Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1997


Bar-On, T. (1997) 'The Ambiguities of Football, Politics, Culture, and Social Transformation in Latin America'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 2, no. 4, <>

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Received: 6/10/97      Accepted: 2/12/97      Published: 22/12/97


In this article, I attempt to highlight the relationships between football (soccer), politics, culture, and social change in Latin American societies. The essential argument of the paper is that football in Latin America has tended to reinforce nationalistic, authoritarian, class-based, and gender-specific notions of identity and culture. The few efforts of Latin American professional football clubs, individual players, and fans to resist these oppressive tendencies and 'positively' influence the wider society with public positions on pressing social and political concerns have been issue-oriented, short-term, and generally unsystematic in their assessment of the larger societal ills. In Europe, however, there has been a stronger politicization of football directed towards social change by both professional football clubs and supporters. This European tendency, like its Latin American counterparts, has also failed to tackle wider systemic and structural issues in capitalist European societies. On both continents, the 'ludic' notion of games has been undermined by the era of football professionalism, its excessive materialism, and a corresponding 'win-at-all-costs' philosophy. In the future, the world's most popular game will continue to be utilized as a political tool of mass manipulation and social control: a kind of mass secular pagan religion. As a footnote not mentioned in the essay, the 1998 World Cup in France, a worldwide event with 32 countries and an estimated 2.5 billion fans watching the matches in the stadiums and on television, will be used by the international French Evangelical Alliance called 'Sport et Foi Mondial 98' ('Sport and Faith World Cup 98') to bring the Gospel to the greatest number of people in the world: Chaplaincy work among the athletes, a Bible-Expo at a strategic location, evangelical street concerts, evangelical messages and banners in the stadiums, etc. In this instance, the new pagan and secular religion of football clashes with the traditional Christian Church - itself crippled by a loss of mass supporters and the rise of alternative secular lords. In both cases, football unwittingly acts as an agent of mass indoctrination rather than challenging established dogmas, or serving as a vehicle for deeper, systemic social change.

Class Warfare; Culture; Europe; Football (Soccer); Latin America; 'Ludic'; Nationalism; Pagan Religion; Politics; Social Transformation; Sport and Games


As Western society nears the end of the twentieth century, the howling horrors of political totalitarianism - namely, Stalinism and Nazism - grow dim, and 'liberal, capitalist horizons fade in the winter of nihilism' (Grant, 1969: p. 40), dictated by the 'pure will to technology';[1] mastery over humanity, nature, and chance; the cult of money; and shallow, instrumental individualism. Meanwhile, the boundaries between international sport, finance, and politics have become suspiciously obscure. French sociologist Jean Baudrillard explains:

Politics is no longer restricted to the political sphere, but infects every sphere - economics, science, art, sport. ... Sport itself meanwhile, is no longer located in sport as such, but instead in business, in sex, in politics, in the general style of performance (Baudrillard, 1993: p. 8).

The most popular sport for both participants and spectators around the world as a result of its magnetic mass appeal to all ages, sexes, cultures, and social strata,[2] contemporary football (soccer) reflects the implicit concerns of Grant and Baudrillard regarding the excessive interpenetration between sport, technology, politics, and economics. So, for example, aware of football's immense global commercial appeal, the United States to some extent abandoned its traditional national antipathy toward the sport by successfully hosting the 1994 World Cup and inaugurating the professional Major League Soccer (MLS) season in 1996.[3] The United States jumped on the world football bandwagon because, to quote American President Calvin Coolidge, speaking in 1924, 'The business of America is business.' (Wagg, 1995: p. 179). More precisely and elegantly, playwright Arthur Miller writes that the business of America is 'show business, symbolic display, the triumph at last of metaphor over reality.' (Miller 1988; cited in Wagg, 1995: p. 179).

At the same time, it should be pointed out that the United States' traditional hostility towards football (soccer) also stems in part from ' the concern of members of the American elite to forge a distinctively American national identity through sport. They sought a game that was distinct from British or European cultural influence, and instead defined and expressed "the American way"' (Waldstein and Wagg, 1995: p. 73). In this context, American football has been seen as a miniature reflection of the emerging aggressive, 'Darwinian' capitalist environment. Baseball and basketball, too, flourished, while football (soccer) maintained a kind of nostalgic and underground following.

Ironically, between the 1920s and 1940s the American East coast maintained a thriving professional league largely revolving around industrial factory and mill towns (Waldstein and Wagg, 1995: pp. 72 - 87). Consequently, the United States participated in the first two World Cups of 1930 and 1934 (semi-finalist). In the 1950 World Cup, the United States recorded a stunning 1-0 victory over England. Between 1968 and 1984, the United States and Canada hosted the popular North American Soccer League (NASL) fuelled by foreign stars like Pélé, Neeskens, Eusebio, and Beckenbauer. After a forty-year hiatus, the United States participated in both the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. This most recent American football (soccer) awakening has included two remarkable triumphs: The 1991 Women's World Cup and the 1996 Olympic Games gold medal, also for the women's team, before a spectacular home crowd of approximately 85,000 people.

In contrast to its North American counterpart, Latin American football, itself not devoid of commercial and political imperatives, has a more solid historical foundation and traditional elite, popular, and even intellectual sectors of support. In terms of the latter, football has been immortalized by Latin American artists, singers, and writers. So, for example, the Uruguayan writer and regional icon of the Left, Eduardo Galeano, author of the critical historical account of colonialism and oppression in the area entitled The Open Veins of Latin America (1981), has also written a classic work on the significance of football for Latin Americans called El Futbol a Sol y Sombra (Football: Between Sun and Shadow) (Galeano, 1995). Former Argentinian international football trainer Angel Cappa, who held the post until exiled by the military dictatorship of the 1970's, has recently penned an alluring football text in the form of a Socratic or Habermasian philosophical debate among former football players and members of the South American literary intelligentsia (Cappa, 1996). Finally, the popular Brazilian singer Moraes has composed a nostalgic tribute song to the legendary Brazilian footballer Garrincha, a breathtaking dribbler and member of the 1958 World Cup champion team (Montalban, 1997).

Moreover, Latin American football has become closely associated with the 'intrinsic ludic properties' (Dunning and Elias, 1986) of games: The 'game for the game's sake'; the 'quest for excitement'; the triumph of joy and play above political and economic constraints. In the popular imagination, the Latin American football variant is synonymous with emotion, ecstasy, fantasy, spontaneity, instinct, rhythm, and unpredictability. The Latin American game contains the aura of 'New World flair, magic (traces of the divine?), colour, and carnival.' (Del Burgo, 1995: p. 52).

In a concrete sense, Latin America has produced the most scintillating and intoxicating footballers of the institutionalized, codified game: Pélé, currently Brazil's Minister of Sport and once graced with the title 'Safo' (essentially the man inspired by 'divine spark', capable of forbidden things on the football field), Garrincha, Cubillas, Maradona, and Ronaldo. Spurred by massive and passionate crowds, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay have attained a legendary history of regional and international football success and dominance. Football is unambiguously the national sport of most of the Latin American region.[4]

In a global environment where there is a growing interdependence between sport, politics, and economics, Latin America's intense passion and historical affiliation with football as an essential staple of the national and regional imagination provides us with a rich framework for understanding this more generalized, international phenomenon. European examples and parallels will serve to link Latin American regional uniqueness with international trends. The aims of this paper, then, will be to investigate: (1) the Latin American utilization of football as a vehicle of national identity; (2) the manipulation of football by the region's authoritarian military regimes; (3) the historical appropriation of football by various Latin American socio-economic elites in order to retard the acceleration of working class and popular discontent; (4) the possibilities of mass football as a medium of social transformation; and (5) the analysis of football as an extension of the senses connected to the larger historical and existential processes of games, sport, and human culture. This essay will point out that the political harnessing of football for the maintenance of the Latin American status quo has had a few ambiguities: Military regimes still tumbled from power[5] and the use of football for nationalistic purposes had a destructive and divisive impact in certain countries as evidenced by the 1969 'Soccer War' between Honduras and El Savador.[6] At the same time, this paper's thesis will argue that in the contemporary era Latin American football has had important effects on the discourses of statehood, on the manipulation strategies of authoritarian dictators, and the appropriation formulas of socio-economic elites concerned with the spectre of a rising industrial working class and the proliferation of poor urban masses.

