Football is almost a secular faith with its own myths, rules and revered heroes, often competing with religion when games are played at the same time as church services, writes Sao Leopoldo for Ecumenical News International and ALC.
That, at least, is the view of two Brazilian researchers. Professors Ricardo dos Santos and Francisco Teixeira, from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, are editors of a book entitled: Football And Politics, The Construction of a National Identity, issued recently by Brazil's Mauad Publishing.
In the new book, fourteen different authors deal with topics like class, race and geography in sport.
Produced partly to coincide with the soccer World Cup in Germany, the book highlights the way the game helped forge a national identity in Brazil, the only nation to have participated in every World Cup since the inception of the tournament in 1930.
After the proclamation of the Brazilian republic in 1889, the sport provided the first opportunity for poor, black and mixed-race people to be integrated in social institutions like clubs, street teams and schools, and even the national team.
Nevertheless the researchers say there is no historical evidence, at least in Brazil, that soccer has ever won elections or has helped overcome social injustice.
But the game has certainly been used by the Brazilian state in the pursuance of its own interests and to consolidate support, the researchers note. "This is clearly seen in the Getulio Vargas government (1930-1945 and 1951-1954) when sports were appropriated in a symbolic manner."
President Vargas used sport as a tool to build national identity, they explain, recalling that German dictator Adolf Hitler did the same in Germany when he promoted physical education in the formation of the Arian race.
Turning to the World Cup, the researchers say the tournament can be seen as an example of globalisation which mobilises the largest number of people on the planet. But it is also an event, they underline, where distinctly national identities are upheld, presented and celebrated.
With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.
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