In their book ​Futbolera: A history of Women and Sports in Latin America, ​Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel provide the history of women in sports by comparing cases in Argentina, Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Chile, among other countries. They argue that there has been a rise in the physical education programs for girls. In their arguments, the rise in physical education for girls has been driven by eugenics concepts and the concept of proper motherhood that could have led to the changes in the sports for women. Elsey and Nadel also submitted that the women sports club could thrive beyond the school systems’ confines. These are the ideas that have been responsible for increasing the robustness and development of women leagues or their equivalent across the world. The argument advanced in this work is that women have always been excluded from sports events and activities. The exclusion of women has always acted against the development of women’s physical activities, and this has not always been better in the development of women’s sports events. The black American athletes are known to have had impeccable achievements. However, most of these achievements were being linked to men. Therefore, Elsey and Nadel provided an understanding of how Latin American women have been performing over time in sports.

In the book, women have always been disadvantaged by various factors, including bodily integrity, public space, and lack of access to leisure, mostly due to the exclusion from the national pastimes. The book also submits that in the years between the 1970s and 1980s, when different countries faced military dictatorships, the focus was being turned on women. Moreover, feminist and democratic space was expanding due to the governments’ deliberate efforts to come up with systems that could integrate women and men in different aspects of social lives. The book also submits that today, the mindsets have shifted entirely to face different changes and society’s aspects. Society has developed to overcome some of the activities that were against women being in sports. Initially, the society had not focused on developing behaviors that would permit women to participate equally in different activities, both sports and other social activities. Elsey and Nadel have also presented an understanding of different activities and how the change in the society has been responsible for influencing the women’s space in the development of sports and the development of women in the sports, including access to the leisure facility.

Elsey and Nadel have conducted a proper study and mapped the changes in sports and how women have been slowly integrated into society to practice sports. However, this book fails to interrogate the willingness of women to participate in sports activities. The book has also provided an understanding of how the feminism of the 1970s contributed to the openness and practices vital in understanding different activities. In the 1970s and 1980s, women were subjected to the practices due to the affirmative actions embraced in different parts of the world. However, one of the main issues that have not been interrogated is the role of authoritarian regimes in handling different issues and ensuring that the women participated in these sports. Women can participate in sports activities; however, the main issue that Elsey and Nadel overlooked was the contributions of women and their willingness to participate in sports events. It also failed to look at whether the events were available for women early enough. Critically, Elsey and Nadel have made their decisions based on what had been happening over time.

Elsey and Nadel should have concentrated on the mental preparedness of women to engage in sports activities. It should have interrogated how the preparedness of women contributed to the development of women’s sports events. It should also have looked at how women’s morale was guided and how this was critical in developing different aspects of society.

The development of women in sports can be looked at through the acceptability of the projects promoted and enhanced in different countries at the time. Overall, the book has understood the development of women in sports and how women have become competitive in the process. It has also presented an important aspect of women and sports and looked at how women’s body has changed in the sports industry.

Thomas Smith McNeill

Appalachian State University

Women have a long and complicated history in sports and in many ways it has been more complex in Latin America than it has in the mainland United States. Soccer has been the most popular sport in Latin America throughout history and everyone wants an equal chance to participate in the national pastime of Latin America. Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel seek to illustrate why women faced a much bigger challenge than men did. Futbolera A History of Women and Sports in Latin America relates heavily to the ideas of masculinity and femininity and the purpose of gender roles and norms in sports. 

