Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America focuses on the development and rise of women’s sports throughout Latin America and the struggles that women faced throughout the centuries. One thing that Elsey’s book highlights is the struggles, it also charts the rise of physical education programs for girls that would lead to the rise of women’s sports clubs. This book takes a look at multiple countries throughout Latin America and how women’s sports developed differently. While there is a focus on how women’s sports grew, the real focus is the social impact that women had on both the sport and the world. Elsey and Nadel both say the book isn’t here to just focus on the sports itself, but women’s impact on, “civic associations, sports clubs, physical education teams, or union leagues.” With that, the book helps readers realize the impact the women had on their countries and the change that was brought on. Written for not only fans of soccer, but for people who would like to look into women’s history and the impact they had on the world. From Cuba to Brazil, to the first women’s championship to the physical education teams, the story that Elsey tells is one that shows the real impact these women had on their communities and their countries.
The book’s five chapters give a look into how women’s sports and the social changes brought on by them were managed throughout Latin America, giving us an almost linear view of various countries. Each story highlights the differences that women faced in Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Cuba. By doing this Elsey’s book gave a storyline that many history books do not normally have. Giving these countries an almost case study like approach, Futblera allows an understanding that would not be there without highlighting each country. A study like this Elsy says, “puts forward comparative cases that reflect how distinct histories of gender created different landscapes for women’s athleticism.”It is hard not to think of sports as a masculine pastime, but what Elsy does well is to acknowledge that the world sees the sport in that way, but also works throughout the book to help us as readers take off that blinder. While the world of sports has always been male-dominated, Elsy highlights women like Clara Korte, who created postsecondary programs during a time when the Brazilian government wanted women to prepare to be mothers. She also highlights the women of the 1971 championship team who helped bring worldwide attention to the need for women in the sports world. Both pushed the envelope and made it easier for women when their home governments were not.
Altogether, the book does a good job of showing how women’s social status and the overall view of women were able to change over the years. This book reminds me of Echevarría González’s The Pride of Havana: A History of Cuban Baseball, which shows how clubs, schoolwide sports, and other leagues were able to develop without outside forces pushing them from within. Unlike in Puerto Rico, the sport of baseball was able to develop and thrive without the help of America and was able to claim it as national identity and pride, similar to what Mexican championship time had. The social change in all of the mentioned countries reminded me of the piece by Roger Kittelson on the modernization of Brazil. While some focus is on race and political change hammering the soccer team, Elsey’s book focuses on how the women break through what she describes as the “patriarchal coverage” that came with their teams. Both groups had to fight through social barriers in order to play the sports they love. While Elsy did a great job at highlighting the struggles and success that these different women went through, she could have focused more on the sports aspect by mentioning how the game of soccer had changed or by focusing more on some of the important people. In this book, the sports itself appears as something that plays as the background of the Futblera. In order to be a true sports history book, it could use a little bit more of a focus on that as it seems to be more like a women’s history book with, again, sports as the background. Overall, it led to good historical work that made use of some shortcomings.
Elsey does an amazing job of mixing the different aspects from a focus on the sports, the women that pushed the envelope, and a few pictures to help enhance the readings. This helps makes for a fabulous read and tells a story that not many of us have never heard. Futblera is the type of book that has opened my eyes to a world I have never read or researched about. While sports may be the background of this book, it does not change the importance of this book. Women like Korte helped both the sports world and women forever. When it comes to the long-lasting impact the book has, it will go down more like a women’s history book than a sports book. The focus on the impact the women had on the countries and the sport as a whole put them in the spotlight that focuses on that side of history more does an amazing job while using the sport of soccer as it’s the background. Teams like that 1971 championship team broke barriers and helped change that patriarchal grip that gripped the sports world. From Cuba to Brazil, to the first women’s championship to the P.E. teams, the story that Elsey tells is one that shows the real impact these women had on their communities and their countries.
Appalachian State University