Latin American Studies Football (Soccer) in Latin America
Patrick Ridge
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 December 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 June 2018
  • 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 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. The construction of modern stadiums like the Maracanã and the Estadio Azteca have helped stimulate these 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. 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.

General Overviews

A historical and chronological overview of football in Latin America can be found in Goldblatt 2006 and Campomar 2014. 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.

  • 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.

  • 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. 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. New York: 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.

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