Futbolera conveys the overall theme of struggle across different chapters and focused on different countries. A common theme between all five chapters is the idea of how the different countries promoted the idea of women’s fitness but not women’s participation in sports. This idea of fitness was promoted by many of the regimes across the region; many of these countries were under authoritarian regimes in the past and these regimes were the primary motivating force in the country. The authors layed out that the reason behind why the regimes resisted women’s participation in sports had to do with very gendered reasons such as reproductive health and also appearance. There is a traditional gender role that women are supposed to be petite and thin, not so thin they look unhealthy but thin nonetheless, and also they are supposed to be homemakers. These regimes promoted these roles to the max saying that women would start to look “mannish” if they became too fit and that it would damage their reproductive health. The authors keep presenting this theme of gender roles and norms over and over again to illustrate the hardships that women faced in their path to playing professional sports. Gender norms can be very strong and motivating to opinions and the authors do a good job of presenting these points to an audience that would likely be very familiar with the acceptance of women in sports in the United States. Soccer and Basketball have been major opportunities for women in the United States but the authors remind us that this is not the case everywhere. I feel like the authors present a very even perspective given that there are two of them, one man and one woman. In any sort of writing it is important to have two different perspectives on a topic, and it validates their findings in such a way that I would not believe a book written by two men or two women on gender would have. 

Eugenics was one reason behind why the regimes wanted to limit women in sports but the authors also lay out why nationalism played a role. The authors pointed out how many of these authoritarian leaders outright banned women’s soccer in their country. While some of the leaders banned women’s soccer due to body image and eugenics as previously discussed, countries like Mexico and Brazil. The authors pointed out the unique situation in Brazil where it was the military that banned women’s soccer and it was unprecedented intervention by a standing military. The authors also illustrated the situation in Mexico where they were worried about fanaticism and prejudice if they were to promote women’s soccer. The authors make it clear and convey reasoning for why this happened. Women as a gender in many places were still seen as an inferior people and the Mexican government knew the backlash that would come if they promoted it. This is a good point brought up by the authors that although a country or government might support something privately, they still want to keep a good positive public image and that might be why they are not supporting it publicly. The author’s use of newspapers as a source for this content makes it more genuine and true. Anyone can go and find articles online to research but taking a close look at the newspapers and media in these countries, makes the information they share even more compelling. This goes back to my point about different perspectives and the authors do a good job of making sure to present every possible view on a situation. 

Overall the authors do a good job of telling a compelling story that sports and non sports fans alike can enjoy. That is incredibly important to me that a book can attract not just its intended audience, but an audience outside of that as well. Soccer fans and women’s rights activists will enjoy this book because it offers a history of a beloved sport, and it offers a story about the journey women have taken towards equality. Those groups have been expected to enjoy the book but I believe sports fans of all walks will enjoy this book or even those who just enjoy a good story. The fact that it is about soccer helps with other sports fans and especially those who enjoy a wide range of sports will find a good story. I keep talking about the story and it is an important part of any book whether it be fiction or nonfiction, no one enjoys a book that just spews facts at you and nothing else. Futbolera takes the idea of a nonfiction book and it creates a compelling narrative that anyone who likes to read can easily get sucked into and enjoy.

Connor Nilsson

Appalachian State University

Futbolera Review

The distinctive influence of competitive football has proven to be a timelessly compelling, as well as socially integrative force across diverse populations and demographics. The accelerated development and universal popularity of both professional and amateur football are unrivaled. On an international scale, soccer has long distinguished itself as a preferential tool of congregation and celebration throughout communities of every race, socioeconomic status, age, nationality, or gender. The distinct characteristics of the sport have worked gradually to restructure its identity from simply being thought of as a social activity, centralized and embedded within a community and its culture, into a worldwide phenomenon and sacred tradition that is celebrated transnationally. Despite soccer being familiarly associated with the small, but powerful island of England, the research novel Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports In Latin America, provides an in-depth analysis of the historical prominence and complex relationship between playing football and adhering to the ideals of femininity across Latin America.

