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Across Latin American history, soccer rivalries — spanning national borders and neighborhood boundaries — have had an outsize influence on politics and identity. As Brazil prepares to host the 20th FIFA World Cup, we explore how the “beautiful game” arrived in South and Central America.
- Joshua Nadel Assistant Professor of History, North Carolina Central University; author, "Fútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America" (University Press of Florida)
The Politics of Futbol:
Why do soccer fans in Latin America take the sport so seriously?
Brazilian scholars have described soccer as their country’s “secular religion.” The dominant countries of South American soccer all have national styles of play: Argentina has “la nuestra,” Brazil has “futebol arte,”and Uruguay has the “garra charrua”—tactics and movements that are said to reflect the countries’ unique histories of trade and immigration. El Salvador and Honduras once went to war after a highly-contested World Cup qualifier, a conflict known as the “Football War”.
In his new book, author Joshua Nadel says the key to understanding the passion of Latin American soccer is history:
“It arrived … in late 1800s, just as the countries of the region were beginning to consolidate themselves as modern nations. Massive immigration from Europe altered the demography and with it some of the “traditional” social norms. Immigrants helped to grow the popularity of soccer, just as the sport aided in integrating new populations into the nation. New constitutions offered new rights. Men and women, people from all social classes, agitated for more inclusive notions of citizenship, in so doing changing Latin American self-perception. Many of these changes were intended to make Latin America look more like Europe, both socially and culturally. At the time, national leaders in the region tried to superimpose a modern European mentality in their nations. These ideas were supposed to life the countries of the region … and they revealed something of an inferiority complex in the region …
Soccer and county became fused in the minds of many so that sport came to embody the nation. As a result, modern Latin American nations and soccer grew and evolved together. Soccer clubs and stadiums acted as spaces where Latin American societies could grapple with the complexities of nationhood, citizenship, politics, gender and race.
Many of these national myths and narratives will be on display when play begins in the 20th FIFA World Cup next month, especially for the “big three” of Latin American soccer: host Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.
Race and “Futebol Arte”
The Brazilian team will be under intense pressure, not just to win the competition, but to do so in a style that reflects the ethos of “Futebol Arte.” Nadel says the idea of a Brazilian soccer style can be traced to the 1930s, a period of time also ripe with debate about racial integration and the country’s African roots. After a strong showing in the 1938 World Cup:
“Brazilian and foreign commentators noted that Brazil not only played well but also played a unique brand of soccer never before seen on the field of Europe. It was, they said, a distinctly Brazilian style based largely on the play of Brazilians of African descent. According to one of Brazil’s most important intellectuals of the twentieth century, Gilberto Freyre, the team played a mulatto football. “Brazilians,” Freyre suggested, played soccer, “as if it were a dance.”
During this period, words like “cunning, art, musicality, ginga (swing), and spontaneity” became attached to the Brazilian game.
While these racial stereotypes served to project a mostly positive vision of multiculturalism, they cut both ways. Indeed, Afro-Brazilian players were scapegoated for failures by the national team, which were attributed to their lack of organization and focus.
The Maracanazo: Soccer, Superstitions And “The Ghost of 50”
The most infamous game in Brazilian soccer history—known as “The Marcanazo”—took place on July 15, 1950. Brazil lost the World Cup final to Uruguay at home . The loss, paired with a similarly disappointing showing in 1954’s World Cup, prompted rounds of national soul-searching.
It was not until 1958, when a young Afro-Brazilian star named Pele led Brazil to a world championship and global fame, that the ghosts of 1950 were “laid to rest” in Brazil. But the Maracanzo remains a potent symbol for Brazilian and Uruguayan soccer fans alike.
In 2014, soccer will once again return to the Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro, the grounds of the 1950 loss. In advance of the tournament, Uruguay sponsor Puma poked fun at the superstition in this new commercial , “El Fantasma del 50 Ya Esta En Brasil.”
Read A Featured Excerpt
Excerpted from Fútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America. Copyright © 2014 by Joshua Nadel and reprinted with permission of University Press of Florida. All Rights Reserved.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Modern soccer was probably born in England in the 19840s, but when it made its way to Latin America half a century later, it quickly became much more than a sport. As immigration, railroads and industrial farming transformed economies, soccer helped to forge national political identities.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn Uruguay and Argentina where millions of immigrants arrived from Southern Europe in the late 1800s, the sport became a powerful tool of assimilation and of national pride. In Brazil, 20th century debates about race and the country's deep African roots played out in arguments about futeball arte, a style of play identified with a line of Afro-Brazilian soccer legends.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIA soccer game even once sparked a real border war in Central America in 1969. In two weeks, the 20th FIFA World Cup will begin in Brazil and all nine Latin American teams will carry the weight of those histories into their games. Joining us in studio is Joshua Nadel. He's a professor Latin American and Caribbean history at North Carolina Central University and he is the author of the book, "Futeball! Why Soccer Matters in Latin America."
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoshua Nadel, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. JOSHUA NADELThank you for having me.
