- The Invention of the Beautiful Game: Football and the Making of Modern Brazil by Gregg Bocketti
The Invention of the Beautiful Game is the latest contribution to the much-studied history of Brazilian football in its primordial decades. As with much historical research that happens in Brazil, access to particular archives determines the kind of scholarship that emerges. This is particularly true for Bocketti's tome as he was granted extraordinary access to the archives of Brazil's elite football teams Fluminense Football Club, Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras, and Club Athletico Paulistano—the first located in Rio de Janeiro and the second two in São Paulo. These primary sources, combined with an exhaustive reading of the emergent sporting press, makes for a richly told story of football's formative decades in Brazil's largest cities.
For readers wishing to know about the years in which English "foot-ball" was transformed into Brazilian futebol, and the shifting discursive frames surrounding sport, representation, and modernity—The Invention of the Beautiful Game will serve as a well-written, expertly researched examination of the ways in which this unfolded among and for elites in Rio and São Paulo. Bocketti has a keen eye for hidden archival details and counter-narratives as he seeks to reinscribe the historical record by showing how continuities, more than commonly assumed ruptures with larger political and economic trends, defined Brazilian football. Bocketti presents innumerable instances in which the social and economic elites of Rio and São Paulo used emergent sporting practices (linked with modernity and selective representations of European-ness) as filters through which they could project ideas of the nation, cosmopolitan citizenship, and moral rectitude. And even as Bocketti brings us through the increasingly important roles that white women, black, mulatto, and working class players had in the publically performative aspects of football, the sport remained, "in the hands of administrators who were always men, always well off, and almost always white" (119). This is a strikingly contemporary characterization of the management structure of football in Brazil, yet instead of pursuing the strategic deployment of football as a vehicle for the maintenance of class and race privilege in Brazil, Bocketti suggests that, "more than any concrete change, international football was important because it helped transform Brazilian views about what the game said about Brazil" (119–20).
By pursuing a line of investigation that primarily focuses on the wealthiest clubs, populated by the wealthiest people in Rio and São Paulo, Bocketti's approach does not help us to conjure the potential meanings of the Beautiful Game as it was manifested beyond this circumscribed geography of power. We do not learn of the burgeoning suburban leagues or the ways in which futebol began to manifest in the interior of coastal states, or how it was also developing along parallel but independent tracks in Belo Horizonte, Pelotas, Salvador, Porto Alegre, or Belém. There is ample evidence in the historical record to construct [End Page E18] a more holistic "Brazilian view," and to connect these historical dynamics with contemporary practices. This would have made the book more relevant for those familiar with the traditional narrative and would connect the distant past with the feckless shenanigans of the 2014 World Cup. My personal bias and familiarity with the topic may demand a broader spatial range, but in a book devoid of maps, to suggest that the experiences of the cloistered Carioca and Paulista elites as they are presented in the book are representative of "Brazilian views" is reductive in the extreme.
Sports scholars, myself included, seem to be perennially on the defensive about the value of our research to the social sciences. We are constantly searching for ways to convince people that our work is not just about sport but that sport is inexorably connected to the social, political, economic, and physical contexts in which the games occur. Bocketti does very well to avoid this trap, but falls into another one by neglecting to reinsert football...