The authors, Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel, focus their writing on the shared experiences of Latinx women soccer players, also known as Futboleras, in order to shine a light on a disregarded, but widely relevant collective identity and topic within global sports history. As they admit explicitly within the book’s introduction, the authors have attempted to effectively analyze, compare, and contrast the unique pieces of evidence they have identified within their abundance of geographically diverse, but thematically linked resources. While Elsey and Nadel intend to shape a narrative that combines both sports and women’s history, due to their inclusion and analysis of personal case studies from many Latinx futboleras, the authors are equally as effective in defining the periodically relevant, cultural histories of different Latin American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, and others. Accordingly, the book Futbolera is not focused solely on detailing the continental rise of Latinx women soccer players, but it instead grapples with the uniquely layered relationship between gender and social stratification, physical education, cultural expectations, and the patriarchal policing of bodily function. By giving the audience an understanding of the distinct, societal structures and legal policies of different Latin American countries, which inherently influence the abilities of their female athletes and citizens, the authors are able to demonstrate the specific ways in which futboleras’ challenged gender hierarchies, and the countless discriminatory restrictions placed against them. Additionally, Elsey and Nadel seem to majorly highlight the 40-year prohibition of women’s soccer within Brazil, which resulted from the gradual, but socially unacceptable dispersion of women’s soccer within different racially and economically developed communities throughout Brazil. The authors are able to identify why this growing prominence of social inclusivity within women’s soccer ignited relentless backlash and then indefinite illegalization, despite relevant similarities and integrative pushes arising equally as much within Brazilian men’s football. Although this period of prohibition was central to Brazilian society during the 20th century, the authors implicitly argue that this oppressive, governmental policing of women’s bodies and athletics was inherently reflective of the patriarchal ideals that have flowed within the foundation of Latin American culture and society throughout history.

The evidence provided by Elsey and Nadel is deeply introspective and insightful, which would allow their cohesive narrative to still feel effective even if it was only focused on revealing the cultural distinctions between Latin American societies throughout the 20th century. Although the authors were able to achieve this intimidating feat, the book Futbolera receives value from its recognition of the countless, disregarded stories of Latina football players, while effectively describing these experiences within the historical context that is needed to accurately understand these achievements and challenges.  The two authors were successful in helping the readers to visualize the many achievements, failures, and challenges faced by female athletes. By implementing and analyzing primary case studies of real futboleras, which provide comparable and contrasting evidence of multiple different perspectives, Elsey and Nadel were able to effectively shape the distinct, historical context of various Latin American nations throughout the 19th and 20th century. Subsequently, the experiences of futboleras depended on the cultural principles of their nationality, and the hierarchical structure of gender within their community. Although the targeted audience of Futbolera is most likely for sports or women’s history scholars, the major themes and characteristics displayed throughout the book could be easily comprehended and enjoyed by a diverse population. The cultural values and identities that are addressed within Futbolera are deeply representative of social issues throughout the world, but as they are described through the unique lens of Elsey and Nadel, the reader is able to recognize the distinct presence of race, class, gender, government, and sport within Latin spaces.  

Emma Burdon

Appalachian State University

The book, Futbolera,  written by Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel, takes a deep dive into the world of women’s football/soccer and women’s sports in general throughout Latin America during the late 19th Century, the 20th Century and beyond. The information detailed by the book is intriguing and unique, as it demonstrates a multifaceted look into how different Latin American countries and regions handled women’s soccer and sports, comparing the various countries and regions, demonstrating similarities and differences between all.  Utilizing historical documents, print media, as well as written observations by persons during the times covered, Futbolera gives an objective look at the evolution of the sports of women throughout the Latin American region, displaying the highs, the lows, and the thoughts of those who witnessed.  Though, one commonplace observation noted with women’s soccer, no matter what the country was, there appeared to be represented a pushback from one group in the country to oppose the growth of women’s soccer/sports in their country. Typically, for most countries that group consisted of conservative males that did not want to empower women for different reasons.

 The first chapter of Futbolera focused on Argentina and Chile’s development of women’s soccer/football as well as female exercise activity. Argentina actually was one of the countries in the region that pushed for women’s physical education as early as the 1800’s. Though this received pushback from people that thought that women should be “soft and delicate;” in their appearance.  Incidentally, The Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was a major force in women’s sports in Latin America through the group’s encouragement of participation of women in the early 1900’s.  And even though the group received backlash for their stance, they continued to promote it.  Instead of football though, the YMCA focused on sports like Swimming and Basketball while ignoring football.