NNAMDIIt all begins in exactly two weeks in Sao Paulo, Brazil, when Brazil will take on Croatia and over the next month, we're sure to hear a lot of cliches about national pride being on the line for every team and the crushing expectations being heaped on countries like Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay. Sometimes those descriptions go a little over the top, but you say that soccer really does have a profound and deeply political hold on Latin American countries. Why is that?
NADELWell, I think in large measure, it's because of when the sport arrives and how it gets tied sort of intimately and quickly to national identities. It arrives sort of right at the moment when the idea of the modern nation is crystallizing in the region and it just grabs on in a lot of ways, right? So as you said in the introduction, sort of it ties into bringing -- assimilating immigrants and it ties into sort of integrating the Afro-Brazilian population into the polity in ways that they weren't before.
NNAMDIEvery sport has a founding myth, if you will. In the case of soccer, most people agree that the game, as we know it, started in the 1840s in upper class boarding schools in England. Tell us about how the sport started and how it ended up in Latin America.
NADELSure. The start of the sport, there are sort of different rules of different sports being developed at the same time. In England in the mid 19th century, there was sort of a movement called muscular Christianity which was that, you know, you had to be strong body, strong mind, essentially, would be the modern way to say that.
NADELAnd so sports became more integrated into schools and there were two different ways of playing what was then sort of called football and one...
NNAMDIAnd still is in that part of the world.
NADELThere still is, exactly. And in fact, so there was schools that followed the rugby rules and then there were schools that used their feet and didn't want to carry the ball and in 1863, actually, the rules were officially designated, that created association football, which is the -- what we in the United States call soccer and what of the rest of the world calls football.
NADELShortly thereafter, really within that decade, the sport arrives in Latin America in the bags of British financiers or British engineers, also Anglo-Argentine youth who were coming back home from boarding schools in England. And it catches on really with the elite of Latin America and these expatriate British who are there and developing the economies of Latin America at the time.
NNAMDIIn Brazil, specifically, most agree that it was an Anglo-Brazilian named Charles Miller who brought it over after spending 10 years in Britain?
NADELSure. Charles Miller's family, his father was Scottish. His mother was third or fourth generation Anglo-Brazilian. It's likely that his first language was actually Portuguese. He stays in Brazil for the rest of his life, but he is the one who brings with him the rule book and a couple balls and starts to get his friends playing it at an elite athletic club in Sao Paulo.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, we're talking with Joshua Nadel. He's a professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at North Carolina Central University. The book we're discussing, of his, is called "Futeball! Why Soccer Matters in Latin America." You can call us, 800-433-8850. Do you come from Latin America? What values do you project onto your favorite soccer team? What team will you be rooting for in the World Cup?
NNAMDIDo you think soccer or a sport, more broadly, provides a useful lens for understanding national identity? Give us a call, 800-433-8850, or send email to email@example.com. Joshua, Latin America was undergoing massive economic and cultural upheavals in the late 1800s. European powers were investing billions of dollars into railroads and mining and industrial agriculture. Millions of immigrants from Italy and Spain were migrating to places like Uruguay, Argentina.
NNAMDIWhy did soccer become so important?
NADELWell, I think there are a couple things that are sort of wrapped up in that. So the first is that in the late 19th century, the Latin American -- many countries of Latin America really experienced what you could call sort of an extreme Europhilia. They aspired to become European in many ways so you actually had -- this was, in part, due to ideological reasons.
NADELThere were sort of a eugenics attitude of the day, a racial attitude of the day that in order to become civilized, you had to look like Europe and so there was actually a major push on the part of Brazil and Argentina to bring immigrants to Latin America. There was also, at the same time, sort of this desire to take on the trappings of Europe and since soccer was what Europeans brought with them to Latin America, they really -- Latin Americans, themselves, really began to take to the game, particularly as it went into the elite clubs.
NADELThe sons and daughters of Latin American elites would play with their expatriate friends and it sort of quickly, actually, becomes a more popularized sport because people watch, right? The poor youth would watch people over the fence of the athletic club and say, we could probably do that, too. And so the sport actually spreads very quickly. It diffuses downwards very quickly.
NNAMDIAs a result of which, eventually, soccer clubs, stadiums would -- at the spaces where Latin American society, as you say, could grapple with the complexities of nationhood, citizenship, politics, gender and race.
NADELSure. I mean, in the case of Brazil, for example, when you talk about futeball arte, the very definition of that style comes from the Brazilian anthropologist, Gilberto Freyre, who's very famous in his time in the 1930s, he's sort of the person who came up with the idea of Brazil as a racial democracy. And what he saw was that the way that Afro-Brazilians played soccer was sort of very different from the way that Anglo or that European descendent Brazilians played and that the sport that Afro-Brazilians played was much more energetic, spontaneous, vital than that of the Europeans.
NNAMDII want to talk about that for a second because Brazilians have, like everyone else, a myth or an idea of a national style of soccer, which goes by a number of different names. You mentioned one of them, futeball arte or joga...
NADELThere's joga bonito.
