Football and Sports Media in Chile, 1895–1962
Summary and Keywords
Football and media have become associated to such an extent that it would be difficult to discuss the history of sports in Chile without acknowledging its relationship with the media. Since the early 1900s, the media coverage of football—arguably the most significant mass spectacle in Chile—has become a unique place to evoke political sympathy and national pride. Before the gradual introduction of television in the 1960s, print journalism and radio were the technological tools that defined the ways in which Chileans experienced football. As narrative devices, sports media represented football for much larger audiences than those sitting in the stadium. In the 1940s, football chronicles may have been read aloud, and photographs of famous footballers were usually posted in public places for semiliterate workers too poor to buy sports magazines. Similarly, the pitch of a radio announcer’s voice and the quick summations he gave to different plays generated their own visual spectacle and moral evaluations for listeners. Although sports magazines and radio broadcasts were mostly consumed in urban areas, they created new ways of experiencing football that enabled participation from larger parts of the nation.
The importance of these sources lies in their central role of making football a much more understandable sport to mass audiences, many of whom were illiterate. Most importantly, sports media became a public terrain for making claims about Chilean citizenship, including affirmations of appropriate masculinity, racial belonging, and class relations.
The Early Sporting Press
While informally played since the 1880s, football occupied a very minimal place in the national press of the late 19th century. As football spread quickly in urban centers with strong British economic and cultural influence, including the port cities Valparaíso, Iquique, Talcahuano, and the capital Santiago, news about sporting activities began to appear in the press. Information about the foundation of new clubs and friendly matches was gradually posted in newspapers such as The Chilian Times [sic], a publication edited by English businessmen living in Valparaíso. In 1895, Robert H. Reid, editor of The Chilian Times, summoned a group of players to a meeting in the Café Pacífico to establish the first national association of football clubs, later known as the Football Association of Chile. With this foundational act, football and media initiated a long-term liaison in which the press acted as channel between the clubs and sports organizations, helping to organize the first intercity matches and local football leagues.
At the turn of the century, journalists played a decisive role in the dissemination of football. Motivated by the tenets of modernity, enthusiast writers described football and other athletic activities (equestrian sports, boxing, and tennis) as signs of national progress and moral improvement. One of the earliest chroniclers of football was Luis De la Carrera (known as “Sporting Boy”), a columnist in Santiago’s newspaper El Mercurio and the general interest magazine Zig-Zag. Upon his return to Chile after obtaining a medical degree in England, De la Carrera established the first Amateur Football Association of Santiago in 1903 and created the first sports section in El Mercurio, called “Outdoor Life” (Vida al aire libre) in 1904.1 This double activism as both sports organizers and sportswriters became a typical characteristic of the first chroniclers. De la Carrera’s columns introduced readers to the rules of the game and promoted the benefits of physical activity, especially among petit bourgeois sectors of society who were looking to imitate the customs of the British. Not only practicing sports but also reading about them became a central feature of bourgeoisie status.
As a physician concerned with the population’s fitness, De la Carrera saw football as a healthy activity and encouraged its practice among civilians of all social classes. In an article published in Zig-Zag in 1905, De la Carrera argued:
The game of football is certainly one of the sports that more powerfully contributes to the physical development of young people. Boys of all social classes grow strong, healthy, and invigorated of body and spirit … Football has come to be a national game in Valparaíso. [Despite] using foreign names in semi-English jargon, football clubs are almost all composed by Chileans. See the images: not a single exotic type appears. All bear the stamp of our race, invigorated with violent and wise outdoor exertion.”2
While most social reformers from the early twentieth century also addressed the importance of children’s health as part of broader hygienic campaigns, De la Carrera added that sports could fortify the body and make all civilians stronger, especially weak children, who were more likely to get sick. In effect, he proposed that football was superior to all other forms of exercise. De la Carrera’s words also had a markedly integrative character by arguing that football transcended social barriers, creating a sense of collective spirit aimed at the consecration of a national community. But lack of class distinctions was not the only element to defend the legitimacy of football. Although the images cited by De la Carrera are no more than blurry drawings, he insinuated that football could be both a healthy antidote to class conflict and a means of defining race. By highlighting the lack of “exotic” phenotypes in Chilean football teams, the article celebrated Chile’s distinctiveness as a country of racially homogenous people.
Even in Chile, where immigration was more modest than in other Latin American countries, concern mounted that not all immigrants automatically improved the nation’s racial stock. Chilean intellectuals rehabilitated the image of the native-born mestizo, that is, people of mixed indigenous and European heritage, and questioned that of the immigrant. Nicolás Palacios, a Chilean physician well known for his celebratory views on what he called the “Chilean Race” (Raza Chilena) argued that Chileans were racially superior to other South American peoples as well as to Latin Europeans. Celebrating the heritage of Visigoths who had arrived in Spain after the fall of Rome, Palacios argued that Chileans were the result of a mixture between Germanic conquistadores (as distinct from Latin Europeans) and another allegedly superior race, the Mapuche, the indigenous population of southern Chile that had successfully resisted conquest by both the Inca and the Spanish empires. According to Palacios, the resulting Chilean mestizo had a superior physiognomy and possessed heightened masculine attributes such as courage, bellicosity, and morality, in contrast to the “feminine” character of French, Italian, and Spanish immigrants.3 Although Palacios himself never addressed sports directly, his ideas directly influenced later generations of Chilean sportswriters.
Inspired by Palacios, columnists argued that football was necessary to maintain Chile’s patriotic manhood and racial homogeneity. Baldomero Loyola, founder of the magazine El Sportman (see Figure 1), considered football an important means of controlling the male population. In a column from 1907, he argued: “It is imperative to propagate football, and thus, regenerate our impaired race, exhausted by unhealthy vices and degenerate entertainment.”4 While promoting football among workers, Loyola engaged in discussions about the “social question,” a series of debates that attempted to combat the deleterious effects of industrialization: labor unrest, alcoholism, and prostitution. Sports advocates saw football as the cornerstone of the “regeneration of the race” and labored to convince readers that the physical body could be disciplined through sports. In his columns, Loyola created a pioneer sense of nationhood through sport, mixing enthusiastic commentary with discourses about racial fitness and moral restraint.