Consequently, football in Latin America has unwittingly tended to reinforce narrow nationalistic, authoritarian, class-based, and gender-specific notions of identity and culture. The general trend for football in Latin America has been to harness it in the service of economic, social, political, and psychic oppression. Any long-term efforts by football fans and professional players to promote social transformation, criticize political corruption and military regimes, or question the gross material inequalities of Latin American societies have been muted because they potentially endanger the interests of the professional players themselves by creating a sense of alarm in the professional clubs, the corporate sponsors, and political and military elites. The few attempts to distance Latin American football from these oppressive tendencies by harkening back to older notions of the simplistic 'love' and joy of the game for its own intrinsic beauty, the pleasure of social interaction, or nostalgia for the former amateur status of a sport uncolonized by commercial imperatives have generally been futile in the era of football professionalism. Even more rare have been the efforts of Latin American professional teams, individual players, and fans to link with wider social movements, or 'positively' influence the wider society with public positions on social and political issues.

Breaching the 'taboo' between sport and politics was a common element of many governments' sports policies of all political hues in the Cold War and apartheid eras, but it is rarely attempted by Latin American professional football players and their massive armies of supporters. Like all individuals, players and fans are also social and political actors born into a particular historical epoch and political community. However, contemporary professional players are largely occupied with the overarching tasks of physical and mental preparation for the matches, while football fans are thrilled to receive their weekly 'doses' of match day exhilaration and extensive press coverage in sports dailies and on television. The idea of sports combined with a message of political consciousness has received some occasional, minimal support in Europe, however, with the public anti-racist campaigns of professional players, certain clubs, and fans; small signs of player politicization like the undershirt inscription of support for unemployed dock workers in Liverpool by English international and Liverpool player Robbie Fowler in 1997 (he received a suspension and fine from the English Football Association for this spontaneous, unsanctioned mixing of sports and politics); and the banner of the Swiss national football team before a 1996 international match calling for an end to French nuclear testing in the South Pacific.

Football and the Discourse of Statehood

After having largely broken the legacy of European colonial rule in the nineteenth century, the idea of nationhood has been consolidated throughout Latin America in the twentieth century (Del Burgo, 1995: p. 60). Across the region, the idea of the nation is 'imagined, created, and constructed' by Latin American political and cultural elites in speeches, literature, various art forms like painting, theatre, and dance, folk traditions, museums, and a plethora of national and political institutions (Anderson, 1983). Within this general awakening of Latin American nationalism, football becomes intertwined with discourses of statehood and the search for national, political, and cultural identities. Historian Eric Hobsbawm once remarked about football: 'The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people.' (Hobsbawm, 1990: p. 143) For Hobsbawm, the cultural production of football is able to seize the popular imagination and arouse both nationalistic and even chauvinistic tendencies more concretely than other realms of cultural and political construction. Furthermore, as a mass appeal sport which is not considered discriminatory along socio-economic class lines like more 'snobbish' and expensive games, including rugby, golf, tennis, or cycling, football in the Latin American context is considered a more legitimate 'national' game able to encompass and unify all social groups and classes.

The problem with Hobsbawm and other mainstream theoretical accounts of nationalism, like the works of Benedict Anderson and Ernest Gellner, is that their treatments of nationalism does not take different conceptions of gender and sexual identity into account as part of the analysis (Yuval-Davis, 1997). Latin American football's effects upon notions of nationalism and gender are largely based on the exclusively male nature of professional football teams and ownership. The view of the nation and especially its victories are perceived as a result of the 'virility', 'machismo', 'strength', 'trickery', and 'craft' of the de facto masculine entity. Women figure prominently in the biological and cultural reproduction of these important qualities considered essential for the perpetuation of national sporting glory. Women, different classes, and various cultural groups regularly discuss the fate of their favourite clubs, attend matches, and avidly follow the fortunes of the national side. In recent years, there has been a proliferation of women's football clubs, particularly in Brazil, but the national programs suffer from a dearth of exposure, inadequate public funds, and lack of professional leagues. This is a sharp contrast to the more 'advanced' state of women's football in North America, Europe, Japan, and China where corporate and public funds, professional leagues (Northern Europe and Japan), and less explicitly patriarchal public attitudes have allowed the women's game to develop and flourish. So, for example, while Guatemalan women have broken through powerful, traditional social barriers to introduce full-fledged league and cup competitions, Paraguay as late as 1979 specifically banned women from playing football, declaring it is contrary to their 'natural femininity' (Henshaw, 1979: p. 774).

In Latin America, however, the overwhelming fixation of the public is towards the revered professional male clubs and national teams. In this football-frenzied region of the world, there is rarely a person who is not inundated daily by the mass media and street chatter about intra-city derby clashes between bitter rivals and especially the changing fortunes of the national team. In the disorienting haze of Latin American poverty and the widespread gender inequalities of the social, economic, and political realms, football acts as the great societal equalizer able to provide popular expressions of celebration and pride for national victories, or alternatively lead towards emotions of national gloom, mourning, and even occasional suicides after crucial defeats. While there are heterogeneous conceptions of the nation among different genders, classes, and cultural and regional groups, the visceral emotions elicited by the national colours, national anthem, and the nervous anticipation of match day generally leads towards a massive united front on behalf of the collective national entity.

In the mirror of football, many Latin Americans find an expression of national identity which they perceive as positive, unproblematic, and without the complexes associated with other troubling manifestations of identity like those tinged with more conspicuous class, racial, cultural, or gender biases. The club teams or national teams at South American competitions and on the larger international stage provide each nation with a resonant symbol of national virtues; a style of play, movement, rhythm, and conduct reminiscent and emblematic of the national 'character'; a social space in the stadiums, cafes, or streets for the collective expression of acceptable national passions. The successful football outfits and nations offer a verification to the hemisphere and world that they proudly affirm their existence, especially in the cases of countries with sparse populations like Costa Rica, who though a nation of under three million people, reached the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, and those traditionally weaker footballing nations like Bolivia which, surprisingly, qualified for the 1994 World Cup in the United States. In the case of established football powers like Argentina and Brazil, they offer proof of the adaptability, spartan discipline, and combat virtues of the nation. The case of Brazil's victory in the 1994 World Cup combined the old flair and flow of elegant, magical, and entertaining 'samba' football of the 1970 World Cup triumph in Mexico with the more rigorous, tactical, and physical elements of the contemporary Northern European game. In short, football is considered a form of national identity based on collective 'virgin' symbols not stained by the historical crimes against the indigenous peoples or those atrocities committed by the brutal authoritarian military regimes. Football becomes a national symbol of enduring loyalty and nostalgia in the face of capitalist, global economic and cultural homogenization.

