Pablo Alabarces and María Graciela Rodríguez* (Argentina)

* Instituto de Investigaciones Gino Germani, Facultad de Ciencias Sociales, Universidad de Buenos Aires.
This research is running under the academic framework of the Scientific Schedule 1995-97 of UBACyT.

North American Society of Sociology of Sport (NASSS) Conference
Toronto, Canada, November 5-8, 1997.

From very early times in the Argentina, football has provided a strong nucleus for representing nationality. A series of international successes, and a list of football "heroes", germinated an epic narrative, in which football contributed, in an important way, to the "invention of a nation." Starting from the populist experience of the early peronism in the '40s, the relationship between football (sport) and nationality intensified, with a visible climax in the '80s and the '90s, through the "Maradonian saga". Today, the globalization of the football stage coincides with a crisis or fracture in national representation via Argentinean football. At the same time, there is an infinite expansion of football in the daily agenda of the Argentinean public (crossing genders and classes). Football therefore appears as the only territory where an epic nationalism may be developed in times of conservative neopopulism; yet, at the same time, it seems unable to produce it. Our analysis centres on this tension within Argentinian football.
Key words: Football. Heroes. Nation. Epics. Fatherland.

If the relationship between sport and nationalism, particularly through the mediation of the category of national identity, has been abundantly worked (MacClancy, 1996; Mangan, 1996; Lanfranchi, 1992; Sugden and Tomlinson, 1995; Giulianotti and Williams, 1994, among others), in the particular case of the Argentinean soccer the texts of Eduardo Archetti constitute an excellent analysis of its foundation's moment. From that starting point, this work tries to characterize the representation of the nationality through soccer in a historical track that points out the different ways in which that relationship was built up, and in the same movement to discuss what we understand as a crisis of the soccer's capacity in order to invest the meanings of the Nation. At the contemporary times, the new globalizated and media-ised stages point out a cleavage in the representation of the national issue through the sport that, according to our hypothesis, the Argentinean soccer is not able to solve in an effective mode, in the sense of building a new national sport epic.

The mythological foundation
Like all the America continent Argentina is an invented country: both in the fiction of its "discovery" and in the violence of its conquest and occupation. And also, in a nomination that supposes, imaginarily, a territory of wealth, scarcely found in its baptism: "silver land". Besides, in its difficult construction as a Modern State during the XIX century, Argentina has been an object of no longer one, but several inventions: the civilians wars that characterized its history through 1810 to 1880 were not only warlike exchanges, but also furious and opposing discursive battles where the hegemony indeed was discussed; what the wars resolved, finally, was the capacity of a sector to impose a definitive meaning to the whole Nation. That process allows Nicholas Shumway to talk about the invention of Argentina as the "history of an idea" (Shumway, 1993); better than the story of the establishment of a State, of a geographical space, of a legal corpus, the Argentinean history is a game of discourses.

Moreover, the end of the century and the beginning of the new one put in crisis that difficult construction: Argentina became an immigrant's country, and the alluvium of European migrants supposed the fracture not only of an economic and social model, but also of a narrative one. While until that moment the hegemonic explanatory paradigm had talked about the victory of the civilization over the barbarism, of the European culture over the American savagery, the fast modernization of the Argentinean society needed to use new discourses that could dissolve the dangers carried with the formation of the new popular urban classes --which seemed to be quite sensitive to the socialist and anarchist appealing--. At the same time, those discourses had to be able to constitute an united national identity in front of the acute modification of the demographic map which was being broken into fragments of heterogeneous identities. The reply of the dominant class, though with differences and contradictions, tended to work in one sense: the construction of an elite's nationalism that produced, specially from 1910, the most important myths of unification. A heroic pantheon; a historical, official and coercive narrative over all alternative discourses; the melting pot model as a policy for the immigration, and a subsequent myth of ethnic unity; and an origin's story which has instituted the gaucho's figure as an argentinity pattern and an epic figure.

