Anyone acquainted with Latin America knows of the widespread passion for soccer, known internationally as football (fútbol in Spanish and futebol in Portuguese). The huge stadiums, bitter team rivalries, frenzied crowds, and frequent "bad boy" behavior of top stars transfix the public. In Temples of the Earthbound Gods, Christopher Gaffney provides a highly readable account of how professional athletic teams in Brazil and Argentina—primarily soccer, but with brief attention to polo and rugby—arose with urbanization to create distinctive national sports. Focusing on spatial, architectural, and cultural aspects of stadiums in Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires, Gaffney examines the athletic spectacles in terms of urban history and politics, social class, race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and nationalism.
The book's contemporary relevance strikes me as I write this review in Rio, where the current issue of the leading Brazilian news magazine, Veja (Feb. 4, 2009), features a cover story on "Why don't they ever grow up? The Peter Pan syndrome gets another one, ROBINHO, accused of sexual misconduct in England." The article recounts the saga of Brazil's Robson de Souza, known as "Robinho," who now plays for Manchester City in England. Also profiled are the recent antics of Ronaldo, Adriano, [End Page 235] and other jogadores de futebol. Of course, other international sports stars engage in similar shenanigans. For example, Gaffney notes that Diego Maradona, Argentina's "… most notorious soccer play, is known as el pibe de oro, or the golden boy." (p. 228)
Using stadiums as comparative morphological units of analysis, this book treats professional sports as a story of socio-cultural change. Soccer, polo, rugby, and cricket spread initially through British commercial influences: early anglophile soccer clubs date from 1867 in Buenos Aires, 1881 in Montevideo, 1894 in São Paulo, and 1896 in Rio de Janeiro. (Baseball, a major sport in parts of the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, diffused from the U.S.) Despite neocolonial origins, these sports subsequently acquired national characteristics and international aspirations. For example, the Brazilian press now reports enthusiastically on preparations for soccer's 2014 World Cup, which will open in São Paulo, close in Rio, and play in several other cities as well.
The historical and contemporary chapters on Rio de Janeiro, called the "spiritual home of world soccer," highlight the interactions of race, class, and nationalism. Of Rio's 27 stadiums, Gaffney focuses on four prototypical cases. The Estádio das Laranjeiras, built by the Fluminense Football Club in 1917 and expanded for the South American Football championship in 1919, long served as a "site and symbol of elite privilege" (p. 52). The 1919 Brazilian team included one mulatto, Arthur Friedenreich, but was otherwise white and upper class; yet when Friedenreich scored to win the tournament with a 1-0 victory over Uruguay, his success "signaled the impending inclusion of blacks and mulattos into the nation" (p. 55). Stadiums for working-class ethnic groups emerged at São Cristóvão Athletic Club in 1914 and at São Januário for the Vasco da Gama Club in 1927. President Getúlio Vargas used São Januário Stadium, built primarily for Portuguese immigrants, to promote his populist politics in the 1930s. Construction of Rio's immense Maracanã stadium for the 1950 World Cup "consolidated the stadium as a powerful locus of Brazilian national achievement, social integration, and discourses of industrial development"—although Brazil's crushing loss to Uruguay in the final game "signified a defeat of the nation that continues to figure heavily in Brazilian national consciousness" (p. 75). Some might question the lack of more coverage for Flamengo, the city's (and arguably the country's) most popular team, but the four case studies selected do provide a revealing cross-section of urban culture.
The two chapters on Buenos Aires focus on issues of social class...