Del Burgo has argued that while the diversity of social, cultural, and ethnic origins that comprise the citizenship of any nation can be problematic and divisive, football becomes one means of imagining a notion of unity within the national consciousness (Del Burgo, 1995: p. 61). In diverse, multi-ethnic nations like Brazil and Peru, Hecht affirms that 'football is without doubt one of the principal factors in bridging the gap between the white and coloured races.' (Hecht, 1968; cited in Veliz, 1968: p. 743) The football aspirations of an entire nation form a common purpose in order to stunt potential or actual internal cleavages and exaggerate external ones. In cases where the national football team is not successful, the leading club sides can act as catalysts for the crystallization of popular nation-wide support, such as; the victories of Olimpia of Paraguay in the coveted South American Copa Libertadores in 1979 and 1990, and the World Club Championship in 1979 against Malmo of Sweden (Del Burgo , 1995: p. 61).

In Latin America, football and other sports have been manipulated for intended nationalistic purposes on three major fronts: (1) The establishment of domestic physical education programs, football competitions, and the permanent institutions necessary to run football programs; (2) The preparation of teams and individuals capable of competing successfully on the international level; and (3) The hosting of international football events (Arbena, 1992: pp. 146 - 148). Among Latin American political elites, the nationalistic aim of football is to build the nation from within and gain it legitimacy and respect from without (Arbena, 1992: p. 146).

However, the Latin American use of football to foster nationalism has had its share of critics throughout the region. First, the national selection process and the holding of 'national games' may heighten regional alienation and traditional socio-economic inequities between the national, central metropolitan and peripheral areas (Arbena, 1992: p. 146). Second, some national football institutions have been chronically understaffed and underfunded, thus possibly dampening patriotic or nationalist sentiments. Third, the hosting of the World Cup in Latin American countries, such as; Brazil in 1950, Chile in 1962, Mexico in 1970 and 1986, and Argentina in 1978 were viewed by some cultural critics and citizens as essentially short-term measures used to win international favour, quick profits, and achieve an aura of modernization for both domestic and international audiences. So, for example, as Glanville (1993: p. 211) correctly maintains the 1978 World Cup victory for Argentina on home soil did not bring lasting economic prosperity, establish social and political peace, or save the military junta from its eventual demise, but it was widely celebrated by the military regime and a veritable cross-section of social classes and cultural groups within the nation.

Furthermore, Latin American uses of football for nationalistic ends have several problematic qualities. Ironically, both modern, institutionalized football (a nineteenth century English invention and import) and the 'artificial' notion of nationalism with its arbitrary boundaries and effacement of regional and cultural differences are distinctly European cultural imports used by Latin American nations to differentiate themselves from North Americans, Europeans, and, ultimately, each other (Arbena, 1992: pp. 143 - 145). This fundamental contradiction in Latin American constructions of nationhood is especially problematic because there are common linguistic, literary, cultural, and colonial traditions which bind more than separate (Paz, 1977). These common traditions have expressed themselves in public articulations of support from the entire region for the Latin American national football teams still in the running for the World Cup after their respective national sides have been eliminated. Finally, after the momentary euphoria of the football victory largely for the 'big three' - Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay - comes the bitter existential struggles of Latin America's poor majority; the return to the substantive divisions of the world; the resignation in the face of multiple hierarchies; and the fateful obliteration of the fantasy and spectacle of the match.

The 'Constructive' use of Football by Politicians and Generals

Throughout Latin America, the manipulation of football by politicians, generals, and authoritarian military regimes in order to maintain existing power relations has been legendary. The argument has been repeatedly posited that football and physical education in general can teach 'constructive' values, improve health and morals, aid the capitalist economy, reduce crime, develop notions of community and cooperation, and promote patriotism/nationalism (Arbena, 1989). Indeed, these mainstream values associated with football and sport generally have been frequently associated with Latin American authoritarian regimes, but have simultaneously been common to civilian regimes in the region.

Historically, socialist, fascist, authoritarian, and liberal democratic regimes have all manipulated sport in order to preserve the status quo and project an international image of superiority vis-a-vis other nations and ideological systems. Since 1959, Castro's Cuba has been the greatest pioneer of a nationalistic sports policy in Latin America. In numerous sports, namely, boxing, track and field, baseball, and volleyball, Cuba has achieved brilliant international triumphs and a large measure of popular regional support based on traditional anti-American, anti-colonial sentiments.

Like Cuba, the military regimes of Latin America have traditionally used football as part of their strategy to strengthen nationalist loyalties (Arbena, 1990: pp. 120 - 130). In a sardonic tone, Kapuscinski quotes an exiled Brazilian colleague after Brazil's World Cup victory in 1970: 'The military right wing can be assured of at least five more years of peaceful rule.' (Kapuscinski, 1990: p. 159) More ominously, Kapuscinski highlights the dual purpose of Latin American football stadiums: 'In peacetime they are sports venues; in war they turn into concentration camps.' (Kapuscinski, 1990: p. 166) This was true for Argentina's 'dirty war' of the 1970's waged by the military against political dissidents as well as the tactic of former Chilean dictator Pinochet. In El Salvador, the national stadium has even been used to carry out televised, nation-wide assassinations against political opponents (Kapuscinski, 1990: p. 185).

On the European front, too, the football stadium has been used to control real, imagined, or projected internal and external threats. In terms of the latter, Albanian refugees were herded and detained at the football stadium in Bari, Italy, at the beginning of the 1990s. The context for these actions is that the European Union (EU) project is creating a consensus that security threats can also include basic challenges to political, social, economic, and cultural values presented especially by the influx of Muslim immigrants, asylum-seekers, illegals, and workers to the continent (Weiner, 1992-93: pp. 91 - 126). The paradox of the EU's frontier battles is that the old 'Iron Curtain' is perhaps being replaced by a 'Fortress Europe', reducing non-Europeans and non-members to second-class citizens. As Pierre Hassner correctly points out, 'the opening of borders does not suppress the need for community, for solidarity and for exclusion (or at least for distinction between 'we' and 'they'), but may, on the contrary, exacerbate it out of frustration.' (Hassner, 1991: p. 147)

On the internal or domestic level, Zipes has expressed the political and cultural classes' fear of mass football audiences and passions, and the increasingly 'controlled' nature of sport eclipsing the actual contest itself:

Control in the name of civility and civilization is what the world is about, and control of the culture industry enables lion kings to gain and keep control. Spontaneity is out, though we all long for it, desire it, miss it. Control is the name of the game. In Europe, where soccer is king, the masses must be controlled. Stadiums have become Roman coliseums with barbed wire and guards patrolling the edifices inside and outside. The contests on the field are secondary to the event of going to the stadium and participating in the hoped-for victory. It is important to be number one, to win at all costs. Such outright display of ruthless desire goes against the rules of civility, thus it must be contained and controlled, just as rock concerts are carefully planned and controlled. Sports are spectacle, but a controlled spectacle, where people can briefly vent their frustration according to a prescribed rite. Now and then people are unfortunately killed, trampled on and beaten, either for revenge or the celebration gets out of hand. Such catastrophes prompt greater control and police measures (Zipes, 1994: pp.163 - 164).

Commenting on the 1985 Heysel Stadium tragedy in Brussels which killed about forty fans before the European clubs Cup final between Juventus of Turin and Liverpool, and the 1987 match in Madrid between Real Madrid and Naples in a completely empty stadium as a result of disciplinary measures taken by FIFA in response to the hooligan excesses of Madrid supporters at an earlier game, Baudrillard is even more skeptical than Zipes:

This phantom football match should obviously be seen in conjunction with the Heysel Stadium game, when the real event, football, was once again eclipsed - on this occasion by a much more dramatic form of violence. There is always the danger that this kind of transition may occur, that spectators may cease to be spectators and slip into the role of victims or murderers, that sport may cease to be sport and be transformed into terrorism: that the only event occurring is strictly televisual in nature. Every real referent event may become acceptable on television's mental screen (Baudrillard, 1993: p. 80).