Aimed at young workers in Santiago, El Sportman encouraged players and fans to respect the rules of the game and behave during football matches. Loyola criticized crowds that whistled against rival teams or questioned referee calls, perceiving these actions as signs of anarchy and disorder.5 To avoid the embarrassment of a defeated team, Loyola omitted scores with a big goal difference and stressed positive virtues such as collective effort. A talented player himself, Loyola organized the first Workers’ Football Association (Asociación Obrera de Football) as a way to differentiate themselves from wealthy sporting clubs.6 Claiming that workers could organize their own clubs, he constantly appealed to solidarity and dignity as paramount values in a democratic society.
Even though Loyola and De la Carrera agreed on the importance of football as beneficial to the nation’s “racial improvement” (mejoramiento de la raza), the two columnists represented two voices in dispute. While De la Carrera covered sporting activities of elite football clubs with nationalistic undertones, Loyola fostered workers’ clubs and advocated for the moralization of society in football matches. Notwithstanding the foregoing, both sportswriters worked together in the magazine Sport i Actualidades, which circulated in Santiago between 1912 and 1914. The fact that two different chroniclers worked together in the same publication speaks about sports writing as an emergent narrative genre, which allowed readers to imagine the actions of the football field, especially since photography was not available yet.
Directed by the journalist and entrepreneur Armando Venegas, Sport i Actualidades was the first magazine organized as a modern media business. An unprecedented editorial effort with 113 issues in two years, the magazine had two photographers (Casimiro Salas and Vicente Portero), a cartoonist (Carlos Bonomo), and correspondents in various southern cities, such as Talca, Temuco, and Valdivia.7 In its first issue, Venegas defined the magazine as “a channel of support for our athletes.”8 In the 1910s, Venegas served as secretary of the National Sports Federation (Federación Nacional Sportiva), a nongovernmental civic association of athletes that demanded governmental support for a national stadium. Thus, Sport i Actualidades was the first publication that sought to articulate a notion of the state as a guarantor of sports.
Although the idea of sports writing was still a novelty in Chile, short-lived publications of the 1910s, such as El Sportman (1907), Sport i Variedades (1908), El Sport Ilustrado (1909), Sport i Actualidades (1912–1914), Deportes (1915–1917), and Campo y Sport (1919), set the stage for future sports magazines.9 With the introduction of English terms in the vocabulary of sports journalism, including match, club, team, goal, and score, sports journalism gained a definitive space in the Chilean press, which was far from marginal. Although these publications could hardly compete against newspapers’ day-to-day coverage of football, sports magazines produced a new language with which Chileans could identify themselves as part of the cultural achievements and progress of the country.
The Modernization of Sports Writing
Chile’s nitrate prosperity boosted print journalism in the 1920s. In order to compete against foreign publishers, including Argentina’s Atlántida whose various magazines circulated in Chile, the publishing house Zig-Zag targeted new audiences with magazines for children, women, and workers. Founded in 1923, Los Sports offered a wide range of British-imported practices, including football, boxing, cycling, polo, and tennis, without highlighting one sport over the other. The structure of the magazine consisted of opinion columns, interviews, and a series of news reports about the development of national sports. Mostly relying on the commentary of lawyers, schoolteachers, physicians, and literary critics, the magazine also advocated for a national sports plan and demanded the construction of a national stadium.
Since the beginning of its publication, Los Sports established close ties with influential politicians like President Arturo Alessandri (1920–1925), a demagogic politician who had elaborated an ardently antioligarchic rhetoric and created a climate of urgency for solutions to class conflict and “racial degeneration.” In an interview from 1923, Alessandri offered reassurance: “Sports and physical education programs are key to preserving the mestizo racial heritage.”10 He praised the uniqueness of the Chilean mestizo race as part of what he claimed as representative of the Chilean nation. Alessandri’s celebration of glorious mestizo identity was central to convincing lawmakers about the unique strengths of Chilean sportsmen and thus to promoting a national sports plan. With the magazine as ally, he lobbied successfully for the creation of the National Commission of Physical Education, which was established in 1923 as the first governmental initiative to organize physical education.
Following Alessandri’s claim, a handful of sportswriters defined Chilean football players as mestizos. For instance, the columnist Carlos Zeda wrote elaborate profile pages describing a player’s hair or skin color as relevant markers of Chilean identity. When describing players with mixed backgrounds, Zeda clarified that non-Spanish last names did not necessarily imply players of white skin. On the contrary, he accentuated specific body parts to emphasize allegedly Mapuche features as key to defining Chile’s racial mestizo heritage. In an interview from 1926, he described footballer Ulises Poirier as a “real Chilean,” despite the fact that he was nicknamed “El Gringo.”11 Zeda explained that Poirier’s parents were Chilean descendants of French immigrants and added: “He is more Chilean than onion empanadas.”12 Furthermore, as Zeda explained in 1926, “Foreign surnames can fool readers to think that we are in the presence of tall, white, and blond players. That’s not the case with Lewellyn, who is Chilean like you and me: he is brown, black hair, small eyes, and strong jaws—of which Arauco is proclaimed in an explicit way.”13 To reinforce his racial views, Zeda often criticized white players who did not fit his mestizo ideal, mocking extremely tall footballers for their lack of technical skills with the ball, but highlighting their allegedly polite European manners.
Zeda also struggled to define players from cities other than Santiago or Valparaíso. In 1926, while describing a player from northern Chile, he wrote: “In the case of Achante, we don’t really know if we are talking to a black or a brown [player]. We can differentiate between a snowflake and a lump of coal. But what is the limit between brown and black?”14 In the same way, Zeda distinguished southern players of Santiago’s Club Colo-Colo like Guillermo Subiabre for his mysterious background. In an interview from 1926, he wrote: “Of Spanish descent, he must have something of the Moors. His brown skin color, big brown eyes, black hair, and white teeth could make a good toothpaste ad.”15 Zeda’s confusion in both cases reflects an attempt to differentiate Chilean-ness from blackness, and his assumptions only caricatured northern and southern players as racially distinct from Santiago and Valparaíso players—the last two often featured on the Los Sports covers (see Figure 2).
