Sports Culture in Latin American History

By Kittleson, Roger | Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, January 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

Sports Culture in Latin American History


Kittleson, Roger, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies


DAVID M. K. SHEININ (ed.), Sports Culture in Latin American History. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. 2015. x + 236 pp. ISBN 978 0 922963370.

This excellent and provocative volume questions some of the tendencies that are already too common in the emerging field of sport studies. Indeed, David Sheinin and his collaborators challenge the very category of 'modern sport' by analysing an impressive range of physical activities in geographical and chronological contexts, many of which have received little scholarly attention and some of which fall outside conventional definitions of sporting practices. Some essays also make use of new types of sources - beyond media sources and ethnographies - while all move us beyond simple narratives of the importation of modern sports from Europe into Latin America. Often with a keen eye on transnational cultural currents, the authors provide a sophisticated Latin American perspective on the region's sports from the mid-nineteenth century and into the twentyfirst.

Laura Podalsky sets up the collection effectively in her superb introduction. She not only makes a convincing case against linear and Eurocentric histories of Latin American sports but also lays out three themes that run through the book's essays. Without overstating the novelty of these methodological contributions, she nonetheless argues that they amount to 'a notable theoretical substrate'. Although the book falls short of the logical tightness of a monograph - inevitably so - it does achieve a greater unity than most such volumes. The essays do in fact address, in varying ways and to varying extents, the main topics that Podalsky identifies: namely, the complex relationships between sports and the nation-state, the cultural and political meanings that bodies take on in sporting contexts, and the ritualized performances that define the space of sports.

The other authors in the collection follow up on Podalsky's introduction in intriguing and often pioneering ways. Boxing appears as a focus for Michael Donoghue and David Sheinin. Donoghue examines the rise and fall of the great Panamanian fighter Roberto Durán, tracing the 'redemptive machismo' (38) he was invested with, by the dictator Omar Torrijos and by the Panamanian public. Race factors in Sheinin as well as Donoghue shows how Durán became a symbol of resistance to US hegemony in the isthmus before his 'No más' submission to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980. Sheinin looks even more intensely at racial identities in his fine essay on the construction of a costeño Colombian identity. The author moves fluidly here, though, within Colombia and the Colombia diaspora and into the global circuits of boxing, as he argues for the prevalence of a notion of 'African' blackness linked to the town of Palenque. Using not only interviews but also novels and other sources, he argues that notions of a palenquero identity built on refashioned memories of the region's history and the violent struggles against outside authorities. Moreover, he describes how fighters like Pambelé, associated with a 'golden era of costeño boxing', served as models for the globalized and commodified figures of black Colombian boxers beginning in the 1990s.

Three other essays provide intriguing views of urban and national spaces through sports. Ranaan Rein's analysis of Club Atlético Atlanta, a football club based in the Villa Crespo neighbourhood of Buenos Aires, addresses the complicated ways that such entities come to represent ethnic and in this case religious groups within the broader national population. Rein's sophisticated explanation of how Atlanta became known as a Jewish club, despite its relative paucity of Jewish players, fans and administrators, is a vital correction of depictions of Argentina's footballing identity as free of ethnic or racial divisions. More intriguingly still, the author uses Atlanta to show how various sorts ofJews in Buenos Aires - including those 'unaffiliated' with their ethno-religious community - expressed different visions of Jewishness, not only against discriminatory descriptions by outsiders but also in tension with notions of Argentine-ness, and did so across generations. …

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