Instead, Baudrillard argues that the two aforementioned events and similar patterns of 'controlled' football represent a cynical political bias towards the obliteration of the social realm (Baudrillard, 1993: p. 79). Football hooliganism symbolizes an extreme transpolitical phenomenon: Spectators or hooligans transgress the assigned limits of their role as passive voyeurs of the action by superseding the role of the protagonists or players and inventing their own media spectacle (Baudrillard, 1993: pp. 76 - 79). In short, hooligans carry participation to an ultimately tragic limit (a form of violence where the state and its 'corporate agents' do not have a monopoly on the use of violence), while simultaneously goading the state to respond with its own violence, extreme measures, or terrorism (Baudrillard, 1993: pp. 76 - 79). Thus, for Baudrillard, football is a metastatic phenomenon par excellence - the transference or assimilation of a bodily social, political or psychological disease from one organ to another.

These diverse European cases serve to underscore the point that the 'constructive', militarized, and controlled utilization of football is not restricted to the authoritarian, military regimes of Latin America. Rather, the Brazilian and Argentinian military regimes of the recent past provide us with the most classical and conspicuous examples of connections between football, the maintenance of the status quo, and the fostering of national consciousness. Janet Lever has clearly demonstrated how the Brazilian military government of the 1960's used the national game of football (or is it the national religion?) in order to instill in its inhabitants a notion of the nation's vast geographical terrain (Lever, 1983 and 1988: pp. 85 - 96). Since many remote regions of Brazil were unknown to its urban citizens, the 1969 Sports Lottery was implemented by the military regime in order to enhance national consciousness, raise funds for social projects, and include football results from distant provinces (Lever, 1983 and 1988: pp. 85 - 96).

In 1978, the Argentinian military junta staged the World Cup and was rewarded with a brilliant 3-1 triumph over the Netherlands in the decisive final game. As Glanville points out, a successful World Cup and the proliferation of investments tended to obfuscate the regime's horrific record of torture and murder of political opponents (Glanville, 1993: p. 211). However, the scripted control and culmination of 1978 World Cup by the military regime in order to symbolically legitimize both the junta and the nation has had its share of critics throughout Latin America. So, for example, there was a widespread popular conviction that the Argentinian regime bribed a talented Peruvian side in the 1978 World Cup, winning this particular match by a dubious 6-0 margin.[7] In addition, some Latin Americans express disdain for regimes which channel public funds for the World Cup in order to gain a quick-fix public relations boost, while simultaneously masking larger systemic issues like poverty, unemployment, rural exploitation, and fiscal government corruption. For these particular reasons, few Colombians were seriously upset when their government chose not to sponsor the 1986 World Cup (Arbena, 1992: p. 147).

In recent years, football has also been manipulated by politicians throughout Latin America to win public support. Shortly after Carlos Menem became President of Argentina in 1989, he appeared at the national football stadium dressed in the national colours (Del Burgo, 1995: p. 47). Menem has even publicly endorsed club side River Plate, a team with strong traditional links to the country's elite, reasoning that the popular classes would look at the leader's passion for football rather than his partisan club affiliation (Del Burgo, 1995: p. 47). Furthermore, many Ecuadorians connected the early success of the nation's World Cup qualifying triumphs for the 1998 tournament in France with President Abdula 'El Loco' Bucaram's passion for football and the state's funneling of additional incentive funds to the national program and players. For some Ecuadorians, Bucaram's sudden exit from the presidential post for apparent 'mental incompetency' was deemed to be the reason for the football side's slide of losses and failure to reach the 1998 World Cup finals.

In diverse regions of the world, it is a political truism that football garners popular support. In 1996, Nelson Mandela was at the national stadium to celebrate the victory of the first, multi-racial South African side against Tunisia in the finals of the African Nations Cup. At the 1996 edition of the European Nations Championship in England, the anti-immigrant Front National (FN) leader of France Jean-Marie Le Pen caused a stir when he publicly complained that many players on the multi-ethnic French outfit did not know the words of the French national anthem. Le Pen even claimed that many players on the French national team were 'foreigners' unable to chant the lyrics of 'la Marseillaise' with the same vigour and passion as other footballing nations! In France's neighbour, Italy, a country consisting of a thriving league with arguably the most talented collection of footballers in the world, Silvio Berlusconi's miraculous rise as the President of the Republic under the banner of a brand new political outfit named Forza Italia (reminiscent of a football chant) would have been impossible without his ownership connections to rich club side A.C. Milan, international finance, and control of national informational networks. After Nigeria's spectacular gold medal victory at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the military regime declared a public national holiday. Finally, Prime Minister P.J. Patterson of Jamaica took the exact same step after the country's national side, dubbed the 'Reggae Boys' by the North American press, miraculously qualified for its first appearance ever to the 1998 World Cup in France. Obviously, politicians of all stripes recognize the tremendous importance of appropriating the world's most popular game.

Football as an Arena of Class Warfare

Historically, football has also been utilized as a weapon of Latin American socio-economic elites concerned about the rapid proliferation of an organized working class movement as a result of urban industrialization. Throughout Latin America, football was largely imported, developed, and institutionalized by upper and middle class elements from England. For instance, current professional club names, such as: Newell's Old Boys of Argentina, Liverpool of Uruguay, The Strongest of Bolivia, and Wanderers of Chile reflect the English origins of the Latin American game.

In contrast to this developing institutionalized variant, the streets, fields, and ports offered a space of 'pure', spontaneous football and social interaction for the dispossessed social classes. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, essentially the transition period from 'street football' to the institutionalized, codified game, workers joined with black slave descendants (Brazil), rural, indigenous migrants to the city ( Bolivia and Mexico), and the vast numbers of 'mestizos' (mixed race) in the region for competitive matches against the institutionalized, mostly white elite club sides (Del Burgo, 1995: p. 54). It is from these earlier origins at the borders of the institutionalized and non-institutionalized games that is born the exhilarating brand of Latin American football: The encoded way of life and joie de vivre; the myth of spontaneity against the jackboot of authority; the individualistic style of resistance and greatness; and the sharp contrast to the regularity and drudgery of Latin American poverty (Del Burgo, 1995: pp. 65 - 66).

The Latin American elite's fears of the non-institutionalized, spontaneous, and socially marginalized clubs, created efforts designed to direct the popular classes towards the institutionalized game. From Del Burgo's perspective, emerging institutionalized football served as an inconspicuous agent of mass social control:

In the early years of the century, many old-style establishments - not only football clubs but also factory management boards and the like-representatives of Latin America's elite, made attempts to form relationships with working-class teams. At times this took the form of patronage, with an established club funding an affiliated local team. At other times, it took on other dimensions - managers encouraging the creation of football sides among the workers to engender company loyalty and, perhaps more importantly, to divert employees' attentions away from the more damaging spectre of industrial unrest. In these early relationships formed between the elite and the masses in football, can be seen the origins of one of the most compelling arguments in the analysis of football in Latin America: that football serves as an opiate of the masses, an instrument of mass control, a social adhesive binding the most volatile and precarious of ethnic and political mixes (Del Burgo, 1993: p. 55).

