Reimagining Argentine Fútbol in the Age of Pelé

Saturday, January 9, 2016: 10:00 AM
Room A707 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Rwany Sibaja, Appalachian State University
Rwany Sibaja Re-Imagining Argentine Fútbol in the Age of Pelé

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, Argentines imagined themselves as “pupils” in a sport first introduced by British around the globe: association football (soccer). Argentina enjoyed early success by reaching the championship matches of the 1928 Olympics and the inaugural FIFA World Cup and by placing first or second at seventeen of the first twenty South American championships. These results generated narratives of the superiority of the fútbol practiced in the Rio de la Plata. Local journalists suggested that the rioplatense “pupils” had surpassed the European “masters” of the game -

Expectations were understandably high when Argentina qualified for the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. This would be the moment when the national team would validate the quality of Argentine fútbol on the world stage. Instead, the team returned home after an embarrassing string of losses. This presentation explores the fallout of the 1958 World Cup and its implication for ideas about national identity. In particular, it explores Argentina’s complicated relationship with its South American neighbors. Already vexed by Uruguay’s triumphs, the rise of Brazil led to a period of soul-searching in Argentina. What did it mean that Brazil was now the world’s game leader? And how to describe the prodigious talent of Pelé, Didí, Garrincha, and other black Brazilian players? The result was a complicated discourse that alternated between racial animosity and admiration for the “black marvels” of South America. On the other hand, matches against “inferior” sports nations, like Perú and Chile, allowed Argentine journalists to employ racial stereotypes in order to explain the gap in fútbol talent. This presentation, therefore, analyzes the ways in which Argentines made sense of their identity as South Americans, and as a fútbol nation, during the age of Brazilian supremacy.

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