NNAMDIJoga bonito, which translate roughly to the beautiful game. That's a style of play that entered the global consciousness with the play of Pele in the 1958 World Cup. Certainly, that's what entered mine. The origin of this idea actually stretches back to a deeper philosophical and political debate about the country's African heritage. Can you explain?
NADELYeah, sure. So basically, you know, while there was this Europhilia in the late 19th century, by the early 20th century, there starts to -- you start so develop sort of nationalistic trends in Latin America. In the case of Brazil, you get what's called negrismo in some ways. You get sort of a movement towards beginning to highlight the African descended nature of the population. So, for instance, in the 1930s, you have sort of a support for the Brazilian, Afro-Brazilian marshal art, capoeira, which previously had been considered a sort of a criminal behavior, basically.
NADELYou have the, again, a highlighting of the samba, which had been previously seen as the dance of sort of the poor and Afro-Brazilian. And soccer also gets this sort of support from the government, in part because Brazil actually starts to do very well on an international stage due to players of African descent. Domingos da Guia and Leonidas da Silva in the 1938 World Cup really sort of create this awareness of Afro-Brazilian soccer and a consciousness, at least, or a rhetoric, anyway, a discourse that this is a very different type of soccer.
NNAMDIThese people preceded Pele and a lot of the really important figures in Afro-Brazilian soccer did precede Pele and we can see parallels in their story to the story of, like, a Jackie Robinson in baseball, can't we?
NADELSure. I think so. I think, you know, there is -- they are the groundbreakers. The true groundbreakers really were the Team Vasco de Gama in 1921, which was a mixed race team that won the Sao Paulo championship and then was -- the league changed its rules to make sure that the team couldn't play again the next year. So there is -- I would say those were the true Jackie Robinsons. But certainly...
NNAMDIIt was like after Lou Alcindor played college basketball and when Lou Alcindor got ready to go to college, they banned dunking in college.
NNAMDIIn basketball and he, of course, is now known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar.
NADELExactly. No, you change the rules in order to make sure that, you know, that you can remain dominant.
NNAMDIA lot of the conversation about the African influence on Brazilian soccer did trade on racial stereotypes about the supposed creativity and emotional play of black players and the intelligence an rationality of white players. It turns out that this mythology has historically cut both ways for black Brazilians. Apparently, they were scape-goated for losses in the 1950s and blamed for their lack of intelligence and mental heiress. Talk about that.
NADELYeah, sure. So the 1950 team, the last time the World Cup was actually hosted by Brazil was 1950 and that team, the goal tender, was a guy named Moacir Barbosa and he was a tremendous goalie. You know, he had been on the national team for a number of years, but in sort of this fateful match, the final match of the World Cup in 1950 when Brazil only needed to tie in order to win the World Cup because of a -- it's a strange organizational setup that year.
NADELBut in that match, Uruguay scored twice in the second half and the entire blame for that loss fell on Moacir Barbarsa and on a right back for the Brazilian team as well who also happened to be of African descent. And those players never played for the national team again. Moacir Barbosa was basically ostracized. He wasn't even really allowed near the national team setup ever again. He wasn’t allowed in the stadium when they were practicing for years until the 1970s.
NADELBut what happened was that after '38, there's this sort of ongoing discussion about whether Brazil is stronger as a mulatto nation, as a mixed race nation or whether it's stronger as a, you know, "white nation." And those debates played out in soccer so there were people on the side of the argument that said, well, if we play soccer better as, you know, if our soccer is better when we have mixed race teams, then that shows our advancement.
NADELAnd every loss for the mixed race teams then meant that, you know, the mixed race Brazil was a problem for Brazil's future and that went on until 1958 when Brazil finally won the World Cup. And at that point, you know, Brazilians, all Brazilians said, okay, this is our style. This is our nation. We are sort of this mixed race.
NNAMDIIndeed, you've got a nation of about what, 180 million people?
NNAMDIAnd of which may be almost 100 million identify as...
NNAMDI...being of African origin?
NADELSure. As of 2010 more than 50 percent of the population identifies with being of African origin. It's the second largest African descendent population in the world.
NNAMDINext to Nigeria.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Have you traveled to Latin America? What have you noticed about the culture that surrounds soccer or football? I'll tell you what Larissa in Washington, D.C. noticed. No, I'll let Larissa say that herself. Larissa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LARISSAHi, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. I have a question. The whole world call this game football except for the Americans who call it soccer. Why? The players run and kick the ball with their feet. And the British call it football also.
NNAMDIWell, Joshua can explain that.
NADELSure, thanks for the question. It's actually, I think, one that is on lots of peoples' minds. So actually the term soccer is originally a Briticism. It was originally -- it's a way to shorten association football into soccer. So if you played association football you are a soccer. And it actually is -- so it's only in the United States and also in Australia where soccer is still used. But it isn't -- it's not just an Americanism, let's put it that way. Originally it was something that came from England.
NNAMDIThe Australian team is called the Socceroos.