In the late twentieth century, football has continued to be 'constructively' manipulated by Latin American politicians and economic elites as an extension of class and rural warfare. In the 1969 'Soccer War' between Honduras and El Salvador, a rapid war of less than one hundred hours triggered by two bitter and acrimonious World Cup qualifying matches for the 1970 edition of the tournament in Mexico, 6,000 people died, 12,000 more were wounded, and 50,000 lost their homes, fields, or villages (Kapuscinski, 1990: p. 182). In this case, explosive nationalistic passions in both countries found their most jingoistic expressions in the respective national media outlets and football stadiums. At the matches in San Salvador and Tegucigalpa, opposing national players were more concerned with their very existence rather than the actual games as a result of popular fan abuse and intimidation. Political, military, and economic elites of both nations used the nationalist sentiments of the football matches to serve their respective class-based ends and divide the common rural poor of both El Salvador and Honduras. As Kapuscinski correctly points out, economic and political motives related to the historical Latin American pattern of exploitation of the popular sectors are essential for an understanding of the 'Soccer War':

These are the real reasons for the war: El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, has the greatest population density in the western hemisphere. Things are crowded, and all the more so because most of the land is in the hands of fourteen great landowning clans. People even say that El Salvador is the property of fourteen families. A thousand latifundistas own exactly ten times as much land as their hundred thousand peasants. Two thirds of the village population owns no land. For years a part of the landless poor has been emigrating to Honduras, where there are large tracks of unimproved land. Honduras is almost six times as large as El Salvador, but has about half as many people (2.5 million). This was illegal emigration but was kept hushed-up, tolerated by the Honduran government for yearsÉ. Salvadoran peasants settled in Honduras, established villages, and grew accustomed to a better life than the one they had left behind. They numbered about 300,000É. In the 1960s, unrest began among the Honduran peasantry, which was demanding land, and the Honduran government passed a decree on agricultural reform. But since this was an oligarchical government, dependent on the United States, the decree did not break up the land of either the oligarchy or the large banana plantations belonging to the United Fruit Company. The government wanted to re-distribute the land occupied by the Salvadoran squatters, moaning that the 300,000 Salvadorans would have to return to their own country, where they had nothing, and where, in any event, they would be refused by the Salvadoran government fearing a peasant revolution (Kapuscinski, 1990: pp. 182 - 183).

Football As A Medium Of Social Transformation

In the three previous sections, football was examined as a 'top-down' mechanism of political manipulation by cultural, political, and socio-economic elites in the creation of discourses of statehood; by politicians and generals for 'constructive' purposes; and by various Latin American elites as an arena of class warfare. In contrast, this section will highlight the 'bottom-up' possibilities of football as a medium of social transformation. Can football, itself historically manipulated for nationalistic, authoritarian, gender, and class-based ends, act as a stimulus for social change? Or, does the inherently hierarchical 'us' versus 'them' on the playing fields and in the stands reinforce the general militarization of society and consequently stunt social progress? Can Latin America's massive football audiences and widespread player participation provide the opportunities for spaces of autonomous liberation, political resistance, and greater societal democratization? In brief, efforts directed towards football and social change in Latin America have been essentially ad hoc, short-term, and exceptional. Football in the region has tended to reinforce traditional hegemonic notions about sport and the maintenance of the social peace and status quo, or been used in the harnessing of nationalistic, authoritarian, gender-specific, and class-based ends. This is largely the case in Europe, too, but on that continent there have been more conspicuous attempts by professional football clubs, players, and fans to influence the wider society and its general attitudes about social change.

In a mechanistic and over-planned post-modern existence, social and political life is increasingly based on the 'banalization' of the masses and an escape from collective and individual freedom through the decadence of 'bread and circuses'. Unlike the 'bread and circuses' of a Roman Empire in decline, however, in contemporary Latin America 'circuses' are conspicuously more common than the dignity of daily bread. Furthermore, the Latin American legacies of colonialism and dependence, the historical weakness of 'civil society' in the region, and the general failure of elites to respond to popular aspirations represent formidable barriers to political democratization and societal transformation (Valenzuela and Valenzuela, 1978: pp. 535 - 557; Petras and Vieux, 1984: pp. 5 - 20; Oxhorn, 1995: pp. 250 - 277). Moreover, the historical prevalence of authoritarian, military regimes either in power or ominously lurking behind the scenes of civilian rule; blatant acts of American interference throughout the region, including recent ones in Nicaragua, Panama, and Haiti; the largely foreign economic dominance of the area; and an increasingly global trend towards neo-liberal, Western market solutions have served to further undermine the aspirations of the popular, grass-roots sectors of Latin American society. Few Latin American regimes are calling for an indigenous, or autarkic, rather than Western path towards development. Even the socialist experiments of Cuba and Nicaragua were essentially based on a linear, Western-inspired model of production and consumption, and economistic conceptions of progress alien to the region's indigenous peoples. Increasingly, the American Natives, survivors of the fifteenth century Spanish genocide and conquest of America when approximately 70 million indigenous peoples or 90 percent of the entire 'race' was destroyed (Todorov, 1984: pp. 132 - 134), are restless and agitated in their explosive calls for social justice and a non-Western, spiritual path towards progress. In Latin America, hundreds of indigenous nations are not represented by the United Nations - a veritable 'Fourth World' denied the right to self-determination in the massive global wave of de-colonization in the 1950s and 1960s.

These aforementioned systemic factors in Latin America, then, act to suffocate challenges to the status quo and 'bottom-up', popular forms of resistance by an entire region of mass football fans. While failing to tackle the systemic and structural underpinnings of Latin American inequality connected to the global, capitalist economy, as well as internal modes of oppression and corruption, the rise of football professionalism in the region created opportunities for upward mobility often denied to working-class, black, mestizo, and indigenous players in the society. In the process, more inclusive ideas of nationhood were developed by most Latin American national football sides and generally supported by elites, players, and the public. Still, there remained racial issues, as evidenced by the Brazilian military's ill-fated attempt in the 1970s to 'whiten' the composition and style of the national team in order to enhance its own self-image (Del Burgo, 1995: p. 67).

A positive influence of social change has been undertaken through the anti-racist campaigns by some European professional football leagues (eg. the well-publicized campaigns in England and Italy), professional players, fans, and certain prominent professional clubs. So, for example, in the Netherlands, powerful club side and former European Champions League winner in 1995, Ajax of Amsterdam, has unwittingly been at the forefront of the European anti-racist struggle. A truly multi-ethnic outfit, Ajax proudly displays the 'Star of David' and Israeli flag at the national stadium as a legacy of its historical association with the Jewish middle class and a symbol of resistance to the anti-Semitic abuse from other club supporters, especially traditional rival Feyenoord of Rotterdam (Wagg, 1995: pp. 115 - 117). Interestingly, Ajax's Jewish connection is even flaunted by skin-heads and the drug-oriented fans of the 'F-side' (Kuper, 1991; cited in Wagg, 1995: p. 117). In the process, this symbolic sign of defiance is intended to enhance tolerance in Dutch society and indirectly combat historically dangerous notions of the 'alien and eternal Other', whether Jewish, Muslim, immigrant, or any other group. The 'Other' becomes both 'us' and 'them'. Ajax's strategy is designed to stress unity in diversity and, implicitly, it attacks various elites' common strategy of manipulating difference for the perpetuation of all sorts of power relations and modes of domination: sexual, cultural, ethnic, linguistic, political, and economic.