As Rosana Guber states, "although not without conflicts, the Argentinean State was extremely effective in its compulsion of assimilation" (Guber, 1997: 61). And its efficacy laid on two mechanisms: on one hand the public school, as a fundamental State's device, became the main agent of this new identity construction among the popular sectors1. On the other hand, an early cultural industry helped both by the Argentinean technological modernization at the beginnings of the century and its fast urbanization, built a mass audience whose members were the popular classes with increased literacy, in the first years of the XX century already. The national identity's narration did find a wide and effective territory where to be shown in that mass culture, formerly a graphic one and from 1920 onwards also a radial and movie one. In spite of its private character --the State will not intervene on the media's policy until the 40s--, the mass culture participated in the reproduction of the hegemonic stories, specially around the weightiness of the gaucho's mythology.

However some deviations have appeared in this production. The new and early professionalized media's producers, although being participants of the hegemonic narrative of the elite's nationalism, raised from the urban middle classes constituted through that very process of modernization. And their massive and heterogeneous audience presented another system of expectations: though having being sharpened by the school's nationalist rhetoric, they also attended to other practices of the everyday life. Together with the nationalist archetypes, the popular classes were building another pantheon: next to the Leopoldo Lugones and Ricardo Rojas's gauchos2, or the Jorge Luis Borges's compadritos, the popular and true heroes appeared: the sportsmen. As Archetti points out (particularly, 1995), in the discussion of the national identity the sport journalists, a kind of doubly peripheral intellectuals--in Bourdieu's sense: peripheral in the journalistic field, which is peripheral in the intellectual field-- made a not legitimate construction of the identity (because the legitimate places are literature or essays), but a pregnant one in terms of the universe of their audience. In this way soccer became, in the sport magazine El Gráfico, one hegemonic support for this practice from the decade of 1920, "a cultural text, in a narrative that is used to think about the national and the male issues" (Archetti, 1995: 440).

The process described by Archetti, went over different roads. It needed passage's rites: if the national issue was to be built on the soccer, it was necessary to explain the transit from the English invention to the creolization --movement which was solved in the melting pot and in the naturalization of a process that had merged the cultural, the economical and the social issues--. It needed a differential practice: the pair we/they found its imaginary expression in a play's style, better narrated than lived, but with a great capacity of producing social meanings. It needed a sport success (Arbena, 1996) that would become effective the representation of the national issue: and here there are the Boca Juniors European tour in 1925, the silver medal in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics, the second place in the Football World Cup of 1930 in Uruguay3. And it needed heroes who supported the foundation's epic: Tesorieri, Monti, Orsi, Seoane, just for pointing a few of them. And moreover, if in this case the nation was built from the middle classes and not from the dominant ones, the deviations appeared again: in front of an idea of nation that referred to the pastoral (in the double meaning of the gaucho's myth and of the exploitation of the soil, dominant way of production), the nation that was built in the soccer assumed urban settlings of space and time. In front of an idea of nation anchored in the heroic pantheon of the patrician families and in the Hispanic tradition, the soccer restored a nation which was represented by the popular sectors. In front of a gaucho's archetype built over those popular classes suppressed by the economical agricultural organization, the national heroes proposed by the soccer's organic intellectuals were members of the really existent and recently urbanized popular classes which were also recently risen to literacy and were pressing for setting themselves on the cultural and policy sphere through the first Argentinean populism (the Yrigoyen's Radical party). And then, their efficacy for this interpellation resided there.

Renato Ortiz (1991) states that the preoccupation about the construction of a national identity was a constant element in all Latin America "because the concern was to build a State and a modern nation" and that "it was the tradition the one that finally provided the main symbols to which the nation would end identifying with" (idem: 96), symbols that, in the Brazilian case became the samba, the carnival, the soccer. Ortiz adds: "I have no doubts that this choice among diverse symbols took place mainly because of the State's performance (...). The necessity of the State of presenting itself as a popular one implied the revaluation of these practices that began to possess increasingly massive characteristics. Finally, the formation of a nation crossed through a preliminary question: the construction of its 'people'." (ibidem).

