Mesoamerica, the home of football

The greatest sport event with strong Latin connections has finally begun this week! Naturally, we are talking about the Football World Cup in Brazil, where the best 32 national teams of the world meet, among them nine countries representing the South- and Central-American region. If we also take into consideration reigning champions Spain and the strong team of Portugal lead by Cristiano Ronaldo, we can see that the Latin influence is very significant in modern football. We take this good opportunity to give you a brief insight on the strong Mesoamerican roots of the most popular sport of the world.

The ancestors of modern soccer or football have been played as early as in ancient Greece and in China. First evidence of a ballgame played by the warrior peoples of Central-America dates back to around 2500 B.C. The rules and the appearance didn’t have much in common with the ones you can observe in the course of the next weeks in the arenas of Brazil, of course. The ballgames of the Olmec and Aztec have been played for example in heavy protection gear, using belts and padded helmets to protect the players’ knees, hips, elbows and heads. The two rival teams had to get a leather or solid rubber ball through a ‘goal’ – a vertical stone ring set high into one of the walls of the ballcourt.

The ballgame is also integrated in Mesoamerican mythology: according to the legend, the Lord of the Underworld challenged two Maya god-brothers who have annoyed him with their ballplaying. Luring them into the Underworld, he beats one of the brothers in a ballgame, and decapitulates him. This myth is reflected in the real ballgames often resulting in sacrifying the losing team’s players.

An interesting aspect of the ancient ballgames of the indigenous people of Mesoamerica is the assumption, that the games might have sometimes served as a proxy for warfare. There is evidence that in the densely populated regions, where conflicts between neighbours occured very frequently, the hostile parties often held ballgames instead of fighting battles, thus deciding their disputes in the ballcourt.

Let’s hope today’s football gladiators also stick to the spirit of Fair Play, and won’t turn the football stadions into battle grounds. We wish everybody to have fun watching the World Cup and supporting their favourites! May the best (LATIN :)) team be the winner!