Modern football, commonly know as soccer in the US, was first played in England around 1863. As the English Empire spread, so did the idea of football. Other sports, like cricket, rugby, and baseball, have crossed cultural and national boundaries, but none has become as pervasively influential around the globe as football. The success of football as an international pastime leads to the question, why football and not some other sport? Football has evolved into the international pastime because football is the only sport not defined by its country of origin.
Baseball? USA. Cricket? England. Turnen? German. Karate? Japanese. But football? It lost its ethnicity. A man in a slum of Nairobi can be equally as passionate about football as a man in a Rio de Janiero favela. Neither of them ascribes football a country of origin; each makes the game his own.
When exploring modern dialogue surrounding football and globalization, you tend to find discourse about the economics involved as players immigrate and emigrate to play for the top teams in the world. The question often missed is how did these players from hundreds of different countries all have football become the defining activity of their lives? The answer lies in an exploration of “what is it that sustains and animates [the game] at the heart of modern life?”
The documentary film Pelada explores this question though the experiences of two American soccer players searching for football in all its forms. Though watching their documentation of football across the globe, I understood that football was pervasive and influential in a myriad of cultural contexts because in football’s lack of ethnicity means every player is authentic. When people from every cultural and ethnic background can incorporate football into their identity, their expressions of the game are always authentic. Authenticity in football comes without cultural and ethnic prerequisites.