NNAMDIIt's only these two countries in which it's used. But that's the reason, Larissa. Thank you so much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation about soccer history and politics in Latin America with Joshua Nadel, inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. What team will you be rooting for in the World Cup? Do you think soccer or sport more broadly provides a useful lens for understanding national identity? And if so, why, 800-433-8850? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Joshua Nadel. He's a professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at North Carolina Central University and author of the book "Futbol! Why Soccer Matters in Latin America."
NNAMDIWithin South American soccer there are really three global powerhouses, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. In this book you talk about the national myths that arise about specific national styles of play. In the 1930s, authors began writing about a distinctive Brazilian style. And this, in turn, allowed for the construction of narrative of the nation that relied heavy on its African roots. But let's go to soccer traditions in Argentina.
NNAMDIThe United States likes to think of itself as a nation of immigrants but countries like Argentina also underwent a profound transition in the early 20th century. And soccer ended up becoming a sort of binding agent. Why and how did that work in Argentina and why is it important?
NADELSure. I mean, I think in much the same way that it worked that baseball actually was used in the United States to sort of knit the country back together after the civil war, I think a similar thing happens in Argentina. Argentina brings in about 4 million immigrants, primarily Italian and Spanish, in the late 1800s and early 1900s from about 1870 to 1914 or thereabouts. And A large number of that population stays in Buenos Aires. Actually Buenos Aires grows from a city of about 100,000 people in 1850 to over a million in 1910. So it's an explosive growth.
NADELAnd a big part of sort of the integration of these immigrants fell on the shoulders of politicians obviously, but also on the shoulders of the press and the media. And sport became one of the key ways that this was done. Soccer teams proliferated. There were over 500 soccer teams -- you know, neighborhood soccer teams in Buenos Aires around 1900, 1910. And these clubs had immigrant -- they would be -- so there'd be an Italian club in an Italian neighborhood. There would be a Spanish club in a Spanish neighborhood.
NADELThere were clubs also based on jobs. So there were -- you know, meatpackers would have a club and textile factory workers would have a club. So you had sort of these little micro world clubs. I mean, I think in a lot of ways that we still have that in, you know, softball leagues here in D.C. or something. But what really was crucial was how to bring in these people, these new immigrants, how to make them Argentine. And...
NNAMDISo anarchist clubs.
NADELThere were anarchist -- exactly. I left out the political side, but yes, there were...
NNAMDIIdeological clubs. You can't leave those out.
NADELYeah, and in fact, right, the anarchist club in Uruguay actually, I believe the president of Uruguay, not the present one but the one before, was a member of that club. It was originally founded as an anarchist club. But -- sorry...
NNAMDISoccer was the way of bringing...
NADEL...but soccer was the way of bringing everybody together. And this happened -- it -- there's this -- sort of a crucial turning point in 1912, 1913 in Argentina. Prior to that politically, only wealthy landowners were allowed to vote. So Argentina was very much a country controlled by oligarchs, let's say, right, so the people who owned the -- the pampas or who owned wheat production, wheat farms.
NADELAfter 1912, there's a law passed called the (word?) law, which gives suffrage to all males, all adult males regardless of anything. And that is a moment that really changes Argentine history. And at the same time that that happens, and I don't think it's coincidental, you have the development of a style of soccer that begins to appear that's written about in the Argentine press.
NADELCriollo. So this is the Criollo style. There are two sort of characters in the Criollo style. There's the pibe, who is sort of this poor boy who sort of learns to play in the courtyard of his apartment building or he learns to play in the empty lots around the city. And he's sort of, again, not unlike the style that Brazil would sort of later claim. Their game is full of spontaneity and guile and it's one on one play. And it's very uncoached, you know, style of play.
NADELAnd the pibe appears around this time as well in the press. So it's a way of sort of valorizing working class and poor and immigrant youth who otherwise, you know, would never show up. And it's a way of sort of saying, okay, these people are also part of the nation as well.
NADELThe second thing that this -- that happens around this time is that the angle Argentine soccer teams, which had sort of dominated the Argentine league until that point lose for the first time. So they lose in 1913 to an Argentine club, a club that's considered Argentine. And that also sort of sets in motion more directly, right, this -- the idea that the Latin soccer, the Criollo soccer, something about the innate Argentine blood or Latin blood, if you will, from Spain and Italy. It brings creativity and spontaneity and a different style, more beautiful style to watch.
NADELAnd also a style that the British can't beat because they're too rational. They're too -- they're trained well but they don't know what to do in a one-on-one situation.
NNAMDIWhat do you think of the so-called beautiful game, 800-433-8850? Do you think it distinguishes European soccer from other kinds of soccer, or I should say distinguishes Latin American soccer from other kinds of soccer? We go now to Sheruthy in Gaithersburg, Md. Sheruthy, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SHERUTHYHi, Kojo. It's good to be on the show, but my comment has more to do with...
NNAMDISheruthy? We're losing you. Last chance. Sheruthy, I'm going to put you back on hold because you seem to have dropped off. And -- Sheruthy, are you there?
SHERUTHYYes, I'm here.
NNAMDIGo right ahead, please.