The critical economic situation in Chile after the Wall Street crash of 1929 discouraged private investments in mass culture, which, in turn, limited the production of sports publications. As a consequence, Los Sports faced a severe budget crisis that forced its closure in April 1931. While some short-lived publications circulated in Santiago, such as Don Severo (1933–1935) and Crack (1937–1939), print media coverage of football in the 1930s relied mainly on the daily press, particularly La Nación, which after 1927 became the official government newspaper of whatever Chilean president was in power.
Sportswriters of the 1930s primarily debated about the transition from amateur to professional football. In its first numbers, Don Severo advocated for the transparent establishment of professionalism, especially arguing that footballers were risking their physical integrity and defending the idea that football was like any other spectacle in which performers should receive fair wages.16 Whereas opponents of professionalism claimed that it was immoral and not economically viable for small clubs, those who favored professionalism stressed its connection with national progress, the economic necessity of contracts between clubs and players, and the rights of consumers to quality entertainment. As full professionalization replaced amateurism in 1933, football became a concrete possibility for social ascension, and payment to the players became adjusted according to their performance in official matches.
The inauguration of Chile’s National Stadium in 1938 strengthened the view of professionalism as a symbol of national progress and economic recovery, along with the exclusion of amateur players.17 The modernizing process of football also included the hiring of foreign coaches and the implementation of tactical setup plays, which represented a significant shift from amateur to professional football. For instance, Colo-Colo’s undefeated 1941 season was attributed mainly to the Hungarian coach Franz Platko, a former F.C. Barcelona striker who applied the revolutionary “WM” formation in which players lined up on the field in a formation imitating the two letters.
In order to explain modern tactical innovations to the readers, Zig-Zag publishing house created the sports weekly Estadio in September 1941. Directed by the former player Alejandro Jaramillo, Estadio published 2,034 issues until its closure in 1982 (the longest period for any Chilean sports magazine). Its editorial board had an all-male team of sportswriters, including Renato González, Carlos Guerrero, Alejandro Scopelli, and José Navasal, along with a team of illustrators formed by the cartoonist Renato Andrade and the photographer Eugenio García. Estadio’s opening editorial for the first issue published on September 12, 1941, stated that the magazine’s mission was “to contribute to the national campaign for racial improvement and patriotism led by the President of the Republic.”18 In fact, the magazine maintained close ties with the governments of the Popular Front (1938–1947), a center-left coalition formed by Radicals, Socialists, and Communists, which articulated a new economic strategy based on import substitution industrialization (ISI) and social welfare. Echoing the broader physical education programs of the Chilean governments in the 1940s, Estadio reported on a range of athletic activities, including professional football, school competitions, radio broadcasts and film projects about sports, sports medicine, and new libraries devoted to physical education.19
In the 1940s, the presence of Argentines as players and coaches was seen as crucial for the modernization of Chilean football. Estadio had a special section in which the Argentine coach Alejandro Scopelli explained the advantages of tactical advances and the development of the Argentine professional football league. Sports news from the other side of the Andes appeared in Estadio on a regular basis, particularly after 1943 when Chilean goalkeeper Sergio Livingstone signed with the Racing Club of Avellaneda, a professional team of Argentina’s First Division League. But this pattern changed during the 1950s. Estadio stopped informing about Argentina’s football and began to celebrate how popular clubs from Santiago, such as Colo-Colo, Unión Española, and Audax Italiano, formed their teams only with Chilean players.
This process, known as “Chilenization of clubs” (Chilenización de los clubes) was justified by the need to “nationalize” local teams and strengthen Chile’s National Team. Journalists in Estadio, the main advocates of this measure, focused their criticism on the large presence of Argentines in Chile. They argued that after decades receiving players from Argentina, Chilean teams had already learned a great deal about their neighbors. As Estadio columnist José Navasal explained in 1953, “Defensive tactics have produced more disciplined [Chilean] players in contrast to the more individualistic Argentines who never release the ball to their teammates.”20 For Estadio journalists, Chilean teams were more prepared to confront other national teams with efficient tactics, rather than individual virtuosity.
Fans also weighed in on the issue of Argentine footballers in Chile. In 1954, the Santiago tabloid Las Últimas Noticias published a letter from a fan in the city of Quillota complaining about a proposal by Chile’s Football Association (Asociación Central de Fútbol) that allowed Chilean clubs to increase to four the number of foreign players registered in professional teams. The fan begged for a journalistic crusade to convince club directors that afuerino players (non-Santiago players with seasonal contracts) were better than Argentines. The letter ended by reminding the editors of their civic duty: “Do not forget that you are the Fourth Estate!” 21 To many fans, the key to improving Chilean football was active sports journalism—one that stressed national heroes and local teams.
One of the unique aspects of Estadio was its emphasis on photography. Its front and back covers were full-page color pictures of individuals or teams. Being on the cover of Estadio was a great honor for athletes, comparable to winning a medal or trophy. Sport photography was especially important for a fan base that was only partially literate, especially thousands of poor men migrating from the countryside to Santiago. According to the 1952 census, only 62 percent of Chileans could read. In order to reach semiliterate audiences, the magazine employed eye-catching titles and multiple photographs. Most Chilean football fans were not able to buy Estadio regularly, and so what was on the cover, or what kiosks displayed publicly, was really important.
