“The Beautiful Game” in Buenos Aires: Transnationalism through Sport

One of the things that I love the most about my thesis topic is the reaction I get to the inevitable “so, what are you writing your thesis on?” question. When this question is asked by a professor or fellow grad student, I have a slightly longer response prepared, but when it’s asked by a casual acquaintance, my first answer is simply: “Soccer.”

I first started playing soccer when I was three years old; while I was never the fastest (by far) or the most skilled at footwork, I continued to play and love the sport through high school and onto college (and grad school!) intramural teams. I attended the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, obsessively follow Spain as a national team and Barcelona as a club, and yet had never really considered studying fútbol in a more academic way until I started at NYU. As it turns out, soccer is heavily studied by various academic fields – sociology, anthropology, history, ethnic studies, and even mathematics (statistical analysis), economics (the sport brings in billions of dollars worldwide), and science (does heading a soccer ball damage your brain? Are successful soccer players better thinkers than non-players?). For a sport that originated in mid 19th century Britain, it has spread across the world remarkably, and it would be hard to imagine modern-day Spain, Brazil, or Argentina without also picturing their fervent dedication to club teams, national teams, and the sport at large.

The research I’m doing while in Buenos Aires, then, somehow managed to work its way from “I want to go to South America and talk about soccer” to my current working research question: “With full awareness of the implications of the intersection of race, nationality, identity, and soccer within the Bolivian community in Buenos Aires, how and to what extent does this particular immigrant population use soccer to either negotiate integration into the local society or to sustain their distinct ethnic identity?” In brief, I hope to use soccer as a lens to understand the issues of transnationalism, migration, and discrimination that inevitably arise in this context.

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

I had been warned by many (professors, grad students who had completed their research already, and common sense) that the process of finding people who could help with my research and willingly be interviewed could be a difficult and tiring process. I’m not sure if I was just a researcher who spent her entire life helping burgeoning graduate students in a previous life and therefore karma is kicking in full speed, but I have been incredibly fortunate in this aspect. As this card I found in the San Telmo market proclaims, “lo importante no es saber, sino tener el telefono de quien sabe.” Truer words have never been spoken!

To begin with, there are two professors at the Universidad de Buenos Aires that are basically the academic experts of all things relating to fútbol and identity in Argentina. I met with Roberto Di Giano two days after arriving in Buenos Aires, and spoke with him at length about the fundamentals of soccer in this country, the history behind it, and the issues of discrimination and racism that are quite prevalent today. I will be meeting with the other professor, Pablo Alabarces, this coming week. I feel so fortunate to be able to meet with them.

“The right to have rights.”

Secondly, one of the NGOs that works with the Bolivian community in Buenos Aires has been helpful beyond what I could have hoped for. Called FUNCRUSUR (Fundacion Comunitaria Cruz del Sur), they are headquartered in the “microcentro boliviano” neighborhood of Liniers and work in various areas including health care, community involvement, legal issues, education, and diversion. I met with the NGO’s director, Dr. Manuel Cervantes, and he has connected me with a variety of individuals that will be able to help in the specific aspects of my research. (As a side note, I’ll be speaking about my project on the NGO’s community radio stationtomorrow in the 1pm – 2pm slot [one hour ahead of EST] – it streams live online, so listen if you get the chance!)

To sum it up, I have been ridiculously lucky in so many ways already – and I haven’t even been in Buenos Aires for a full week yet! Not only have my contacts been helpful and forthcoming, but they continuously connect me with others that they think will be able to help as well. Perhaps most importantly, however, is the fact that I’m realizing more and more that while my project can perhaps seem silly on the surface, there is a mountain of incredibly important issues underneath just waiting to be discussed. Dr. Cervantes stated that one of the main reasons his NGO reaches out to adolescents through activities such as art and sports is: “Para que no tengan verguenza de su identidad, no tengan miedo de su cultura, y entiendan otras culturas.” [“So that they’re not ashamed of their identity, they’re not afraid of their culture, and they understand other cultures.”] Yes, I’m talking about soccer, but it’s so much more than just a sport.

Posted by Amanda Tollefson – MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU

One thought on ““The Beautiful Game” in Buenos Aires: Transnationalism through Sport

  1. What a great report. I really liked how you explained it and I can feel your passion for your thesis in your writing!

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