Region, Federalism, and the Idea of an Argentine National Soccer Team, 1916–30

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 9:00 AM
Parliament Room (The Westin Copley Place)
Jeffrey Richey , University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC
The Argentina of the 1910s and the 1920s was characterized by a territorially integrative tendency. Soccer, by then already Argentina's most popular sport, gained new dynamism during these decades. Communication and transportation technologies enabled soccer institutions and competitions to flourish as teams and fans from far-removed Argentine regions began to associate with one another—physically, discursively—in unprecedented ways. While celebrated by many as harbingers of national cohesion, these initial convergences highlighted longstanding inter-regional antagonisms. Much of the conflict centered on the Buenos Aires-based Argentine “national” soccer team. Considered among the most powerful symbols of Argentine identity in the early twentieth century, the Argentine national team had been manned by porteño players and controlled by the porteño elite since the 1890s. Beginning in the 1920s, however, voices in the Argentine Northeast and other regions began demanding the decentralization of the national team institution—a call ultimately rejected by Buenos Aires agents. Based on the Argentine sports press, institutional archives, and personal interviews, this paper examines efforts to control the makeup and the meaning of the Argentine national soccer team during a transformative period in Argentine history. I argue that as the most widely-read print material of the day, national and regional sports media provided a widely-disseminated platform for Argentines not only to contest institutional control over the national team, but also to redefine the meaning of region within a broader socio-political context. Specific formulations of race and regional identities linked to soccer competitions became solidified and accepted on a level that far transcended the sphere of sport—formulations that have endured to the present day.
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