SHERUTHYHi. So I'm a graduate student at American University and (unintelligible) studied the natural cultural management of different countries. And we were -- my paper was on Brazil and Brazilian culture and identity. And (unintelligible) but basically the most unique thing about residents that they don't even identify themselves as a certain race anymore. More than 50 people -- 50 percent of the population identified themselves as Brazilian. And I thought that was really an awesome concept.
SHERUTHYYou know, it's so diverse that they don't -- it's not like a race anymore. They -- it's like as good as they're creating their own race and identity. And that really struck me as very interesting. And the -- sorry, go ahead.
NNAMDINo, you go ahead.
SHERUTHYThe other thing that I wanted to say was that I just discovered that football is -- it's like almost a religion. Everybody is into it. And the last thing I really studied was (unintelligible) campaign. I don't know if you've had the chance to look at the YouTube video. It's the most amazing marketing campaign I've ever seen present a country, football, their culture and tourism, all combined into one big video.
NNAMDIOkay. Thank you very much for your call. She talks about how -- and I guess you could find this out in the book -- soccer or football was a part of making Brazilians see themselves as Brazilians. And of course the issue of race is very complicated in Brazil. I know Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post who used to be based there, has written a book called I think "From Coal to Cream" or "Cream to Coal" on the racial complications. But soccer -- football is what brings the nation together.
NADELIt is. Although I say that with a little bit of hesitation just from reading the newspaper today. The Brazilian team actually was on its way to its training ground. And there were protestors that met the bus of the soccer team. And that to me is -- it suggests that maybe all is not as rosy as it would seem in Brazilian football right now. But it also -- there was a time that, in fact, Brazil soccer did not bring Brazil together. In the 1934 World Cup, I believe, there was a sort of famous story. Only players from Sao Paulo were sent to the World Cup.
NADELAnd so, yes, only players from Sao Paulo were sent to the World Cup. And so there's a -- no, I'm sorry, only players from Rio were sent to the World Cup. And there was a journalist walking down the street in Sao Paulo and he heard the crowds cheer. And he said -- assumed that Brazil had won the game and he asked someone. And in fact, Brazil had just lost. But because there was this sort of major regional rivalry between Sao Paulo and Rio, the fans in Sao Paulo were ecstatic that the Rio team had lost.
NADELBut, yes, I mean, I think generally speaking, you know, it's not just in Brazil. It's everywhere really in Latin America. And I think it would be safe to say in most places in the world, you know, world cup representation really is a unifying factor for that month or so that the soccer team is representing the country. You know, Honduras called a national holiday when the team qualified for the World Cup.
NNAMDII remember that.
NADELI'm sure that, you know, this summer Ghana will be -- for whatever political strife happens in Ghana, there will be sort of at least unity around the soccer team. And it's one of the powers of sport in general I think to...
NNAMDIHonduras will be playing tomorrow at RFK in a warm-up match. We may get to that later in the conversation. But in the meantime, let's go to Jose in Leonardtown, Md. Jose, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOSEHello, Kojo. Hello, professor. Very interesting. I'm a Uruguay and let you know Uruguay in the beginning of the last century that they -- the teams before the World Cup there was Olympics championships and Uruguay won in '24 and '28. Then when the World Cup in 1930 and then it goes to the games in '34 and '38 in Europe and then in 1960, the Brazil was the local team, was the first World Cup game in 1964 in the semifinals against Hungary. And so then, what I think I'd like you to touch on is since the professionalism started, I think all you see in small towns just like Uruguay do not have the resources that other countries have. And we haven't seen that type of victories after that.
JOSEAnd I know FIFA has very strict guidelines separating government intrusion on the local associations of the national federations. But I would like you to touch on the influence of television, on sports companies like Adidas and Nike and the influence that they have on the sport in the last half of the last century and nowadays.
NNAMDIOkay, Jose. We'll talk about that and then we'll talk about Uruguay because Jose, I suspect, is in many ways typical of the natives of Uruguay in terms of his understanding of the history of Uruguay and soccer, even before he was alive.
NADELYes. No, that is a great history lesson on Uruguayan soccer. Thank you very much for that. In terms of sort of the role of international, you know, multinational companies in soccer, I think that really starting I believe it was 1970 that Adidas and FIFA sort of hooked up, let's say, that they got together to -- that Adidas became the official ball of the World Cup. And that really did, in many ways, set the ball rolling -- sorry for the pun -- about -- you know, with multinationals and soccer.
NADELAnd now I think the influence is probably -- Adidas maybe not so much but I think, you know, the reality is now that at the World Cup, you know, you will be able to buy Pepsi products. You will be able to buy Budweiser products. And not just at the World Cup but in a mile perimeter around the World Cup venues, there's sort of a FIFA perimeter where only their sponsored goods and foods are supposed to be sold.
NADELAnd so I think that you sort of have -- I don't want to say that it's a pernicious influence on the sport, but it certainly does take away certain elements of -- you know, of the enjoyment of local culture when you're at the World Cup. Because what you do is you go to the World Cup and you enjoy the same thing that, you know, you would've enjoyed in 2006 in Germany, you know, the same drinks, Budweiser and, in this case, Brahma, which is a Brazilian beer.