While these are the noble intentions of the anti-racist campaigns, it is empirically unclear whether such campaigns and struggles waged through the auspices of football's mass appeal have the ability to change embedded negative values, perceptions, and attitudes of the 'Other'. Furthermore, the liberal universalist anti-racist struggle of recent years has been criticized by some sectors of the Left for its purely image-oriented, reformist, and gradualist programme rather than a deep systemic analysis of late modern capitalism (radical socialists and communitarian anarchists). It has also been critiqued by certain sections of the Right influenced by the New Left for its homogenized capitalist and abstract 'universal' model of multi-cultural assimilation which negates the 'right to difference' of particular communities, cultures, and sub-national identities (continental European New Right thinkers like Alain de Benoist of France and Marco Tarchi from Italy) (Taguieff, 1994). In this sense, there are still strong pockets of European resistance to the political manipulation of the anti-racist struggle either in the football stadiums, street protests, or various legislatures. What is interesting is that for radically different reasons, on the one hand, the Right for traditional conservative and even chauvinistic reasons, and, on the other hand, the Left for a cynical disdain of cosmetic liberal parliamentarism impotent to fundamentally and systematically challenge capitalist and racist oppression, there are serious criticisms of the European anti-racist campaign.

In terms of Latin American connections between football and the wider issues of social change , one Brazilian example is particularly instructive. In the early 1980's, Sócrates, a Brazilian national icon and arguably the most elegant midfielder of his era, led a public campaign within São Paulo club Corinthians for greater internal democracy and grass-roots input which galvanized support for the larger national issue of democratization (Shirts, 1988: p. 100). The Brazilian soccer star Sócrates elegantly expressed his related views about football, 'freedom', and joie de vivre:

I'm struggling for freedom, for respect for human beings, for ample and unrestricted discussions, for a professional democratization of unforeseen limits, and all of this as a soccer player preserving the ludic, joyous, and pleasurable nature of this activity (Shirts, 1988: p. 100).

In the model of the struggle for Corinthian Democracy, football does not simply act as a reductionist 'opiate of the masses', cultural phenomenon, or social adhesive binding diverse societal elements, but as a 'social phenomenon in its own right, which may in turn have implications for the world beyond the game.' (Del Burgo, 1995: p. 69). In this respect, football 'enters into a dialogue with society at large.' (Del Burgo, 1995: p. 69) In this rare Latin American case, football had a short-term impact on the general society rather than the reverse process of society and the state slavishly dictating the nature, content, and form of football.

In Jorge Valdano's eyes, a former member of the winning Argentinian side in the 1986 World Cup and now a respected writer, S—crates essentially represents a dialogical, humanistic, and creative 'pure' football of the Left against the brutality, force, and chicanery of the Right (Montalban, 1996). This line of analysis is historically rather dubious, as both Left and Right, in the moment of the capture of state and political power, have become stained with the blood of physical, psychic and spiritual wounds (including common legacies of immense violence, domination, and hierarchy). Nevertheless, Valdano does reveal the seriousness of football as a game, culture, and even political phenomenon in the region. Also, while the case of S—crates is exceptional in terms of his democratic and ludic aims, these particular struggles stemming from the Latin American professional football arena have been few, issue-specific, and constrained in terms of their lack of systematic analysis of pressing social issues, as well as the double fears of loss of professional job and censure from the authoritarian military regimes. This latter problem along with the pleasurable pacifying 'drug' of the match for the majority of football fans also inhibits potential football campaigns for social change. In the case of Socrates, it should also be pointed out that the increasing influence of global sport figures can simultaneously be examined as a negative phenomenon and cult of personality driven by an 'illiterate' TV/Internet generation and commercial vulgarity. In a technological, capitalist society intellectuals and philosophers might increasingly be functional to systemic imperatives or even irrelevant in terms of influencing and guiding alternative socio-economic, political, and spiritual visions of community. In contrast, sport stars are eclipsing intellectuals in public importance, but rarely challenging the system which feeds their majestic material appetites.

In Latin America, aside from the rare exceptions like Socrates, professional football players, club teams, and fans have been generally silent about wider political and social abuses in the region. In this context, Latin American football creates a sense of order, stability, and societal consensus especially important to established, institutionalized elites. Localized sites of football-inspired struggles at the level of more 'micro' powers like the case of Socrates and Corinthian Democracy have been clearly unique, infrequent, or failed to sustain any long-term societal effects. These 'micro' struggles through the medium of football may, however, be more fruitful than larger 'universal' struggles in the names of vague slogans like 'social justice, peace, and human rights' because they may galvanize a greater cross-section of supporters divided by different material interests and political ideologies.

Football as an Extension of the Senses

Football, like all games, is a medium of communication, or extension and amplification of our psychic and social selves (McLuhan, 1964: pp. 207 - 216). In the ancient world, games were serious models of our psychological lives releasing particular tensions; forms of collective popular art; and live dramatic microcosms of both the universe and the greater cosmic realm (McLuhan, 1964: p. 209). Also, in antiquity games were viewed as a preparation for war and required stoic discipline in order to combat external foes and the 'enemies' in our selves. In pre-modern and non-literate societies, the spectator's role was unambiguously religious or spiritual: The game was the direct replica of the struggle of the gods and the cosmic drama (McLuhan, 1964: p. 209). Modern Latin American football 'temples' like Mexico's Azteca and Brazil's Maracana heighten what the Indians call darshan awareness: The mystical experience created by the physical presence of vast numbers of people (McLuhan, 1964: p. 211). However, the larger cosmic drama of the match has been largely superseded by global corporate loyalties indifferent to the stadium, geography, location, culture, or border.[8]

In the post-modern epoch, the football crowd satisfies certain visceral and psychological urges conventionally buried, such as: symbolic barbarism, ritualized aggression, and what ethnologist Konrad Lorenz claimed humans gained from animals, namely, an extreme tenderness to one's own group and an excessive ferocity to other groups. For Bill Buford, author of the journalistic classic Among the Thugs (1990), this latent psychological desire is best represented by the hooligan's addiction to the ecstatic, sex-like release of de-individuated violence against opposing football fans.[9] Like the match itself, hooliganism is a sort of war orgy in a more 'civilized' arena capable of disrupting the dreary repetition of twentieth-century existence. English writer Aldous Huxley makes this pertinent analysis in Beyond the Mexique Bay (1934):

The commonest, one might call it the natural, rhythm of human life is routine punctuated by orgiesÉ. Orgies, whether sexual, religious, sporting or political, provide the periodic excitement which all of us crave, and which most of us are too insensitive to feel except under the most crudely violent simulationÉ.The important thing is not to create a conference on disarmament or world economy, but to convene a 'World Psychological Conference' to decide upon the emotional cultures to be permitted and encouraged (Huxley cited in Virilio, 1990: pp. 68 - 69).

In the television age, however, the common rhythm of civilian life is essentially inverted: Orgies of spectacle, of nationalism, of materialism, of sport, of war, are themselves punctuated by routines (Huxley in Virilio, 1990: p. 69). It is no accident, then, that on May 12, 1978, the Argentinian army staged a number of bogus assassinations in order to test public reactions, while simultaneously waiting for the football 'orgy' of the World Cup on Argentinian soil (Virilio, 1990: p. 71).

These sporting 'orgies' serve multiple purposes in our societies: An artificial utopia by which we interpret and complete the meaning of our daily lives; a mimetic recreation of life's uncertainty and the mechanistic rigour of existence in the late twentieth century (i.e., the 'mystery' of the game's outcome versus the rational, mechanistic rules and procedures of the game); a reflection of our competitive values and societies; the power to impose its own assumptions on society by setting the human community into new configurations, relationships, and postures; the derisive laughter and play element directed at the serious person, intellectual, or society (McLuhan, 1964: pp. 210 - 216); the magical entrance into a different conception of reality where we possibly distinguish the life boundaries between the serious and frivolous; the temporary release from the material pressures of the 'prison' of work and the 'Planetary Work Machine'; and an implicit questioning of the concept of work and the 'acceptable' boundaries between so-called 'leisure time' allegedly uncolonized by consumer culture and work/occupation.