               As for the country Chile on the other hand, though there were some similarities with Argentina’s evolution, the differences involved the  hyper masculinity  that was seemingly much more abrasive in Chile then it was in Argentina.  And as a result women’s football and women’s sports in Chile lagged behind the men’s significantly.

               The authors of the book focused on telling the distinct differences between Chile and Argentina’s stance to women’s football. Argentina, thanks to the influence of European culture and ideals was a bit more open to women’s sport and in more specifically women’s football than Chile. Though, even in Argentina, they pushed more for other sports than for women’s football.  The same is the case in Chile thanks to a strong hint of masculinity depicted in the writings and observations of the times.  The book chronicles those events, reviewing  the challenges that female footballers faced from masculine ideals, put forth by leaders of their respected countries.  Actions such as sabotage by male officials, legal prohibition, opposition from their families that fought against the idea of football for women were noted.

Other focus on the book highlights Brazil who based on the authors’ insights, probably had the most pushback of any country mentioned in the book.  Brazil outright banned women’s football in 1941, which effectively should have closed the door on women’s sports.  Yet even despite the eventual ban, Brazilian women’s football had quite a bit of popularity when it was allowed, that would eventually cause the ban to be lifted with women’s football even celebrated by the country in many ways today.  The largest hurdle for women playing sports in Brazil were due to conservatives in the country who pushed very harshly against it, with the masculinity of identity ruling supreme to what was a patriarchal society.  Brazil struggled with this until the 80’s.  The chapter documents the various aspects of women with sports through documents, articles and a celebration of female “fans” of football over actual play in many publications.   Through perseverance however, the ban would be lifted and today, women’s football in Brazil is even celebrated a source of pride for the country.

In Mexico and Central America, the governments controlled women’s sports way more than in South America.   While much of Argentina and Chile’s focus on women’s sports was mainly individualist and bureaucratic, Mexico modeled itself with more open ideals with the changing times of the 20th Century.  The Mexican government pushed for female education in sports and physical education. Though there still were efforts to discourage female sports in Mexico, there were successes as depicted in historical articles of the time.  Costa Rica as a country was initially slow on their growth of women and sports, but when they began to allow women participate, they allowed women to participate in sports more then arguably any other Latin American country presented in the book.  Costa Rica is a country that recognized women athletes for their skill over their beauty, unlike some others. Though the government often had forces that discouraged women’s sports, a stable platform was established.  And as  for El Salvador, it was noted in the book was similar to Costa Rica’s with noted ideals based often time on Europe’s.

An interesting aspect of the book, depicted the success, and failure of the Mexican Women’s League  that exploded in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and had a competitive league that was seemingly popular through the active grassroots connections of its participants and supporters, noted in the establishment of regional based teams and well documented news stories.  The Mexico chapter showed that success was achieved. though only a short-lived success due to problems with money and general push back.

In conclusion,  Futbolera written by Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel, objectively document women’s sports, and more specifically women’s football/soccer through history to show how despite of problems, growth has been achieved significantly to the present day, having pushed through many of the elements that was thrown against it due to attitudes, preconceived standards, and even government regulation.  Through it all, women’s football is surviving and thriving somewhat, although there still remains many challenges to include less coverage, hyper masculine pushback or lack of investment opportunity.

Appalachian State

Evan Anders

The newly released monograph Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America focuses on women’s roles in sport in order to understand “the ideologies of gender, class, race, and sexuality” throughout Latin American history. While authors Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel discuss female participation in a variety of sports (basketball, track, volleyball, tennis, etc.), their examination of the most popular game in Latin America, soccer, allows Elsey and Nadel to map the comprehensive attitude and treatment toward women in organized play. Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Mexico are main focal points in the monograph’s study, however, conversation extends to Uruguay, Costa Rica, El Salvador as well. Futbolera, highlights existing, or in some cases lacking, evidence in order to record the available data of Latin American women in sports and situate their role in national identity, political, ethnic, and social class formation. Elsey and Nadel’s monograph is a comprehensive history of women’s sport in Latin America. 

