Football War (1969) between El Salvador and Honduras, and heated domestic matches in some countries continue to fuel stadium violence. Regardless, regional talent and style have enriched the European-born sport. The approach of mid-century greats like Di Stéfano, Pelé, and Garrincha renewed interest in football, and the dazzling play of stars such as Maradona, Ronaldinho, Messi, Neymar, and Marta have allowed the Latin American game to become the world’s most popular form. Additionally, a recent surge in participation among girls and women, particularly after the first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1991, has served to challenge previous sexist attitudes throughout the region. This has resulted in a substantial amount of scholarship dedicated to the sport, studies that examine questions of nationalism, violence, race, gender, identity, and politics. While several players and coaches have produced their own primary accounts, prominent fiction writers have also used their texts to explore the sport’s social and cultural impact within the region. Furthermore, the chronicle (see the separate Oxford Bibliographies article in Latin American Studies The Chronicle), particularly in Mexico and Brazil, has served as an important literary medium to provide meaning to the sport.
A historical and chronological overview of men’s football in Latin America can be found in Alabarces 2018, Brown 2014, Goldblatt 2006, and Campomar 2014. Elsey and Nadel 2019 offer a history of the women’s game. Nadel 2014 provides the historical origins of the game by country while Sebreli 2005 and Fiengo 2006 break their Spanish-language texts up by different social issues. While Galeano 2014 and Mouat 2012 offer poetic and humorous essays and vignettes of football and its players, DaMatta 2006 and Villoro 2016 compile chronicles of past competitions, among other essays. Wood 2017 provides an important critical analysis of football literature in the region.
Alabarces, Pablo. Historia mínima del fútbol en América Latina. Madrid: Turner Publicaciones, 2018.
A comprehensive yet “minimal” Spanish-language history of football in Latin America, including regional chapters on the sport in Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean and Mexico. Covers the varying foundations and traditions of football throughout the region, along with its relation to race, religion, politics, drug trafficking, media, and spectacle, among other topics. Offers scholars one of the most complete bibliographies on football. Available online by subscription.
Brown, Matthew. From Frontiers to Football: An Alternative History of Latin America since 1800. London: Reaktion Books, 2014.
A comprehensive general history of Latin America, with special attention given to popular culture and football. Accompanied by detailed statistics and photography, this includes information on the founding of the sport within various regional contexts—specifically its introduction via British economic and cultural hegemony—use to imagine social and national identity, the transnational flow of Latin American talent, and the game’s current commodification. Table of contents available online.
Campomar, Andreas. Golazo! The Beautiful Game from the Aztecs to the World Cup. New York: Riverhead Books, 2014.
A comprehensive chronological history of football from its origins in England, its parallels with the Mesoamerican ballgame, information on regional club teams, and commentary on recent social issues such as fan violence.
DaMatta, Roberto. A bola corre mais que os homens. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Rocco, 2006.
A Portuguese-language collection of the author’s chronicles on the 1994 and 1998 World Cups and other topics such as fandom. Also includes essays on the social significance of the game, international competitions, and coaches.
Elsey, Brenda, and Joshua Nadel. Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2019.
A historical overview of women’s sports in Latin America, including content on soccer in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, and Central America. While the text examines the historical sidelining of women’s footballers throughout the region, mainly due to its dominant association with masculinist nationalism and warnings from medical “experts,” it importantly highlights women playing as early as the 1920s, their participation in fan groups, and the 1971 World Cup in Mexico. Table of contents available online.
Fiengo, Sergio Villena. Golbalización: Siete ensayos heréticos sobre fútbol, identidad y cultura. San José, Costa Rica: Grupo Editorial Norma, 2006.
Seven Spanish-language essays on football that analyze social topics such as nationalism, masculinity, television, media, and, most notably, the author’s conclusions on the current globalized state of the game.
Galeano, Eduardo. Soccer in Sun and Shadow. Rev. ed. Translated by Mark Fried. New York: Open Road Integrated Media, 2014.
One of the founding literary texts on football—originally published in 1995—this English translation includes poetic essays on the game’s participants and other elements, as well as nostalgic vignettes of past World Cups and the region’s most notable players, such as Garrincha, Pelé, and Maradona. As the title suggests, the text shows the light and dark side of the sport, including football’s lost innocence amid recent commercialization.
Goldblatt, David. The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Football. New York: Riverhead Books, 2006.
At almost a thousand pages, and not limited to Latin America, the text represents one of the most comprehensive histories of football. Broken up into five parts, the author traces the game’s British origins; its national popularity in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Brazil; as well as commentary on futebol arte; links to the region’s military dictatorships; and television’s impact on the sport.
Mouat, Francisco. Nuevas cosas del fútbol. Santiago, Chile: Lolita Editores, 2012.
Drawings by Chilean cartoonist Guillo accompany this hybrid text’s humorously philosophical exploration of football’s numerous post-goal celebrations, own goals, and regional personalities, as well as definitions of other “things” associated with the Latin American game.
Nadel, Joshua H. Fútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2014.
Divided by country, this historical overview identifies the national narratives of football—accompanied by key player bios and photography—in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Honduras, Mexico, and Paraguay. Additionally, the study considers the game’s early- to mid-20th-century professionalization and the overall omission of women from these national narratives. Table of contents and excerpt available online.
Sebreli, Juan José. La era del fútbol. 4th ed. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Debolsillo, 2005.
Building on the original release of Fútbol y masas in 1981, this Spanish-language text provides a detailed historical analysis of football and its relation to money, religion, sex, violence, hooliganism, media, and politics. Also offers an examination of the Argentine dictatorship’s coordination of the 1978 World Cup and the mythical status of Diego Maradona. Includes an extensive bibliography of football-related sociological, historical, and cultural texts.
Villoro, Juan. God Is Round. Translated by Thomas Bunstead. New York: Restless Books, 2016.
The English translation compiles essays and chronicles from the author’s Dios es redondo and Balón dividido, texts originally published in 2006 and 2014, respectively. Features intellectually sound writings that comment on fandom—particularly that associated with Mexican football—the sport’s political ties, and Argentine greats Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi.
Wood, David. Football and Literature in South America. London: Routledge, 2017.
A critical literary analysis of major fictional texts from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Uruguay. Themes include foundational football narratives, nationalism, aesthetics, dictatorships, politics, gender, and women writers. Available online by subscription.
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