On the eve of the World Cup in Brazil comes an investigation of the meaning of fútbol, from Mexico to Cape Horn.
Soccer is the world’s sport, but nowhere does it seem to resonate more than in Latin America. Nadel (History and Global Studies/North Carolina Central Univ.) explores the intersections of sport and politics across that region. He does not quite explain why soccer matters, but he shows how the fact that it matters has had tremendous social consequence for more than a century. The author examines the role of soccer in many of the Latin American countries, from Mexico to Brazil (the unquestioned top dog in the region, if not the world) to Argentina to Uruguay. In addition to the introduction and epilogue, there are three brief “interludes” exploring the role of the media, professionalization and why Venezuelans embrace baseball. In the aptly titled chapter “Left Out,” Nadel investigates the region’s undervaluation of women’s soccer. In terms of soccer’s spread, while there were variations in each country, similar themes emerge. In the late 19th century, the game arrived from England, oftentimes imported by owners of companies or their workers, who wanted a hint of home in a foreign land. Early on, the main participants were (usually European) elites, but invariably, the game trickled down to the masses. Once the game became widespread, however, politicians, including the region’s despots, tried to use the game to control the polity. At the same time, that meant that soccer also became an ideal venue for political opposition. Nadel also explores issues such as race in Honduran soccer (a theme that he easily could have applied to several countries) and Mexico’s peculiar underachievement. The author manages to provide capsule histories of the region and soccer development without disrupting the strains of his argument.
Well-crafted insights about the many ways football reflects and challenges Latin American societies.