NNAMDIYou have to go out and explore the local country yourself.
NADELExactly. So that to me is really the thing. I think the other thing that multinational corporations have done is really to bring the soccer world together. You mentioned that -- Jose, you mentioned that, you know, Uruguay is small and its professional leagues can't keep up. What you see is a lot of players -- obviously Uruguayan players basically, play in order to get overseas. And that -- and to get contracts overseas and then to get sponsorships from Adidas or Nike or Puma. And I think that's another impact of the companies, right, it's another goal to get overseas to get a contract.
NNAMDIBut Jose allows us to talk a little more about national rivalries. The biggest trauma for the Brazilian soccer team occurred the last time the team hosted the World Cup, Jose mentioned, in 1950. They lost the final to Uruguay in front of nearly 200,000 people. That loss literally transcended shock. It shook national confidence but it also gave ammunition to Uruguay and fans who bring it up whenever they're in the presence of Brazilians.
NNAMDIYou can go to our website kojoshow.org and you will see a video there of a Uruguayan commercial that aired last year which featured a man dressed as a ghost with the number 50 written on -- representing of course 1950 -- walking through Rio and haunting bystanders. Talk about that rivalry.
NADELYeah, I love that ad. It's really fun.
NNAMDIIt is funny.
NADELIt is. And actually one of my very good friends in North Carolina is Brazilian. And I have a shirt that says The Maracanazo on it. And he does not like...
NNAMDIPeople recoil in horror every time they see that color.
NADELHe does not like it when I wear that shirt. Sure. So the rivalry between Uruguay and Brazil, you know, it really -- it was -- I mean, it's much deeper than 1950, for Uruguayans particularly because there is this deeper history of sort of going back to the 1800s where Brazil and Argentina really tried to, you know, control Uruguay for a very long time, much of the 19th century.
NADELSo the idea for Uruguayans that this really small country -- I can't recall the population in 1950, but I don't think it was more than 3 million -- could sort of overpower this much larger and more powerful nation, you know, that had been meddling in their affairs for a very long time had this, you know, amazing sort of sense of pride for Uruguay. In fact, you know, this is what soccer did starting in the 1920s, as Jose pointed out, in '24. In '28 there's an Uruguayan journalist who says, you know, we were nothing and now because of this team we're a spot on the map. And because of this team we're growing, growing, growing. And it should also be said that in 1924 in the opening ceremony, the Uruguayan flag was hung upside down in France.
NNAMDIThe Uruguayan team has long been celebrated for its garra charrua, it's fighting spirit. No current player better exemplifies that than Luis Suarez. Suarez plays for Liverpool in the English Premier League and he's long been a lightning rod for criticism because of his intense, some say, dirty play. But many Paraguayan -- many Uruguayan fans say that Suarez is misunderstood and unfairly criticized because he brings the level of intensity that he does.
NADELSure. I mean, I think this is -- you know, the garra charrua sort of relates back to the indigenous groups -- the indigenous group in Uruguay when the Spanish arrived and fought an ultimately, you know, futile attempt to keep the Spanish from colonizing. And Suarez has been vilified for a number of reasons. He was suspended when he played in Holland for biting a player. He bit a player in the Premier League. He also has been -- was charged with racism against the French international Patrice Evra and was suspended for eight games from Liverpool.
NADELSo he's -- and I should mention he also had -- is famous for a handball on the line that kept Ghana from...
NADELRight. They kept Ghana from reaching the number 16.
NNAMDIJose, do you think Suarez is misunderstood?
JOSEPardon me. No. All charges, the competitive intensity of the biting, the kicks, that I understand because some players play against adversity in that way and they get carried out. And the racism charge is a little different I think. That is something that is not so easy to overlook. And I think he has taken some advice and some education and help from his team. I think he, the last few months, at least he has behaved differently. I think he has realized that what might have not to him meant something offensive. It was offensive and so that should not be taken so lightly.
JOSEBut things that happen in the field, you know, the physical action that -- pretending that you are fouled, you know, or -- and that is so a part of the game.
JOSEThe other side is -- it's a little different. I think he made efforts to improve and I think he has improved. And I have hopes that he will succeed in that.
NNAMDICertainly had a sensational year in the English Premier League this year.
NADELThat he did. And I should say that Suarez is actually -- you know, he's married to his high school sweetheart. They have two kids. I mean, he's not gone the route of many sort of -- of many soccer stars of, you know, going from, you know, sort of marrying a super model. He's really sort of stayed close to home. And his wife keeps him quite grounded. And he's very proud of that relationship.