Most importantly, sporting attendance and especially participation provides us with the human physical and psychic needs for immediate personal relations - themselves tainted by the mediation of capital, language, and various technologies (Bey, 1994: pp. 7 - 12). In this respect, there are levels or degrees of mediation in terms of direct and immediate interpersonal human experiences. So, for example, television and virtual reality are more mediated experiences than a live theatre performance. Similarly, a spontaneous street football match among neighbourhood friends and residents is generally a less mediated experience than professional participation in an institutionalized, codified game. In turn, live spectator participation at a professional football match is a less mediated experience than the solitary experience of watching the game on a television screen. For Bey, extreme forms of mediation produced by the tendencies of high technology and late capitalism widen the gulf between production and consumption of art (including sport), thus multiplying the alienation of the individual's existence (Bey, 1994: pp. 7 - 12).

Concluding Thoughts

In summary, then, we have attempted to highlight the political, economic, and cultural uses of football in Latin America: As a device in the quest for national identity; as an arena 'constructively' manipulated by politicians and generals; as an agent of political, socio-economic, and cultural elites in order to stunt working-class and popular consciousness and revolt; as a rare potential 'bottom-up' medium of challenging dominant, hegemonic perceptions in order to create more suitable psychological and cultural conditions for social change; and as a bodily, psychic, and spiritual extension of the individual and community senses. We have observed that the political harnessing of football for nationalistic ends has even spawned some destructive and divisive consequences in certain countries, such as: the 'Soccer War' between Honduras and El Salvador; the exacerbation of regional tensions between professional teams from different cities or even the recruitment and selection of national players disproportionately from one particular club or region; and the potential denigration of indigenous games not considered 'national' sports.

In terms of the five areas of analysis, we may conclude that the dominant orientation of Latin American football, especially at the professional level, has been towards a nationalistic, authoritarian, class-based, and gender-specific manipulation of the sport by political, military, socio-economic, and even cultural elites (a mini-summary of the first three categories of analysis). The rare challenges to the Latin American status quo on behalf of football supporters or professional football players and clubs idolized by millions of fans have been short-term, issue-specific, and generally unsystematic in their assessment of the larger societal ills ( summary of category four). Professional football has rarely entered into a sustained and 'authentic' political dialogue with emerging social movements or the larger Latin American society about the most pressing issues of the age and region, be it environmental destruction, the breakdown of communities and identities, unemployment, mass starvation, government corruption, or a de facto corporate and military rule.

In contrast, in Europe there has been a greater politicization of football fan culture as evidenced by the football terraces as temporary sites of proselytization for exteme-right political movements and the split of some fans along sectarian political lines like communist/anarchist and neo-fascist. Both groups conspicuously attend the matches adorned with huge red Che Guevara and black flags to symbolize the communists and anarchists respectively, or alternatively the neo-fascist skinhead styles at the local and even national matches (eg. Italy and France). In a few instances, too, this type of politicization of football has included the attempts of professional players and associations, fans, and national teams to positively influence the wider European audience, as with the anti-racist campaigns of most leagues and prominent club sides like Ajax of Amsterdam from Holland. Generally, however, these campaigns have been short-term and failed to tackle wider systemic and structural issues in capitalist European societies. At the same time, the European campaigns for social change have been more common than in Latin America as a result of the luxury of players and fans in liberal democratic societies being able to legally spread their political beliefs relatively more freely than in societies more conditioned by the ominous fear of authoritarian military rule. In both continents, the use of football and sport generally for essentially commercial and political ends has been heightened in the contemporary era with the emergence of a global neo-liberal faith in capitalist markets.

Historically, sports have served a number of other important functions in human culture from the mythical preparation for war to the more benign notions of 'play for play's sake' and the frivolous joy of direct human social interaction (summary of category five). The essence of this fifth section was a 'ludic' contrast with the idea that institutionalized professional football in Latin America has taken a particular historical, political, nationalistic, and materialistic trajectory which accentuates the ancient militaristic tendencies like the disciplined readiness for war through more peaceful national and international contests. Or, the 'ludic' notion of sport mocks the excessive colonization and marketing of football for pure profits by appealing to more sentimental sensibilities like the older amateur Olympic ideals and the simple intrinsic joy of football without the economic and political constraints. Future sociological and anthropological studies on football in Latin America might seek to directly ascertain how fans, professional players, and different clubs perceive the notions of football and its connections with social resistance, the enabling and constraining factors of social change, and the decline of the 'ludic' element in the professional game.

The example of the scapegoat murder of talented Colombian defender André Escobar during the World Cup of 1994 neatly illustrates all five areas of analysis in the paper. It especially revealed football's vast popularity and its important connections to international finance and organized crime networks. Moreover, it highlighted the national loss of 'masculine' honour associated with football defeat (Section One: Football and the Discourse of Statehood); the class and material interests of football professionalism (Section Three: Football as an Arena of Class Warfare); and the reminder from entrenched nationalist and organized financial interests like corporations and organized crime networks rather than more unfashionable authoritarian military regimes (Section Two: The 'Constructive Use of Football by Politicians and Generals) that football is not simply a 'ludic' project for its own sake (the union of Sections One, Three, and Five based on the idea of Football as an Extension of the Senses). Upon the young Escobar's return to Colombia after a tragic own goal in a 'shameful' loss to the United States and a poor team performance leading to a first-round exit, the eloquent Escobar was gunned down on home soil after appealing for national calm in several Colombian dailies. Immediately, numerous North American press outlets linked Escobar's brutal death to the Latin American 'temperament', 'fanaticism', or 'wildness'. The more likely explanations were extreme nationalist football passions and that Colombian drug lords lost millions of dollars gambling on Columbia's three World Cup matches in 1994. These same mass media outlets rarely mention the West's violent legacy in Latin America: European conquest, colonialism, genocide, and contemporary neo-liberal economic practices suffocating popular sectors and also widening material disparities between the masses, Latin American elites, and Northern, industrialized countries. Moreover, few mass media press conglomerates in North America pointed out that both the Medellin and Cali cartels have provided the population with vital services often neglected by the Colombian state: Social, medical, and community services, largely for the urban poor, and even funding for Colombian youth, amateur, and professional football clubs.

Other important factors serve to further marginalize and alienate Latin America's popular sectors: The end of the Cold War and a triumphant global capitalism without a systemic communist challenge and balance; the New World Order's search for 'novel' scapegoats to replace the communist threat (Saddam Hussein? Islam? China? Cuba? Colombian drugs?); the homogenized version of reality presented by corporate mass media giants like CNN and Telemundo throughout the Latin American continent; and the growing pauperization of the area's population as a result of so-called 'structural adjustment' policies. These aforementioned trends make it increasingly difficult for Latin American football to act as a motor for social transformation. At the same time, these phenomena underscore the potential and still rarely explored importance of an unprecedented number of local football fans and amateur and professional players connecting to wider social movements for Latin American change.