This shift from the "collective memory" --a vivencial and everyday one-- to the "national memory" --a virtual and ideological one--4 is made by the State. Or, more precisely, by the State's intellectuals, mediators who built that second order discourse which is the discourse of the national issue. In Argentina, the early modernity of its popular education system, its cultural industry and its massive audience, allowed the appearance of a group of professional intellectuals of the media that elaborated this discourse of the nationality which was highly efficient among the popular classes, and at the same time the official intellectuals of the State were building another one, in many senses a divergent but dominant one. We can propose that that early appearance of the nationality discourse related to soccer, efficiently spreaded among the popular classes from the '20s, is what would allow its mythology to become a ritual where to celebrate the homeland two decades later, when it reached its hegemonic condition. For that climax, a more advantageous stage will be given by the populist peronism's experience.

Fatherland, sport and populism
The 1945-1955 decade is an interesting period to show the relationship between sport, popular social sectors and the political-cultural operations of a State which was trying to build a new economic framework. Due to the necessity of bringing together the popular social sector within the industrialization project, the State needed to set cultural mechanisms in order to re-elaborate a new communitarian meaning of nation. This period can be defined as an "official nationalism", regarding to a "cultural appliance of a particular class" (Anderson, 1993: 21) that uses the State's devices in order to generate an idea of community: basic, obligatory and massive education; State propaganda; official review of history (in order to recreate the "fatherland foundation"); militarism; and other actions tending towards the national identity assertion.

Populism in Argentina can be considered as an attempt to the re-invention of the fatherland through the inclusion, into the urban culture, of huge popular masses which were supposed to be the beneficiaries of the re-distribution of the incomes. The political participation scope of these popular masses that were illegitimate until that time, not only was widened regarding to an increase of population's claims, but also to the social construction of their media-representation. Both faces of the same coin: a necessary legitimacy.

This period is important in order to investigate the relationship between sport and nationalism, due to three aspects which appear as strong facts of these years: the sport spreading (both under the communitarian and the top level point of view); the boom and consolidation of the cultural industry with a strong interventionist's feature; and the bursting in the political stage of a new actor, the popular social sectors, so-called to be the beneficiary of the State policies. This appearance of the popular social sectors and its nomination as "people" ("pueblo"), not only has defined the period's frame through this populist interpelation, by converting the mass in people and the people in Nation, but it put the sport as an efficient device for the construction of a new national reference.

The sport spectacle was inaugurated as a new possible national ritual (practically unimaginable until then by the political society) spreading the symbolic repertoire in common (García Canclini, 1991). In this way, the sport has operated on the articulation of the modes and mechanisms of civil and political consensus because it has generated a set of emotions, necessities and subjectivities related to the narrative modes of a patriotic feeling. The sport spectacle appeared for the first time as valid to take part in the national repertoire and its legitimacy was supported by its link with the popular issue.

In this sense sport was a suitable vehicle in order to set on stage these new representations, and in order to do this the intervention policy of the State played a decisive role5. In the resemantization that media did of the claims coming from the popular social sectors, can be read the negotiation's operation between these two actors and the State, based on the necessity of building a new collective issue, where citizenship and "people" seemed to be equivalent terms. The interpelation to an age target, in the officialist press of these years, is also significative, and this seemed to be a desire of displacing semantically the meaning of "argentinness" to a future notion, as if it were a past which would have to be forgotten6.

Nevertheless, this national imaginary didn't go apart from what the State effectively did. Its strength raised also from an actual re-distribution of the G. D. P. (Gross Domestic Product) (Ferrer, 1980) which allowed the assignation of the resources to general welfare policies7. Sport policy, framed by a widened democratic participation, was aimed to the communitarian sport practices8 and to improve the Top Level Sport perfomance. In order to do this a newly -for the period- ruling legal frame was created9. The meeting of the communitarian dimension and the one of the international competitions is a fundamental fact in order to understand the relationship between a collective imaginary which worked on the media representation of a successful sport and on the inter-subjective experiences of the citizenship, both in its role of direct participant and as an audience, which makes also possible to think about an increasing acquisitive capacity of the popular social sectors and about its coming out as cultural consumers10.


© 1998. Alabarces & Rodríguez
Lecturas: Educación Física y Deportes.
Año 3, Nº 10. Buenos Aires. Mayo 1998