Estadio’s leading photographer was Eugenio García, the son of Spanish immigrants who had moved to Santiago after the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939).22 Known as “The Magician of the Lens,” (El Mago del Lente), García was a talented, self-taught photographer who covered all kinds of sports events, most notably football, basketball, and boxing. García’s pieces impressed many of his Estadio colleagues, who wrote passionate odes to his talent. As Estadio columnist Carlos Guerrero described in an article from 1945, “García is a self-taught talented man with no studies in photography. He has a tremendous artistic ability to capture extraordinary sports scenes in his Leica. No wonder his pictures made it to the National Museum of Fine Arts.”23 Guerrero was not exaggerating. In addition to the exhibition in the most prestigious Chilean art museum, García’s work won him the President of the Republic Award in 1950, granted personally by President Gabriel González (1946–1952). Because of his talent, the Argentine sports publication El Gráfico attempted numerous times to recruit him, but García remained loyal to Estadio until he retired in 1973.24
García’s photographic work had a unique aesthetic component in which the agile movements of the individual players could be displayed in a single still photo. Observing the games behind the goals, García often entered onto the field in order to capture movements close to the goal area. His photographs ranged from unique captures of the game, such as balls hitting the crossbar (see Figure 3), to carefully arranged individual portraits, paying testimony to a highly dynamic relationship between athletes and sport. As Estadio columnist Renato González wrote in 1953: “The extraordinary accuracy of García is an admirable graphic expression of football. He is able to capture the violence and virility of athletes like nobody else.”25 This kind of commentary in Estadio emphasized that there was something new, exciting, realistic, violent, and fundamentally masculine about what their celebrity photojournalist was able to do that other publications were not doing.
García’s own celebrity status as a photographer gave him easy access to star athletes. On June 3, 1950, Estadio’s cover featured a glamorous shot by García of Jorge Robledo, one of the most important Chilean players of the 1950s (see Figure 4). The cover ran on the eve of the 1950 World Cup in Brazil and was accompanied by a featured article on Robledo’s personal history, including details of his childhood as a Chilean growing up in England. The cover photo was typical of García’s innovative photography style, combining the traditional portrait genre with heavy use of shadows and carefully chosen camera angles to maximize the desired emotional effect. Robledo appears wearing Chile’s national jersey in red with the national shield over his heart. His head slightly curves to the right, emphasizing his slicked hair; his face is relaxed, offering a shy but shining smile.
Considering that Estadio profiled a diverse selection of athletes and allowed a close-up look at the personalities and games, Robledo attracted the attention of García in particular. In other photographs, García portrayed Robledo in different roles, from tying his shoes to dribbling the ball, demonstrating his strength and physical prowess. However, the 1950 cover shows Robledo off the field, apparently inside of a photographic studio with a blank background to accentuate the color of the jersey and the light on his face. Instead of focusing on his skills, García portrayed Robledo as a national sports celebrity and glowing example of masculine perfection. García’s cover went beyond saying that “football would help improve the race.” His portrait argued that Robledo embodied the very best of the “Chilean mestizo race.”
Jorge Robledo was born in 1926 in the nitrate town of Iquique to a Chilean father and an English mother. The family moved to England in 1932, deeply affected by the economic crisis that hit the mining economy of Chile during the Great Depression. In 1947, Robledo signed a contract with Newcastle United F.C., where he became the first non-British, registered, foreign player to become top scorer in England. Impressed by a Chilean’s triumph in Europe, President Carlos Ibáñez (1952–1958) facilitated a government loan to club Colo-Colo to bring Robledo for the 1953 season in Chile, where he obtained two national championships as top scorer, with twenty-six goals in twenty-two matches.26 An intuitive politician, Ibáñez became closely identified with Colo-Colo as a result of the deal he helped cut to bring Robledo to Chile.
In the 1950s, Estadio columnists debated about the meaning of an English-bred footballer playing for Chile’s National Team. They made extensive use of García’s portrait to comment on Robledo’s inherent nature and relationship to the Chilean mestizo ideal. Estadio columnist Carlos Guerrero admitted in May 1950 that Robledo’s arrival in Chile initially produced unwarranted anxiety: “We feared that Robledo looked like a gringo. Fortunately, in all the pictures we have seen, he looks more Chilean than many others.”27 For Guerrero, the portrait served as confirmation not only that Robledo “looked” Chilean enough but also that he represented the best of his native country and the best of the country that had raised him.
In another article in May 1950, journalist José Navasal wrote: “Robledo has big cheekbones, rebellious hair, and the picaresque smile of Chilean northern men. His shyness and humility contrast with the strong leadership he shows in the field. But after eighteen years in England, where men are valued according to self-control, Robledo became a reserved man. He is a Chilean gentleman.”28 Nicknamed “Tough Gringo” (Roto Gringo), Robledo represented the juxtaposition of two elements assumed to be distinctive marks of Chilean-ness. Navasal argued that Robledo possessed such intrinsic “Latin” attributes as courage and craftiness but that through his upbringing, he had acquired such “European” attributes as sportsmanship and moderation. Here, the celebration of Chilean mestizaje highlights Latin-ness as a positive feature, departing from Palacios’s claim to a unique racial heritage based on a Visigothic-Mapuche blend. For Navasal, Robledo embodied the strong men of the mining culture in northern Chile (known as Rotos), and the “civilized” qualities attributed to the English who settled in Chile’s mining cities (known as Gringos). In García’s portrait, Robledo’s affectionate smile and polite attitude symbolize this dual sense of warmness and refinement. Thus, he represented the perfect Chilean man because he was characterized as a “civilized mestizo.”
Estadio’s visual celebration of football as an ideal expression of masculinity contributed to the marginalization of women’s sports. Since most of Estadio’s content was dedicated to football, there was far less coverage of sports like basketball and tennis, which had higher proportions of women athletes. In the 1940s, Estadio had given at least some space to reports on female athletes and physical education for women as they related to the national effort to “improve the Chilean race.” However in the 1950s, Estadio relegated women to the mostly passive role of being fans, wives, and spectators of men’s football. But sports magazines’ efforts to cultivate a female fan base were never robust. Although female athletes appeared considerably less often than male athletes on the front covers of Estadio, the placement of a female athlete on the front page (or sometimes on the back cover) was also a strategy for attracting more male readers and reassure their heterosexual identity.29 García’s photographic portraits of outstanding female athletes became raw material for the structure of gender representation in Estadio, adding a further layer demanded by the patriarchal order established during the 1950s.
