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For the past ten days, I have been in Argentina – specifically Buenos Aires and Rosario – leading a course about soccer and globalization in conjunction with the Clemson men’s soccer program. The students had a series of lectures and presentations pre-departure, mostly based off of Franklin Foer’s How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. Foer’s thesis is that “globalization has failed to diminish soccer’s local cultures, local blood feuds, and local corruption, and may have actually increased the power of local entities.” The students have been asked to reflect on this global/local tension of soccer cultures through a series of seminar discussions and journal entries while we are in country. Upon our return to the United States, the students will have to complete a major paper that, in part, addresses Foer’s thesis as viewed through the lens of their own experiences in Argentina, including playing games against local squads (such as the reserve teams of San Lorenzo and Newell’s Old Boys, to name but two), going to local matches (including at River Plate and Argentinos Juniors), and through their own informal interactions with the sporting and non-sporting cultures of Argentina.
As you can imagine, the students have experienced many different aspects of globalization and its local resistance throughout the journey thus far, from playing an impromptu five-on-five street match against locals in the La Boca community to being swept-up in the atmosphere of El Monumental during a match.
(Street match in La Boca)
During my conversations with the students, and perhaps because of my own research interests, the role of heritage and its relationship to Argentinian fútbol has become a focal point of our discussions. One of the aspects I pointed out to the students, particularly after we toured La Bombonera – home of Boca Juniors – and visited the team museum, is that heritage (including team traditions, history, rituals, and culture) is one of the products that is packaged and sold to fans both locally and globally. Similarly, I told them that touring team museums and stadiums was, in a sense, an entry-point for many to acquire or re-enforce their fandom. Judging by the number of students who left La Bombonera with Boca merchandise (and who said they would support Boca upon their return to the US, despite the fact we did not actually see Boca play in their home stadium), there is something to the theory that experiencing heritage may lead to support and fandom.
(Touring La Bombonera)
The students noticed that, despite the local cultures and chants, the teams were largely sponsored by international companies – and, often, American companies like DirectTV. They also commented that most of the music played in the stadiums we went to were American or British artists.
(Watching a game at El Monumental, home of River Plate)
However, the interesting thing that the students did mention – and related to both globalization and heritage – were the styles of play they were encountering when playing against Argentinian clubs. They noted that it was a very distinct style of play, similar to the style that the Argentinian national team plays, primarily in terms of speed and aggression. Interestingly, they noted that some of the teams they’ve played anticipated a very “American” style of play from Clemson, and were surprised when Clemson played above expectations. Similarly, they have noted both the style of refereeing to be different and, in some cases, more knowledgable than US referees (with a few exceptions). They have also been enamoured with the fact that they are immersed in a soccer culture all the time, something that they rarely get to experience in the US.
(Clemson versus San Lorenzo, with the Estadio Pedro Bidegain in the background)
One of the interesting aspects I have noticed at each of the grounds we have visited are the murals situated outside of the stadiums. While many are fútbol-related, others appear to be more about social and political struggle.
(Two murals, one fútbol-related at San Lorenzo, the other more politically related at Boca Juniors)
We still have a few days remaining in-country, and I expect there will be more lessons to be learned – both on and off the pitch. We have seen some of the impacts of inflation in the country, and while in Buenos Aires we witnessed several major protests right on our doorstep. The students have two more games to play in Rosario, as well as a number of non-sport activities including a city tour, and I expect we will have many more interesting discussions about globalization, heritage, and soccer.
Watching Canada’s 3-0 victory over Sweden in the men’s gold medal hockey final yesterday, someone on social media commented (and, forgive, I’m not sure who it was) something to the effect that “how did we watch sports before Twitter?” Indeed, part of the fun of watching the men’s final on Sunday was the connecting with other Canadians on social media, particularly as many regions in the country amended their liquor laws in order to allow bars to open for the early-morning game. One Edmonton-based commenter even made the comment that Twitter was like one, big Canadian pub during the game:
Having lived away from Canada for nearly five years now, moments like Sunday – and, to an extent, Thursday’s women’s gold medal hockey game (unfortunately, I was teaching during Canada’s comeback versus the US and couldn’t watch the game) – help me to maintain a connection to my home country. I certainly don’t hide my national identity down here in South Carolina, but normally my accent gives me away and I often end up talking about the Homeland with grocery clerks, waiters, and gas station attendants. Certainly, I’m proud of my citizenship, though as the years go on I do feel myself becoming less attached to Canada. Moments like Thursday and Sunday were a nice reminder of my heritage.
Perhaps most surprising to me was that I actually cared as much as I did about the result of both games. I grew up playing hockey, have long been an avid hockey watcher, could quote stats and hockey history, etc, though – for a variety of reasons – I have drifted away from the sport in recent years. In the sport tourism class I teach, we talk often about globalization and mobility, and how these things can create – in a sense – a crisis of identity. If I were pressed, I probably care more about baseball and cricket right now than I do about hockey, and maybe that’s both a part of my current address as well as my personal/professional tastes and interests. Certainly, I quasi-follow college football and the NFL now because of where I live. However, the space-time collapse of things like social media meant that I could engage with my Canadian hockey heritage, even if only for a few days, and share something of the experience of being back home. In many ways, these interactions with my fellow Canadian hockey fans re-enforced my sense of identity. At the same time, neither hockey game – nor the Winter Olympics, for that matter – was really on the radar of most people in Clemson (beyond ex-pats and Olymphiles, I suppose) so my sense of nationalism was somewhat limited to the virtual space and time created on Twitter. I suppose this would have been the case with or without Twitter and global broadcasts of sporting events in real time, and maybe the fact that watching the Olympics isn’t as all-encompassing as it was in previous generations re-enforces the globalization and mobility argument. After all, we can disengage or ignore something like the Olympics ways that we never could before. Still, the real-time feel of Twitter helped me feel a little more connected and a little more Canadian, but anecdotally it would seem that it was just we Canadians (where ever we might be) talking to ourselves.
I am still wrapping my head around the idea of how particular heritages – sport or otherwise – are transported, translated, and re-enacted away from their points of origin. I see this often in sport heritage, not only in how particular heritages are borrowed – but, also, how some sport heritages, traditions, and rituals are mobile and become performed in different environments. Again, I’m still figuring this out (it takes me awhile with theory sometimes, I’m afraid) and how to properly describe it, but I think the mobility of sport heritage could be a rather important topic.
As such, I bring you fans at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (or MCG for short) – a stadium that has a rich history and heritage – performing and translating a sporting tradition normally enacted on another continent, at a different stadium, thousands of miles away:
Yeah, I really have to figure what this all means.