Futbolera is organized both chronologically and geographically, beginning with the necessary history of state organization in Argentina and Chile countries (among other Latin American countries) in order to give readers an understanding of how organized play began in Latin America. Moving from the 1880’s origins of the Southern cone sport history, Elsey and Nadel document emerging movements and laws on female sport participation in their examination of Brazilian soccer culture beginning in the 1920’s. They continue with this focus on Brazilian Women’s soccer regulation and acceptance to the year 2000. When the authors shift focus to Mexico and Central America, governments play a much larger role in dominating women’s sport regulation, especially in soccer. Mexican political shifts, specifically aimed to control female play and organization to produce the state preferred citizen. This final focus of the book is spent detailing the success and failure of the Mexican Federation of Women’s Soccer, as it received unprecedented support and attention at the 1971 Amatuer World Championship, but was cut off at the knees in the following years as it was absorbed by the Mexican Football Association.  

As the authors note, their study of women in sports involves women in underground communities outside of the political domain. Their data cannot rely, therefore, on the same evidence typically used in historical research. Rather, Elsey and Nadel utilize media documentations or press reports, government documents from physical education departments, club documents, photographs, fan websites, and oral histories. The search for evidence in female sport’s history is “akin to searching for needles in a haystack” as put by Nadel and Elsey. Nonetheless, Elsey and Nadel provide useful documentation to support their arguments extently. In discussions of male or dominating opinion to gauge overwhelming regard for females in the sport, Elsey and Nadel draw conclusions from press articles, statements made by coaching and club officials, and other documented efforts written mostly (if not exclusively)  by men to shame or distance themselves from women’s sports. This remains the ritual to support arguments or conclusions drawn from Elsey and Nadel’s research throughout the entirety of the monograph.

The first chapter, Physical Education and Women’s Sports in Argentina and Chile, is particularly relevant to physical education teachers of the modern era, or educators in general who find sports history interesting. Overwhelmingly, physical education began as an extension of the state agency’s aim to create more desirable citizens in these nations and, in turn, most Latin American nations adopted organized sports of developed european countries that they both admired or had influencing ideals from. Here the authors note the first verifiable difference in organized game play of males and females, as girls were expected to participate in sports which enhanced their beauty and appeal to males. Additionally, female physical education teachers frequently found themselves at odds with their male colleagues or the male dominated institutions which ran educational and sport programs. Most educators, including myself, might be unaware of the role the education department played in organized sport and the beginning discrmination towards female participation. Elsey and Nadel’s connection reminds all the importance of recognizing moments in history where unequal values were not only in place, but actively advocated for. Elsey and Nadel end their monograph with an epilogue detailing continued struggles and signs of change in the modern female sport experience. 

The only issues found in this work lay in the sheer amount of content covered, geographically and thematically. For a reader new to the subject of sports history, the volume of information available on one page of the monograph can be overwhelming, especially as the authors change timeline, nation, or focus seemingly in the span of a sentence. Based on the currently limited, although growing, plethora of sports history academia one might be able to argue the decision to cover so much ground in one book was to provide as much scholarship to the academic focus as possible. Increased marketability could factor in as well, being that Futbolera serves as to give insight to both the history of women’s soccer and the general experience of women in Latin America.  Nonetheless, it can be hard to keep ideas connected, more difficult still when the reader lacks scholarly knowledge of Latin American history, sports history, or gender history. Therefore, this book is recommended to readers with at least a good grasp of the history of both Latin America and organized sport. To a consumer who’s somewhat familiar with the information presented in Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel’s monograph, Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America provides an all encompassing timeline by geographical location to the historical and social experiences of Latin American women in the sporting world. 