While radio certainly enabled new ways of imagining sports, it did not necessarily displace the long-standing practice of seeing football through print. Since the beginning of Chilean radio in the 1920s, sports magazines had been filled with articles and advertising about radio, often containing sections that instructed listeners how to build their own sets. If football was subject to an abundance of images, so too was it subject to a multiplicity of voices and sounds. Unlike images, radio created a feeling of immediacy and permanent suspense or drama. In addition, radio was far easier to understand and more attractive than reading, which by 1940 only 48 percent of Chileans did well. Fans felt that they were part of the sports events, and they could do other things while enjoying the radio.
As media scholar Jesús Martín Barbero explains, radio gave the people of the different regions and provinces their first taste of the nation.30 In Chile, Carlos Cariola created the first talk show called “Sports Clinic” (Clínica del Deporte) in 1936 at Radio El Mercurio, when the station belonged to the newspaper of the same name. The show’s name “clinic” invoked the medical legitimacy of sports in ways parallel to the physical fitness programs being championed by politicians in the 1930s. Commentators on the show regularly referred to each other in polite overtures as “doctors,” but in reality most of them were lawyers, businessmen, or artists.31 Cariola himself was a filmmaker who had produced Chile’s first sports film, Campeonato Sudamericano de Box, a silent movie about the boxing fight between the Chilean Luis Vicentini and the Uruguayan José Fernández. The film culminated with Vicentini’s victory and the muted clamor of the audience cheering for the national hero. Cariola became involved in football, serving as president of the Chilean Football Federation (Federación de Football de Chile) between 1925 and 1926 and then as director of Club Colo-Colo in 1929. A progressive nationalist and advocate of social reform in the 1930s, he created stories about working-class heroes who exemplified true “Chilean-ness,” challenging the hegemony of elite culture in radio (opera, ballet, classical music) in favor of sports.
In little over a decade, radio’s coverage of football in Chile grew from one or, at most, two stations to five nationwide institutions offering competing coverage of sports. At the same time, the proximity with Argentina allowed many Chilean fans to tune into Argentine frequencies, particularly the football matches narrated by Tito Martínez on Radio Belgrano. Originally a jazz musician and actor in second-rate movies in the 1930s, Martínez made innovations in sports broadcasting by introducing two microphones on the field: one for the announcer stationed somewhere high in the stadium or in the broadcast booth, and another closer to the fans in order to capture the cheering crowds.
Martínez’s celebrity status brought him to Chile in 1942 when he accepted an offer made by Radio Agricultura to broadcast the football matches of Chile’s First Division League. His style thrilled many Chilean listeners, who celebrated his precise and vivacious delivery during the broadcasts. His porteño accent, which sounds different in cadence, pitch, and flow to the Chilean accent, was no obstacle to his popularity in Chile. The entertainment magazine Ecran published several good reviews of Martínez’s performance. On March 6, 1945, an anonymous reviewer wrote: “Unlike other announcers, who fire off their voices so quickly, Tito Martínez employs a magnificent language and pronunciation. The best quality is that he gives listeners an exact idea of the location of the players.”32
Despite Martínez’s competition with national announcers, listeners highlighted the superiority of his narration over that of his Chilean colleagues. Another fan, identified as Carlos Villarroel from Santiago, criticized Chilean announcers of other stations, such as Darío Verdugo (Radio Cooperativa) and Gustavo Aguirre (Radio Corporación), as being good commentators but bad narrators who lacked the emotional style and good diction of Martínez.33 The fan’s criticism of Chileans for not being emotional and clear enough suggests that one of the things Chileans liked about Martínez was his combination of expressiveness and accuracy, his capacity for capturing the feel of being at the game, its excitement, its moments, and its social atmosphere. Martínez helped the listeners imagine the football field in ways that were new and attractive to Chileans. Undoubtedly, his prior work in music and his acting career helped him recreate the experience of being at the game. Although considered the best play-by-play announcer in Chile, he finally returned to Argentina in 1948, where he continued his career as a television producer in the 1950s.
With sixty stations broadcasting for nearly half a million receivers in 1950, ownership of radio stations in Chile was both domestic and foreign. The U.S. mining company Braden Copper and the National Agricultural Association (Sociedad Nacional de Agricultura) owned the largest radio stations in the country: Radio Minería and Radio Agricultura, respectively. Without government subsidies or state ownership, Chilean broadcasting developed a commercial character in which football became a useful hook for sales. From 1952 onward, commercial advertisements for radio sets became more ubiquitous in sports magazines. Due to the commercial character of Chilean radio, international businesses such as General Electric, RCA Corporation, and Philips repeatedly targeted wealthier Chileans, offering radio sets for living rooms or balconies, where family members gathered for hours to listen to radio programming. During international football tournaments in particular, ads for expensive brands often consisted of pictures or drawings of fathers and sons enjoying a football match.
In addition to the commercial nature of Chilean radio, sports broadcasting became a powerful vehicle for enacting nationalist fantasies about male citizenship. Frequently, print ads of radio sets stressed images of masculine domesticity and emphasized heads of households as primary targets of sports consumption. Much of this commercial fever was amplified by the voice of football announcers—also male—who praised radio’s unique capacity to bring sports entertainment directly to listeners in the comfort of their own homes. For example, on April 5, 1952, the magazine Estadio published an ad promoting the 205 Model manufactured by Philips (see Figure 5). The illustration reinforced the idea that listening to football on the radio was an opportunity for intergenerational male bonding, assuming that fans were uniformly male. At the same time, the cry of “Chilean goal!” (¡Gol Chileno!) at the left corner of the image underscored that the moment of athletic climax in football was also a moment in which fathers and sons mutually recognized their membership in the Chilean nation. Holding a rolled newspaper behind his son, the man in the back symbolizes a father who is both protecting and providing for his family. Published during the days of the 1952 Pan-American Championship of Football (Campeonato Panamericano de Fútbol) held in Santiago, the Philips ad promoted better quality for shortwave frequencies and a smaller size “within the reach of every pocket.” In other words, printed ads portrayed radio coverage of sports as a means for reaching a state of well-being, especially for men. In that sense, the iconography of radio ads for commodities was also a form of publicity; it produced dynamic representations of gendered values.
