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  • The Invention of the Beautiful Game: Football and the Making of Modern Brazil by Greg Bocketti
  • Patricia Anderson
Bocketti, Greg. The Invention of the Beautiful Game: Football and the Making of Modern Brazil. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2016. Pp. vii+ 316. Index and illustrations. $79.95, hb.

This volume is a major contribution to the scholarship on football (soccer) and its centrality in Latin American society and culture. Focusing on Brazil in the period between the 1890s and the 1930s, Greg Bocketti demonstrates "the invented tradition" (7) of football by re-examining the multiple manners in which the sport has been used to understand and define the identity of the modern nation. The Invention of the Beautiful Game challenges long-held popular assumptions that see this early stage of football as advancing from an oligarchic and exclusionary practice to an increasingly democratic, nationalist, and popular activity. By examining the multiple contradictions that coexisted between discourse and practice and by evaluating the roles played by the players, club owners, politicians, and fans, Bocketti highlights how race, class, and gender ideologies contributed to the emergence and development of the "beautiful game."

The volume, organized into five chapters, discusses how the "consistency of sports ideology" (23) shaped attitudes toward football during its first five decades of existence. Focusing on the prevalence of social reformist ideologies and the continuation of elite and white privilege within the football sphere, both at the local and international level, the author demonstrates the power of the racial democracy myth and the multiple manners in which it operated in the sporting arena. For example, the growing presence of nonwhite, working-class players in Brazil's major sports leagues did not signify a lessening of racial and class-based prejudice. Afro-Brazilian players helped redefine many aspects of how the game was played, but the control over football continued to depend on wealthy well-connected [End Page 99] white men (155). Relying strongly on the underexplored privately owned archives of traditional clubs and football associations and on a critical examination of sports journalism, Bocketti's work demonstrates how early twentieth-century football culture was "invented" by coaches, administrators, journalists, and players as "an authentic expression of Brazil's national character" (205). Particularly interesting is Bocketti's study of female football fans, the torcedoras, white, well-to-do women who provided passionate support to early football matches, disappearing after the state's formal ban on female football in 1941.

The Invention of the Beautiful Game critically examines—and exposes—some of the myths that have shaped Brazilian football. Contributing to existing scholarship on the subject of sports and nation building in early twentieth-century Latin America, Bocketti's work provides a fascinating and controversial look into how "the beautiful game" of football became an integral part of Brazilian national identity. Strongly academic, yet highly readable, the volume will appeal to a wide range of scholars as well as football aficionados and fans.

Patricia Anderson
Universidad de Belgrano, Buenos Aires


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pp. 99-100
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