Shiloh Lovette

Appalachian State University

Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel’s Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America

Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America has the tough task of defining and elaborating on the extreme difficulties of being a woman athlete in South America. Though this is not just true of South America and is more of an issue all over the world, which is really the point of the book. The beginning of the book talks about the history and struggles of women across the sport. Much of these struggles deal with the pre-19th-century view on women. Towards the beginning of “Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America” is all about how hard it was to be a woman during a time when women were seen as not only inferior on the field but inferior off the field. After the beginning of the text, the author begins to go into a deeper subject of race and sex. The struggle of women who saw it harder during this period than even today’s class of female athletes. This subject of race and women starts out with the idea of classicism which is of course talking about the upper, middle, and lower class. How the authors pivot to this is by giving the example of the upper-class women who played tennis and swim. They have to have their word too, of course, they are of the utmost importance but women are still fighting too. Although biological destiny doesn’t play the role it did in the 1950’s women are still having the trouble of being treated as equals to men. The history of women’s sports all across the world can mostly be summed up as overcoming the power of men, usually white men. Though the Authors of the text do a very good job of not just describing the movements toward equal justice but also why it is important. The Authors are able to do this by providing a historical perspective and a cultural perspective. The example given about the rise of sports and physical education in Latin America in the 1800s and men deeming tennis track and swim for women is a prime example. This is used as a base to show the first signs of real discrimination and this is a successful tactic by the authors. Stopping the development of women’s muscles is another case in the text that really stood out to me. When the men of this time period were promoting dance and other such activities to keep women from growing stronger is a great example of extreme sexism. Football is of course the main topic of the text and the role it plays is of many different underlying themes. The class system and sexism are both topics that come out of the exclusion of women in Football. When we reach the 1900s and the Sport of Football is seen as brash and potentially too violent for women then the text unfolds into a more modern feel. Women being seen as lesser athletes and humans is a subject of debate with many different subjects in the world. Though here the authors are able to focus on the issue and hand while letting the readers see the parallel with other issues around the world. Towards the end of “Futbolera: A history of Sport in Latin America” the parallels of the modern issue with women and sports are seen very clearly. The issues of women’s pay and the coverage of women’s sports play a major role in today’s fight for equality. Which is a sad negative that this fight continues 200 years later. Though major progress has been made, women play and compete globally and draw major crowds for big-time games. Youth teams in Latin America are available and the sport gains popularity every day within large and small communities. The authors tap into this sign of hope by outlining the progress made. Though you can take this with a grain of salt because they also focus on what needs to be done even with the progress. Overall the text is well done and provides a historical and social outline of the goals and accomplishments of women athletes across Latin America.

Elsey, Brenda, and Joshua Nadel. Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2019.

Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America, outlines the history of women’s sports in Latin America through the lenses of several athletes, sports, and locations of play. The authors, Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel, take the reader through Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Mexico, and Costa Rica to show that Latin American women were left with little room to play sports. Nadel and Elsey throughout Futbolera reveal the struggle Latin American women had in finding their place within the sporting world. The authors argue that girls’ physical education programs led to the creation of women’s sports clubs and how women went on to challenge the social structure that left them little space in doing so in the first place. From playing while women’s football was banned in Brazilian prohibition even to battling and creating new ideal body types through challenging their societal norms. These all culminate into the author’s main argument, that women’s sports matter, and they fought perceptions, gender, and societal norms of women’s to have organized sports throughout Latin America. By guiding the reader through these Latin American countries, Nadel and Elsey provide an amazing avenue for future research in the new field of the history of women’s sports throughout Latin America.  

The structure of the book helps support the main point of Futbolera, through looking deeper into few Latin American countries versus trying to cover the region as a whole. By focusing on a particular country, spending each chapter allows an in-depth analysis into one issue, or time period. This helps the reader in understanding Latin American women’s struggle for recognition throughout Latin America. The book journeys north from Chile to Mexico which helps hone the author’s main argument that Latin America as a region did not accept female football players. The choice to focus on specific Latin American regions within each chapter allows the authors to journey more in depth into their research on certain countries. The first chapter focuses on Argentina and the suppression of women’s football, and physical education. Quickly succeeded by a quick turnaround into forming an Argentinian women’s team for the women’s football world cup, and overall inclusivity in Argentina sports press. The second chapter describes Brazil’s attempts to police women’s football, and the uproar it caused in the patriarchal sports organizations. While the following chapter focuses on the prohibition that was placed upon women’s football in Brazil, and how women persisted in playing the sport, which further challenged the gender norms that contradicted women’s participation in sports. The fourth chapter focuses primarily on Costa Rica and Mexico and their revolutionary nature affording women more opportunities in physical education, and sports. Lastly, the fifth chapter outlines the rise and fall of women’s football in Mexico, from the beginning of the leagues to the boom after the 1971 women’s world cup championship invoking further interest in women’s football. This book being the first study into the history of Latin American women’s sports, the deep analysis is necessary to help future researchers understand the subject.  

