I’ve never been much of a football fan, and I’ve never quite understood the hoopla surrounding college sports. So when game day rolls around at MU, I love looking out at the tailgates and the full stadium as I drive to Ellis library. You can hear the passion roaring from the stadium.
I’m familiar with that sentiment. I grew up watching fútbol at home. I’d watch the Italian, Spanish and English league games with my family. And when the World Cup rolls around, we watch three games a day during group play. I poignantly felt Colombia’s loss to Brazil last July 4, and the agony of watching the team miss three penalties in a row this summer against Argentina permeated throughout the crowd.
Fútbol, as you might know, is the most popular sport in almost all Latin American countries. Baseball wins out in other places, like Venezuela, Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
The sport weaves into politics and everyday life. I walked down the streets of Cartagena with my boyfriend, and we happened upon a small group of people, sitting in plastics chairs in the middle watching the Copa America final on a tiny TV.
So what is it behind the beautiful game that makes players and fans alike celebrate like this?
I think part of it is seeing goals like this happen.
But Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta, in an interview with Bloomberg, said, “In a hierarchical society like Brazil’s, where the rules are rigged, the stadium is a model of the modern world, competition is open and individual talent stands out.” Many countries in Latin America have a similar social structure. Classes are clearly defined, and from my conversations with relatives, friends and observations of my own, I noticed how strong people identify by where they live. The sports picture is always more complicated than what we might imagine watching games on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
So when young people see people like Neymar, Maradona or other soccer stars rise out of poverty and into the spotlight, they see a chance for the same. Yet futbol, no matter how magical it seems, does not escape the social inequality that exists throughout the region. (The average GINI index for the region is 50 out of 100). A study by the World Bank showed that most Brazilian soccer players earn less than $650 a month.
This is just the tip of the iceberg of the web politics, culture and economics play in one of the most world sports. Through the years, I’ve noticed the game is more tangled in politics, economics and culture than I could have possibly imagined. Next week, I’ll look into how culture and politics weave into Latin Americans’ most cherished game.