As a result of an increase in sales of radio equipment around the mid 1950s, Chilean stations introduced new sports programming during international football tournaments. Radio Agricultura, for instance, created the show “Sports Daily” (Deporte al día), which in turn introduced new stars of sports broadcasting, such as the presenter and football commentator Julio Martínez (not related to Tito Martínez). The son of Spanish immigrants who moved to Temuco in the 1930s, “Jumar” (his pen name in print media) started his journalistic career in the tabloid Las Últimas Noticias and the magazine Estadio in the late 1940s. In 1951, he joined Radio Agricultura where he became one of the most respected announcers in Chile during the 1950s. The magazine Ecran considered Jumar the “best in his specialty. His improvised comments are expressed with an abundance of vocabulary, demonstrating a balanced judgment and an objective point of view.”34 Through the medium of sports broadcasting, Jumar not only helped listeners to imagine the football game but also to expand on their lexicon and moral criteria.
When Chile was chosen as the host country for the 1962 World Cup, nobody doubted that the voice of the international tournament would be Julio Martínez. With television not yet accessible for most audiences, fans followed the games through Jumar’s radio accounts. The few television sets in Chile had not arrived beyond Santiago, where small crowds grouped outside department stores or gathered in a neighbor’s house with a television device to watch the games. As the star broadcaster for Radio Agricultura, Jumar was quickly designated the official announcer of the World Cup. One of his most memorable broadcasts occurred in the quarterfinal in which Chile beat the Soviet Union by 2–1 in the northern city of Arica. While narrating Chile’s victory, Jumar’s quick voice was mixed with denunciatory language, even implying that international referees were conspiring against Chile in favor of the Soviet Union. Jumar complained that before Chile’s first goal, the Chilean player Leonel Sánchez had been pushed inside the penalty box though the referee mistakenly called the foul outside. Despite the error, Sánchez’s free kick beat the legendary Russian goalkeeper Lev Yashin—an action that Jumar narrated as an act of “Divine Justice.”35 Even off the football field, this expression has become a national phrase used to describe any immediate compensation for injustice: a type of moral reparation granted by a superior force. Jumar’s evocative language, along with his godlike sense of justice, strengthened his image as a credible journalist in a fervent Catholic society.
Jumar’s popularity reached an unprecedented celebrity status that not even footballers imagined attaining. He cleverly fashioned a sportswise persona in which his acute voice and independent opinions set him apart from other announcers of the 1960s, even to the point of advertising his own radio broadcasts during the 1962 World Cup as a valued piece of sports memorabilia (see Figure 6).
As Chile’s National Team progressed in the tournament until it reached third place—its best mark in history—the act of listening to the football games became intensely social, and usually involved groups of family members, coworkers, or friends. Aware of this reality, Jumar fully exploited the potential of radio with emotional commentaries that offered unique ways to imagine football and the nation. By the end of his career, Jumar had obtained numerous forms of recognitions, such as the National Award of Journalism in 1995. After his death in 2007, the National Stadium’s name was changed to Julio Martínez National Stadium in recognition of his long trajectory in sports media—a recognition rarely given to other sportswriters and radio announcers in the world.
From having marginal coverage in the press at the end of the 19th century, football became an important section on sports pages and airwaves in mid-20th-century Chile, even coming to define the genre of sports journalism more than any other sport. Sportswriters, photographers, and radio announcers played a decisive role in the spread of football across the nation. As cultural producers, sometimes even more important than the players, they became major actors on behalf of the game. In that sense, football became more than just a sport. It became a contested narrative space for debating and shaping the nation.
Sports media were centrally concerned with changing images of masculinity and race in relationship to football. Magazines such as Los Sports and Estadio functioned as media platforms to display discourses about Chile’s patriotic manhood and racial homogeneity, based on the figure of the mestizo footballer in particular. While the photographs of Eugenio García in Estadio certainly represented a continuation of the racial anxieties created in the football chronicles of the 1920s, García’s images offered new ways to define “Chilean-ness” beyond the figure of the tough mestizo player, adding “civilizing” elements like politeness and refinement as expressed in the 1950 portrait of the footballer Jorge Robledo. Using colorful imagery similar to that of print media, radio adapted football commentary and targeted new consumers of sports through ads and crafted narrations. If expressiveness and accuracy were considered key to the success of play-by-play announcers in the 1940s, features such as objectivity and parlance became more important in the 1950s. Yet print media and radio were different. While magazines offered detailed written information and colorful images after the football matches, radio offered a close, more realistic, even dramatic, and immediate experience to fans who were not able to attend football games physically.
In light of these technological advances in sports media and the irreversible popularity of football, Chile’s governments from the 1940s to the early 1970s initiated important sports policies—with football at the core of these programs—that would morally and physically uplift the working and middle classes and transform them into citizens of a more vigorous national race. Sports media would play a central role in staging debates about the state, broadening political participation, and expanding adult literacy in less favored areas. In 1971, the socialist government of Salvador Allende (1970–1973) acquired 40 percent of the magazine Estadio—signaling the central role reached by then of sports media in Allende’s cultural agenda. After the bloody military coup that overthrew Allende in September 1973, Estadio was ultimately privatized, leading to its bankruptcy and subsequent closure in 1982. As repression and neoliberal economic policies brutally transformed the country during the dictatorship that followed, more football fans—including large numbers of women—increasingly watched football games at home as the military regime made imported televisions available to a majority of Chileans.
Discussion of the Literature
The history of sports is a much neglected but emerging subfield within Latin American studies. The “popular” status typically assigned to football and its concomitant immediacy to personal experiences influenced this academic bias. As a few social scientists in the United States and Europe were beginning to develop an interest in modern sports around the 1970s and 1980s, academic activity in much of South America was disrupted by political repression. Following the return to democracy, scholarly interest in football began to flourish, especially in Brazil and Argentina.
In Chile, journalists and historians such as Edgardo Marín, Daniel Matamala, Pilar Modiano and Luis Ortega have provided excellent accounts of the beginnings of Chilean football. Barely touching on the history of sports media, these works focus on the general history of the game, particularly the foundation of football clubs, the establishment of the national championship, and the first sports organizations. One of the most prolific Chilean writers is the sociologist and media scholar Eduardo Santa-Cruz, who has conducted rich cross-disciplinary research into the history of popular entertainment and cultural practices. For Santa-Cruz, massive sports spectacles in Chile emerged vis-à-vis the desarrollista project of the Popular Front governments (1938–1947), in which cultural industries could discipline and educate the working class to become an important actor charged with the responsibilities and duties of citizenship.