NNAMDIGo to take a short break. If you have called, stay on the line. Jose, thank you very much for your call. But you too can call us at 800-433-8850. We're talking with Joshua Nadel. He's a professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at North Carolina Central University. We're talking about his book "Futbol! Why Soccer Matters in Latin America." You can also send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Have you traveled to Latin or South America? What have you noticed about the culture that surrounds soccer or football? Tell us about the football culture in your own country, 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Joshua Nadel. He's a professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at North Carolina Central University. He's the author of the book "Futbol! Why Soccer Matters in Latin America." Joshua, D.C. will be hosting a warm-up match for one Latin American team on its way to Brazil tomorrow. I mentioned the Honduran National team who will play Turkey in one of its final tune-ups.
NNAMDIIn your book you argue that Honduras is really an interesting example of how a soccer team can subvert national myths just as much as it can create them. In Honduras' case the national image is one of the Mestizo nation part indigenous, part European, soccer team, overwhelmingly black. Can you explain?
NADELSure. I mean, I think this is -- historically it speaks to an effort in the early 20th century on the part of Honduran elites to excise the black community really, to sort of write out blackness from Honduran history. And they did this in a pretty sophisticated way, let's say. So, you know, at one point in time -- to go back actually, the African presence in Honduras dates to really the 1500s. There were African slaves in Honduras in the silver mines. There were also active runaway slaves the mosquito community on the northeastern coast of Honduras -- on the northern coast of Honduras and into Nicaragua.
NADELAnd that's really a mixed-race community between runaway slaves and indigenous populations. There was a later population that's called the Garifuna that come in the 1790s as a result of wars between slaves -- runaway slaves and the British and French in the Caribbean. So there's sort of this longstanding population there. The Honduran sort of racial narrative suggests that really Afro Hondurans appear in the late 1800s as a result of the development of banana plantations on the northern coast.
NADELSo what the Hondurans sort of elites do in the 1920s is to create this narrative. And they say, well, you know, there's a very small population of Afro Hondurans. They are primarily Anglophone so they come from the English Caribbean and they came to work on banana plantations. And so they're not -- it was a way to sort of limit their influence in the population.
NADELAnd then another way that this was done was in the creation of sort of the myth of the Mestizo, that is to create Honduras as a mixed race indigenous and European nation. And the way that they did that is they sort of took categories out of the census that allowed for African heritage. So there was a mixed race -- the mixed race term mulatto was originally on the census, right. So a mixed of African and European, as was sort of a more generic term called Ladino, which sort of said, you know, you could be mixed African and indigenous, African and European.
NADELAnd that was what the majority of the Honduran population identified itself as in the early 1900s. And then that term was taken off of the census altogether. In fact, sort of like your earlier -- the earlier caller said there's 50 percent of Brazilians say they're not -- there's no race at all. The race was completely taken off of the Honduran census. And instead, you know, you are -- you're Honduran basically. Everybody was Honduran.
NADELBut a few decades later they add back in the idea of mixed race. And that mixed race is in fact is Mestizo and not Ladino. So that's one way. And the other way was to create the myth of this sort of indigenous past, this indigenous hero named Lempira who was in fact an indigenous leader at the time of the Spanish arrival and fought against the Spanish. And he's now on the Honduran currency. The Honduran currency is in fact called the Lempira and they had a contest in the 1920s to come up with an image of him, because no image existed. So you have this sort of imagined, if you will, indigenous figure on the Honduran currency and as sort of part of Honduras' Mestizo past.
NNAMDIAnd I suspect that a lot of people who watch the World Cup will come to an entirely different conclusion about what Honduras really looks like when they look at that team.
NADELSure. And that I think speaks to sort of economic and social realities, right. The Afro Honduran population generally has less access to education. It has less access to jobs. And so in the same way that, you know, one could look at the U.S. basketball team and make assertions based on the racial makeup of the basketball team, in Honduras you could do the same thing. It's one of -- soccer's one of the few avenues out of poverty for many Afro Hondurans.
NNAMDIOne of Honduras' biggest stars is actually from Northern Virginia, Andy Najar, born in Honduras, smuggled into this country at age 13, came up through D.C. United's Youth Academy, made his mark for D.C. United in major league soccer. Eventually he transferred into a team in Belgium. Now you say he's someone to watch in the World Cup tournament. But Najar was heavily recruited by the American team. How'd he decide to play for Honduras instead of the U.S.?
NADELWell, he says that his heart was sort of always in Honduras because that's where he was born. We don't actually know but both teams definitely made big pushes for him. You know, his -- when he was with D.C. United, you know, one of the people that he was -- that he stayed with was actually one of the coaches of the under-20 team for the United States. So definitely there was no shortage of effort to recruit him to the U.S.
NADELBut I think the U.S. has only recently come around to the idea of sort of really working to get Latino youth into the system at an early age. I think Najar actually is one of the early examples of recognizing talent quickly. He happened to come up around the same time that MLS was developing its academy programs as well. So that got him into the system much more rapidly.
NNAMDIYou know, some soccer fans have been dismissive of major league soccer, our domestic professional league here in the United States. But MLS has actually had an interesting impact on Latin American soccer. MLS teams have been scouring places like Columbia for young talent that might not be quite good enough to be taken on by a European team. Where does MLS fit into this?