Futbolera is meaningful to historians because it presents a field that is uncommonly looked into, the female sporting world. The sporting world in general has been steadily gaining more recognition throughout recent years, and this field is dominated by studies on male led athletics. Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel have written the first deep look into the history of women’s sports in Latin America, which rightfully has earned its place in meaningful literature. Elsey and Nadel have written their book in a way that is understandable by general audiences and not just historical scholars. This book has even more to offer for sports fanatics as it outlines very interesting aspects of football and basketball that will surely invoke further research to be done. Futbolera is a good beginning to a new aspect of sports, and gender history that will lead to this growing field. 

Nadel and Elsey are quick to reveal that their work throughout Futbolera is lacking much scholarly source material. In another work on the rise of women’s football in Mexico, Nadel and Elsey point out this flaw, and show their work to be based on differing journalistic coverage. Nadel and Elsey use different newspaper articles, or press coverage of different matches to string together Futbolera. Due to being the first work of its kind, it is difficult for Futbolera to be compared to similar work. The engagement with other sports work is often primary sources of its time, and not so much historiography of other women’s sports history. At the beginning of this work the authors state that this work is to not give a voice to the voiceless, but to record all the traces available and open up new avenues for further research. This can be seen as an interaction with other historiography by simply being the beginning of new research. 

Mitch Michaels

Appalachian State University

Elsey, Brenda, and Joshua H. Nadel. Futbolera: a History of Women and Sports in Latin America. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 2019.

Futbolera: a History of Women and Sports in Latin America analyzes the history of women’s participation in sports during the late 19th and 20th centuries in Latin American countries such as Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, Uruguay, Costa Rica and El Salvador. In this context, Elsey and Nadel show how women’s bodies were controlled and judged by the government, journalists, scientists, and everyday citizens. The term “futbolera” refers specifically to the women who played football at this time, but it really describes the women who pushed the cultural boundaries in society through sports.

The journey of women in sports starts with the developments of physical education in the nineteenth century. The idea came from Sweden and was quickly adopted in South America. Physical education became heavily promoted for boys so that they could develop into men and soldiers. The motivation for women was more centered on improving beauty and fertility in order to create a healthier next generation. However, women were limited to which sports they were actually allowed to play. Tennis, swimming, dancing and gymnastics were seen as ideal for women since they were less of a team sport and featured less aggressive play. Basketball was allowed in some circumstances, but football was harshly allowed and even banned in some instances.

While the government was already suppressing women in sports and society, the media will further criticize. Early on, women’s sports will receive very little coverage. When they are covered, women are often objectified, made fun of, or just not taken seriously at all. They are times when serious coverage emerges but it is few and far between. Scientists also write reports on why it is unhealthy for women to compete in sports citing fertility and ability to produce children.

Futbolera is broken down into five chapters. At the end, there is a substantial bibliography and index. The authors often utilize public records and works of journalists. Specifically, newspaper and magazines are utilized to show media opinion on women in sports. A common theme hit by the authors was the role physical education played in female sports. They hit on this topic for almost every country covered. The same is true with other sports such as basketball or gymnastics. Obviously the most common theme was female football teams. Individual women are often talked about extensively in relation to the sports or team they played for. This really gives the book a personal feeling when discussing hardships or abuse these women faced.