While acknowledging state power and success in using sports for hegemonic purposes, other scholars have focused on the experiences and identities of sportspeople, as well as on the ways state projects can be challenged and resisted. Perhaps the most notable work following this line is Brenda Elsey’s Citizens and Sportsmen, in which she explores how football clubs in Chile developed strong relations with political institutions, negotiating state policy and shaping working-class activism throughout the 20th century.36 Elsey’s attention to local dynamics in amateur and immigrant clubs is particularly important because it offers new light on how football reinforced ideas of class solidarity and gender relations.
As an emergent football nation—Copa América champions in 2015 and Copa América Centenario champions in 2016—Chile has gradually attracted the attention of international scholars. Much of this interest has been concentrated on the country’s institutional crisis and political conjuncture of 1973. Authors David Goldblatt, Jorge Iturriaga, Diego Vilches, and Joshua Nadel have examined how football expressed the political tensions before and after the military coup that ousted socialist president Salvador Allende. While there is no existing book in English that focuses exclusively on football during Chile’s military dictatorship, more recent scholarship has shown how, immediately after the 1973 coup, Augusto Pinochet’s secret police used the National Stadium as one of many torture and detention centers under the very eyes of many international journalists. Unlike Elsey’s bottom-up perspective, much of this research on football under military rule conceives sport as a tool of the state in the perpetuation of social inequalities and a mere detour in class struggles. There is still much to write concerning the role of sports television in the 1980s and of football during Chile’s transition to democracy in the 1990s. Television football broadcasts—an unquestionable turning point in the history of sports media—cannot be understood without a grasp of the evolution of print media and radio in the first half of the 20th century.
While numerous studies draw parallels between dictatorial regimes in South America, my own work casts new light on the ways in which sports media connected countries in debates about populist democracy. In “Dribbling with the Left and Shooting with the Right,” I examine the role of football and sports media in creating and contesting populist regimes in Chile and Argentina during the 1940s and 1950s.37 Focusing on the political borrowings between the presidencies of Juan Perón in Argentina and Carlos Ibáñez in Chile, and the sports policies these administrations carried out, my research explores how narratives about football in the media were central to representations of national politics outside national borders. Sports magazines and broadcasts became a unique space in which sportswriters, cartoonists, photographers, publicists, and radio announcers deliberately celebrated and challenged state policy on both sides of the Andes. Unfortunately, historians of sports still take nation-states as their unit of analysis and fail to take account of the linkages between societies that share regional contexts.
While historians of sports have made extensive use of government documents, club balances sheets, and statutes, scholars have been expanding the archive by including newspapers and magazines, medical treatises, illustrations, cartoons, photographs, advertising, radio records, and film footage. In Santiago, Chile’s National Library (Biblioteca Nacional de Chile) contains the vast majority of primary source materials, especially periodicals and photographs.
Unlike other countries of the region, Chile does not have an official radio or television archive. Much of the literature about radio is based on written sources and a few private archives with radio records. The Asociación de Radiodifusores de Chile (ARCHI), a private entity that groups together more than a thousand Chilean broadcasters, stores a small radio archive and library with broadcasts and monographs about the history of Chilean radio. Independent markets are always a good place to look, especially for sports magazines, vinyl records, and videotapes with old football matches. At the BíoBío Market (Persa BioBío), a huge market for secondhand products, antique sellers and private collectors usually trade sports publications and broadcasts for reasonable prices.
Links to Digital Materials
Memoria Chilena is a Web project founded in 2001 that offers full online collections, from governmental documents to scanned magazines, including the collection of sports publications such as Los Sports and Estadio.
Acuña, Pedro. “Dribbling with the Left and Shooting with the Right: Soccer, Sports Media, and Populism in Argentina and Chile, 1940s–1950s.” PhD diss., University of California–Irvine, 2016.Find this resource:
Barr-Melej, Patrick. Reforming Chile: Cultural Politics, Nationalism, and the Rise of the Middle Class. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.Find this resource:
Boyle, Raymond, and Richard Haynes. Power Play: Sport, the Media and Popular Culture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.Find this resource:
Elsey, Brenda. Citizens and Sportsmen: Fútbol and Politics in 20th Century Chile. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011.Find this resource:
Fox, Elizabeth, ed. Media and Politics in Latin America: The Struggle for Democracy. London: SAGE, 1988.Find this resource:
Fuller, Linda, ed. Sport, Rhetoric, and Gender: Historical Perspectives and Media Representations. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.Find this resource:
Goldblatt, David. The Ball Is Round: A Global History of Soccer. New York: Riverhead Books, 2006.Find this resource:
González, Carlos, and Braian Quezada. A Discreción: Viaje al corazón del fútbol chileno bajo la dictadura militar. Santiago: Forja, 2010.Find this resource:
Iturriaga, Jorge, “Proletas, limpios, cobardes y burgueses: El fútbol en 1973.” In 1973: La vida cotidiana de un año crucial. Edited by César Albornoz and Claudio Rolle, 297–352. Santiago de Chile: Planeta, 2003.Find this resource:
Marín, Edgardo. Centenario: Historia total del fútbol chileno. Santiago: REI, 1995.Find this resource:
Matamala, Daniel. Goles y autogoles: La impropia relación entre el fútbol y el poder político. Santiago: Planeta, 2001.Find this resource:
Modiano, Pilar. Historia del deporte chileno: Orígenes y transformaciones, 1850–1950. Santiago: Digeder, 1997.Find this resource:
Muñoz, Cristián. Historia de la Dirección General de Deportes y Recreación: Las políticas estatales de fomento al deporte, 1948–2001. Santiago: Digeder, 2001.Find this resource:
Nadel, Joshua. Fútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2014.Find this resource:
Ortega, Luis. “De pasión de multitudes a rito privado.” In Historia de la vida privada en Chile. vol. 3, Edited by Rafael Sagredo and Cristián Gazmuri, 158–197. Santiago: Taurus, 2006.Find this resource:
Paredes, Ricardo. Cuando Chile era radio. Santiago: Editorial Acad Mica Espa, 2012.Find this resource:
Rinke, Stefan. Cultura de masas, reforma y nacionalismo en Chile 1910–1931. Santiago: Dibam, 2002.Find this resource:
Rowe, David. Critical Readings: Sport, Culture and the Media. Maidenhead, U.K.: Open University Press, 2004.Find this resource:
Santa-Cruz, Eduardo. Crónica de un encuentro: Fútbol y cultura popular. Santiago: Ediciones Instituto Arcos, 1991.Find this resource:
Santa-Cruz, Eduardo. Origen y futuro de una pasión: Fútbol, cultura y modernidad. Santiago: Lom, 1996.Find this resource:
Santa-Cruz, Eduardo. Las escuelas de la identidad: La cultura y el deporte en el Chile desarrollista. Santiago: Lom, 2005.Find this resource:
Scherer, Jay, and David Rowe. Sport, Public Broadcasting, and Cultural Citizenship: Signal Lost? New York: Routledge, 2014.Find this resource:
Soria, Sebastián, and Andrés Maldonado. “The Long and Winding Road of the Football Industry in Chile.” In Sport in Latin America: Policy, Organization, Management. Edited by Gonzalo Bravo, Rosa D’Amico, and Charles Parrish, 253–269. New York: Routledge, 2016.Find this resource:
Vilches, Diego, “Del Chile de los triunfos morales al “Chile, país ganador”: La identidad nacional y la selección chilena de fútbol durante la Dictadura Militar (1973–1989).” Historia Crítica 61.40 (2016): 127–147.Find this resource:
(1.) Pilar Modiano, Historia del deporte chileno: Orígenes y transformaciones, 1850–1950 (Santiago: Digeder, 1997), 90.
(2.) Zig-Zag, April 9, 1905, 8.
(3.) Nicolás Palacios, Raza chilena: Libro escrito por un chileno i para los chilenos (Valparaíso: Gustavo Schäfer, 1904). For more analysis on Palacios, see Bernardo Subercaseaux, “Raza y nación: El caso de Chile,” A Contra Corriente: A Journal on Social History and Literature in Latin America 5.1 (2007): 29–63.
(4.) El Sportman, April 28, 1907, 4.
(5.) El Sportman, May 19, 1907, 2.
(6.) Brenda Elsey, Citizens and Sportsmen: Fútbol and Politics in 20th Century Chile (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011), 29–33.
(7.) Eduardo Santa-Cruz, Prensa y sociedad en Chile, siglo XX (Santiago: Universitaria, 2014), 71.
(8.) Sport i Actualidades, April 21, 1912, 2.
(9.) Cecilia García‑Huidobro and Paula Escobar, Una historia de las revistas chilenas (Santiago: Universidad Diego Portales, 2012), 87–91.
(10.) Los Sports, March 16, 1923, 1.
(11.) In Chile, the term “gringo” is still widely used to describe foreigners from Europe and North America. To refer to people from the United States, Chilean writers of the 1920s generally used the term “Yankee.”
(12.) Los Sports, September 24, 1926, 3.
(13.) Los Sports, October 1, 1926, 13. Arauco is a southern city in Chile founded by the Spanish in the 16th century that was destroyed on numerous occasions by the Mapuche during the Arauco War. Although “Araucanian” was a widely used term for the Mapuche in the 1920s, it is not used today.
(14.) Los Sports, September 17, 1926, 7.
(15.) Los Sports, October 15, 1926, 15.
(16.) Don Severo, April 13, 1933, 1.
(17.) Elsey, Citizens and Sportsmen, 90–113.
(18.) Estadio, September 12, 1941, 1.
(19.) Eduardo Santa-Cruz, “Prensa deportiva y desarrollismo en Chile: El caso de la revista Estadio,” Mapocho: Revista de Humanidades 71 (2012): 261–283.
(20.) Estadio, February 14, 1953, 8–9.
(21.) Las Últimas Noticias, February 24, 1954. Quoted in Edgardo Marín, La Selección de Julio Martínez: Sus columnas sobre la Roja desde 1947 hasta 2003 (Santiago: Planeta, 2009), 61.
(22.) Francisco Mouat, Cosas del fútbol (Santiago: Pehuén, 1989), 71–77.
(23.) Estadio, October 20, 1945, 4–5.
(24.) Estadio, October 16, 1973, 22–27.
(25.) Estadio, February 7, 1953, 3.
(26.) Edgardo Marín, La historia de los campeones (Santiago: La Nación, 1988), 122–126.
(27.) Estadio, May 27, 1950, 32.
(28.) Estadio, May 20, 1950, 4–7.
(29.) Between 1950 and 1955, Estadio published fourteen front covers and sixteen back covers featuring female athletes (mostly basketball players and runners), representing approximately 10 percent of total appearances in the magazine, in contrast to the greater presence of male footballers.
(30.) Jesús Martín Barbero, Communication, Culture and Hegemony: From the Media to Mediations (London: SAGE, 1993), 164.
(31.) Consuelo Morel, Isabel Zegers, and Ignacio Vicuña, Historia de la radio en Chile (Santiago: Centro de Comunicaciones Sociales–Universidad Católica de Chile, 1974), 88.
(32.) Ecran, March 6, 1945, 22.
(33.) Ecran, December 4, 1945, 23.
(34.) Ecran, April 19, 1955, 19.
(35.) Daniel Matamala, 1962: El mito del Mundial chileno (Santiago: Ediciones B, 2010), 319.
(36.) Brenda Elsey, Citizens and Sportsmen: Fútbol and Politics in 20th Century Chile (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011).
(37.) Pedro Acuña, “Dribbling with the Left and Shooting with the Right: Soccer, Sports Media, and Populism in Argentina and Chile, 1940s–1950s,” PhD diss., University of California–Irvine, 2016.