Increasingly, the Latin American state is vulnerable to external influences despite the wave of liberal democratic-style elections throughout the region. As Chomsky argues, the prevailing global, neo-liberal climate dictated by Western financial and political institutions, such as; the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, trading structures like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and executive meetings of the G-8 industrial countries, the European Union (EU) bureaucracy, and Council of Ministers, makes it especially difficult to implant popular democratic initiatives in the region (Chomsky, 1994: pp. 5 - 7). The neo-liberal global environment has simultaneously led to an attack on popular input and fundamental social services within the Western countries themselves. This neo-liberal dogma will receive ominous support with the probable signing in the upcoming year of the Multilateral Agreement of Investment (MAI) in Paris by twenty-nine countries, thus allowing corporations to legally enter member countries and essentially challenge the respective governments to remove 'barriers' to 'free trade' like environmental protection, an entire network of social welfare provisions, and other state measures deemed hazardous to corporate rule.

In the post-modern world, rapidly changing technologies and instantaneous, global capital networks possibly endanger the immediate, actual participation and attendance at the football match itself. Like a festival of communitarian existence floating away from the zombie trance of automation, football has a sort of exotic and utopian dimension. On the other hand, television matches with empty stands simulate the destruction of our bodies, minds, and spiritual universes. All new technologies, by extending certain areas of our physical and psychic selves, simultaneously amputate, massage or numb other parts of our bodies and senses (McLuhan and Fiore, 1967). Baudrillard ironically laments that new technologies represent a phase beyond mere alienation: They are in fact the 'expulsions of man' (Baudrillard, 1996). In the end, participation in the live street football match, like the intoxicating Latin American parade, remains beyond the boundaries of all languages, words, and codes: An immediate, mystical encounter providing spiritual nourishment for the repressed desires, forces, and mutations in humanity.

In contrast, the institutionalized codified game is increasingly colonized by the cult of money and the demise of ethics and vision, as evidenced by Maradona's perpetual flaunting of drug abuse standards, the incessant search for human gods like the current Brazil and Inter Milan star Ronaldo, and the abandonment of amateurism at the Olympic football competition. We have ushered in the era of football as the worldwide idol, the new religion both pagan and secular, and seen its transformation from an opiate of the people to the hard drug of liberal democracies and authoritarian systems of governance alike. Football, then, acts as the new secular lord of the masses driven by another god, namely, the multinational enterprise and its crass, singular, and incessant search for unlimited profits. Football today occupies a unique symbolic space left vacant by our de-ideological, political era and the decline of the Judeo-Christian religious universe: It structures itself as a sort of pagan communion, tacking place in venerated stadium 'shrines' or 'concrete cathedrals', between fans and their ephemeral football idols.


In writing this article, I have greatly benefited from the insights of Michael Edwards and the constructive comments of the editors and anonymous reviewers on earlier drafts of the text. I remain solely responsible for the final draft and conclusions. Also, I would like to give my gratitude and thanks to my mother, father, and brother for their indefatigable support and love. Finally, I wish to express the deepest warmth and gifts of friendship towards Kadima Lonji, his mother Tamila, Ugo Scoppetta Adelfio, Aldo Ivetac, Ken Berger, and Saeed Khan. Our gifts of friendship allow us to transcend beyond the narrow, pure inwardness of the administered and rationalized life of modernity; in violating the prevailing economistic exchange principle of our age, they engender other ways of being and seeing; and push you towards a path of individual self-striving and self-surpassing which ultimately also made this paper possible.


1 For Grant, the 'pure will to technology' is inseparable from Nietzsche's 'nihilistic' notion of the 'highest will to power'. In short, Grant is critical of the West's de-spiritualized, 'techno-utopian' view of progress based on the dynamism of technology as the dominant purpose in Western civilization, seeking both the mastery of chance and alleged amelioration of the human race. (See Grant, 1969: p. 113).

2 As an indication of football's popularity, projections for a cumulative worldwide television audience of over 37 billion people for the 1998 World Cup in France suggest that it will surpass the 32 billion registered for the 1994 finals in the United States. Live attendance figures for the 1996 Olympic Football tournament matches topped the tables with about 1.25 million spectators - even more than the number watching the world track and field athletics competition. See the June 1997 newsletter written by Joseph S. Blatter (1997) general secretary of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), entitled 'Football's Popularity'.

3 For an elaboration of the traditional weakness of and disdain for of football (soccer) in the United States from a European perspective, see the seminal article by Markovits (1990: pp. 230 -264).

4 There are several obvious exceptions in the hemisphere, such as: the importance of cricket in the West Indies, the case of football's weak implantation in Cuban society (baseball, boxing, and track and field are Cuba's domestic pastimes and international strengths), and the widespread popularity of baseball in Nicaragua, Venezuela, and the Dominican Republic. (See Arbena, 1988).

5 Nonetheless, the recent fall of some Latin American military regimes and the proliferation of liberal democratic-style elections does not entail the abandonment of internal and external modes of oppression and domination. While the former could include the suffocation of popular sectors like unions, farmers, and indigenous peoples, the latter could comprise the hydra of globalized capital, multinational corporations, and Euro-American mass media cultural homogenization. Moreover, to quote General Cluseret, 'In the social equation, the army constitutes an unknown quantity which it is better not to trust.' Or, for Paul Virilio, the overt demise of the military leads to their infiltration into the movements of daily life. In short, war can be waged without physical combat, such as: the military displacement of forces and swiftness; selfish and savage business practices simply concerned with the unlimited desire for profits; environmental destruction; and modern information warfare including ideological control, subconscious marketing persuasion techniques, and advanced conditioning like infant suggestion techniques and hypnopaedia; various addictive drugs generally used to pacify the population and 'amuse ourselves to death' (Neil Postman) rather than achieving self-governance or attaining spiritual consciousness; and a developed science of human differences or eugenics designed to standardize human and non-human products and facilitate the task of 'controllers'. In a Huxley-like 'Brave New World', killing would be more lethal and efficient than the brutal totalitarian police states of this century as its world citizens cherish their servitude (freedom!) and cannot bodily, nor psychically comprehend the 'wars' waged against them. However, the old illusion and dogma persists that 'a state of peace means the absence of open warfare, or that the military which no longer fights but 'helps' society is peaceful, and that the military institutions can even be beneficial, once it stops attacking.' See Paul Virilio (1990: pp. 17 - 36) and Huxley (1934), especially the 'Foreword' of the 1946 edition, pp. 7 - 14.

6 For an excellent journalistic account of the 'Soccer War', see Kapuscinski (1990). Also, for additional background information about the social, political, and economic triggers of the 'Soccer War', see Durham (1979).

7 In fact, Argentina required a 4-0 victory against Peru to reach the finals. In private conversations, the bribery charge is a standard position held by Argentinians who were able to witness the live proceedings of the Argentina-Peru match at the stadium.

8 In this respect, the most talented Latin Americans play in the richer European leagues like Italy, Spain, and France. Furthermore, professionalism's commercial imperatives clash with the increasingly outmoded nation-state model structuring football's World Cup competitions. At the beginning of the 1996 Italian 'Serie A' championship, Argentinian international Abel Balbo of Roma hinted that national commitments might take a backseat to his professional longevity and commercial interests with the European club side. It should be mentioned that the nation-state critique argues that it is in retreat because it is too big to solve local issues and grass-roots popular concerns, and too small to tackle the larger global problems like poverty, environmental degradation, nuclear weapons, and the pace and direction of rapid technological change.

9 It should be pointed out that Latin American hooliganism is more muted than its European counterpart, but little cross-cultural comparative research has been carried out on this particular subject. On the British phenomenon, see the recent classic journalistic account of football hooliganism by King (1997). For a sociological interpretation of hooliganism, see Dunning and Williams (1988).


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