Academic journal article Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature

Dynamics of Religiosity in Contemporary Spanish Soccer as Portrayed in Jose Luis Sampedro's "That Saintly Day in Madrid"

Academic journal article Aethlon: The Journal of Sport Literature

Dynamics of Religiosity in Contemporary Spanish Soccer as Portrayed in Jose Luis Sampedro's "That Saintly Day in Madrid"

Article excerpt

Soccer is a secular religion; before, only religions summoned that type of irrational collective manifestation; today, that which before was prototypical of religion is the secular religion of our time.  --Mario Vargas Llosa 

Since the sport of soccer first began captivating the masses roughly 100 years ago, Spanish intellectuals have made comparisons between the sport's role as a social phenomenon in Spain (and Latin America), and the role that religion (Catholicism) historically played in these regions. In 2005, one of Barcelona's most recognized intellectuals, Manuel Vazquez Montalban, published a book addressing soccer's connection with religion in Spain (and Latin American), titled Soccer: A Religion in Search of a God (Futbol: una religion en busca de un dios). This publication provided his readers with an in-depth analysis of what many in the Spanish-speaking intellectual classes feel has become the role that soccer plays in society today. In his book, Vazquez Montalban states, "Soccer is a secular religion in postmodern Europe" (19). Like Vazquez Montalban, a great number of respected writers and intellectuals have compared the Spanish people's past fascination, fanaticism, fervor, passion, and obsession with religion to the people's current fascination, fanaticism, fervor, passion, and obsession with the sport of soccer. Along the same line, many have taken the well-known Marxist position that religion is "the opiate of the masses," and now claim that soccer has assumed the role religion once held. The ancient notion of "bread and circus" (panem et circus), which was eventually updated to "bread and bulls" (pan y tows) in Spain during the 18th and 19th centuries to better represent the Spanish people's obsession of the era1, has since evolved yet again into "bread and soccer" (pan y futbol) to better reflect the obsession of contemporary Spanish society. Vazquez Montalban dedicated a section of his canonical text to this very notion, titling it "Bread and Soccer" ("Pan y futbol"). In it, he proclaims:

Soccer... has been, and is, an instrument of deviation of collective aggressiveness toward a non-political channel. But it has also served, judged from a different perspective, as an escape valve for the man on the streets' frustrations and, therefore, it has fulfilled a hygienic role (2) concerning the abnormal social conscience of the country. (Vazquez Montalban 75) 

In 1995, ten years before the publication of Soccer: A Religion in Search of a God, the famous Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano dedicated a section of his fundamental soccer text, Soccer in Sun and Shadow (Futbol a sol y sombra), to address this same preoccupation. Galeano's section is titled "The Opiate of the People?" In it, he poses the question, "How is soccer like God?" (36) then swiftly responds by stating:

Each inspires devotion among believers and distrust among intellectuals... The scorn of many conservative intellectuals comes from their conviction that soccer worship is precisely the superstition people deserve. Possessed by the ball, working stiffs think with their feet, which is entirely appropriate, and fulfill their dreams in primitive ecstasy. Animal instinct overtakes human reason, ignorance crushes culture, and the riffraff get what they want... In contrast, many leftist intellectuals denigrate soccer because it castrates the masses and derails their revolutionary ardor. Bread and circus, circus without the bread: hypnotized by the ball, which exercises a perverse fascination, workers forget who they are and let themselves be led about like sheep by their class enemies." (Galeano 36-37) 

These ideas expressed by Galeano closely echo those presented in 20th century French philosopher Guy Debord's famous 1967 work, The Society of the Spectacle (La societe du spectacle). Debord states:

Everywhere the same terrible question is asked, which for centuries embarrasses the entire world. … 
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