NADELSo MLS relationship is getting, I'd say, very interesting. So there are -- you know, most South American players really are trying to get overseas. And even from Argentina to Europe is the goal obviously. But also Mexico has got the wealthiest league in the Americas. And MLS is not that far behind. And so MLS is -- I think all soccer is really changing because of the internationalization of it -- of the sport. But MLS is playing a role in developing young Latin American soccer players who likely won't ever make their national teams because the people who make the national teams go to Europe. But still who are -- you know, would be unable to make as good a living in their home country.
NADELThe other side of MLS that I find fascinating is sort of this -- you know, youth soccer in the United States is sort of generally seen as this -- as a sort of white middle class sport or white upper middle class sport. But there's really -- there's a second -- a different level -- a parallel level of youth soccer in the United States. That is Latino league soccer. And it's only within the last year or two that major league soccer and the U.S. soccer federation have made any sort of efforts to recruit in those leagues, and whereas the Mexican federation and Mexican teams have been recruiting there for quite some time.
NNAMDIHere's Doug in Washington, D.C. Doug, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DOUGThank you for taking my call. It's a very interesting topic. Fascinating to listen to. My question relates to just youth soccer. I'm the executive director of D.C. Stoddert soccer which is the largest youth soccer club in Washington, D.C. itself. And we work with kids, generally 5 all the way up to 18, kids that want to play and just have fun and others that want to take it more seriously and have a more competitive travel experience.
DOUGIn listening to your last comment that the professor made about the diversity that you see now in kids that are being recruited by the U.S. soccer academy clubs like D.C. United Youth Academy and others, many of those kids come from clubs like ours where they have a grassroots soccer experience. They learn basic skills. They develop a passion for the game. But a lot of that is also fostered in their families. And I think our club, which has been around since 1977, has certainly played a part in that.
DOUGBut we also have helped sort of bridge those gaps that exist between families that didn't grow up with soccer, meaning a mom or a dad that didn't play it as a youth player or a high school player. And now being around kids whose parents do have come to this country and brought those traditions with them. And I think you're going to see more of that impact professional soccer, and certainly some day, hopefully our national team on the men's side.
DOUGIt's interesting to listen to the comment the professor made about how U.S. soccer and major league soccer have only just begun to penetrate into the Latin Hispanic communities. And I think you'll see more efforts on that, especially as our national team starts to realize just how difficult it is to play against the likes of Brazil and Uruguay and Argentina. So thank you for taking my call and certainly a great topic today.
NNAMDIHey, he makes a lot of very good points there.
NADELYeah, excellent points. I mean, I think that, you know, it really is -- there are some high ranking members of the U.S. Soccer Federation, former members of the U.S. Soccer Federation who've said that basically U.S. soccer won't really be able to compete on an international level until it sort of recognizes and embraces the Latino youth.
NNAMDIUntil it reflects the different immigrant communities who come here. But we have to talk about women, because ever since this game came to Latin America it's been embraced by men and women. But you say there's a myth that women didn't play or didn't want to play soccer. In fact, organized soccer for women was illegal in Brazil between 1941 and 1975. Since 1999 Women's World Cup, the women's game has been very popular at the international level. But attempts to establish professional leagues have mostly run into economic problems. Where does the women's game fit into this?
NADELWell, so in Latin America the women's game is really fascinating. In fact, there's a historian of Chile who just gave a paper recently. And she's working on women's soccer in Chile now. And it's found that there were women soccer teams in the 1880s in Chile, which is phenomenal since that's exactly when the sport arrived in the country.
NADELBut in Latin America there is this sort of longstanding myth that women didn't want to play, even though there were leagues in Brazil in the 1920s. There were leagues in Costa Rica in the 1940s. There were leagues in Panama and Cuba in the '30s. So you can sort of run up and down Latin America and find active women soccer teams including, you know, the Mexican women's national team finished second at the unofficial World Cup, Women's World Cup in 1971. So there's been international women's soccer for much longer than FIFA would admit.
NADELBut it has continued to run into problem in Latin America, and I think elsewhere, due to sort of social stigmas and stereotypes, right. There's the idea that soccer is masculinizing. There's the idea that soccer -- for a long time there was the idea that soccer was actually a public health threat for women, that it would cause cancer or that it could cause infertility. And so women would be unable to have children. And this, of course, was at the time in the 1940s when soccer was banned in Brazil this was in fact the worst thing that could happen, right. Because then women wouldn't be able to reproduce the nation.
NADELBut then the financial difficulties now, I think there's just -- there's a different way that women sports and men sports are marketed. You know, we can look at the WMBA in the United States which is...
NNAMDIExactly right, some of the problems there.
NADELYeah, I mean -- and the WMBA is relatively successful. But it has -- you know, it doesn't get marketed as the same -- in the same way that the men's sport does.
NNAMDIAlmost out of time. Joshua Nadel is a professor of Latin American and Caribbean history at North Carolina Central University and the author of "Futbol! Why Soccer Matters in Latin America." Joshua, thank you so much for joining us.
NADELThank you very much, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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