The book succeeds in its task of displaying the sexist culture that existed in these countries through the scope of sports history. It provides in great detail the chronological history women’s sports in each country cited. This was accomplished by going sport by sport in the selected country and following its history in relation to women. Choosing to split countries histories in different chapters resulted in a confusion free read. Rather than mixing up which country was being discussed, the authors were clear in where they were talking about. Anytime a different country was cited the distinction was clear from the main theme of the chapter. At times the text can be a little difficult to read. The authors often list off a lot of names of clubs, cities, or women without a break in between. This creates a lulling effect which makes you feel like you are not reading anything at all. The occasional use of photographs was useful in making the history feel real and personal. The arguments made are very clear and presented in a simple manner which makes the text overall very readable.

Futbolera is the first of its kind in graphing out the history of women in Latin American sports. This makes it extremely valuable to the sports history field as it unlocks a history not known by many average sports fans. It can also help attract new historians to the sports history field who are particularly interested in gender studies. It also provides great insight into the relation between gender and social norms at the time making it very useful to women’s studies. The book gives great insight into what life was like as a woman in Latin America at that time and helps you understand what these women were facing in their passion. The book could not have done a better job at highlighting the sexist culture that exists in women’s sports.

ELSEY, B., & Nadel, J. (2020). FUTBOLERA: A history of women and sports in latin america. Place of publication not identified: UNIV OF TEXAS Press.

Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America is a book written by Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadel that talks about the history of women and sports in Latin America. They discuss women’s sports in many countries including, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Mexico, and other Central American countries. Starting in the early 1900s, Latin America had little to no women sports and this book discusses the development of women sports and what it was like. It discusses some of the backlash that the women received for playing these sports. Many men and the media did not like women playing sports because they viewed that as a masculine thing and that sports are for men.  But the main point of the book is to explain the history and all of the adversaries that these women athletes had to go through. It 

The book does a really good job at engaging the reader and keeping them interested in the topic. The book gives a lot of information that is supposed to keep you engaged and it was really engaging for me. The way the book is structured is really good. The way that the chapters are set up allows you to get a little bit of backstory before it starts explaining some big event.It starts off by giving some backstories about what women sports were like in the early 1900s then it goes right into the events such as Brazil’s prohibition on women’s football and Mexican women’s football. 

One of the biggest events the book talks about is the ban on women sports that Brazil enforced since around the 40s. One big argument of why women should not play sports, specifically football, came from a letter written by a concerned citizen named Jose Fuzeira. “In it, Fuzeira decried a ‘calamity’ threatening the nation: girls and young women playing football. The danger in women playing football, according to Fuzeira, steamed from inherent violence in the game, which could ‘seriously damage the physiological equilibrium’ of women’s ‘organ functions.’” Obviously it does not take a medical degree to know this is incorrect. This is surprising to me because women’s sports in Brazil would be banned for so long and I would never hear about it until now. With no surprise though women continued to play football and other sports during the ban but the ban did limit the growth of women playing these sports and obviously there were no leagues for these girls to play in. 

Another important event talked about in the book is the rise of women’s football in Mexico and how their women’s team went on to win the women’s world championship against Italy. Women’s football began to rise in the late 60s and 70s. One of the first women football tournaments started in 1969 and was played in the capital, Mexico City. With women’s football growing in Mexico, the media started to cover other countries’ women’s teams. This caused women’s football to grow even more in Mexico. The media coverage was at its highest point when Mexico was to compete in the women’s football world championship. The national team was picked the same way as the mens. In their first year, the team lost to Italy in the semi finals but was able to win the consolation game and finished in 3rd place. During the 1971 women’s world cup there continued to be major backlash. This did not stop the women’s national team though as they were able to get all the way to the finals. Unfortunately they lost to Denmark in the finals. 

The merits of the book seem really good. There are plenty of sources listed in the book and each statement seems to be backed up with a source or other information. The information in the book seems incredibly intelligent and it certainly seems that the authors did their research before writing this book. I think the fact that there are multiple authors of this book makes it more trustworthy because they can fact check each other while writing the book. I think this book would benefit historians when they try to look at Latin America because this is a big part of their past.

Anthony DeBone

Appalachian State University 

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.

Riley Price

Appalachian State University