Center for Global Studies

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Debbie Sharnak | Fútbol under Authoritarian Rule and Its Global Implications: The Case of Uruguay

Event Type
Center for Global Studies, Department of History, Humanities Research Institute, Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.
Huff Hall 1002
Jan 29, 2024   5:00 pm   to 6:15pm
Debbie Sharnak
Originating Calendar
Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS)

Uruguay’s success on the soccer pitch has often exceeded its size. As the smallest country in the Southern Cone, it has multiple Olympic Gold Medals (1924 and 1928), two World Cup Championships (1930 and 1950), and continues in the twenty-first century to regularly qualify and often making the knockout rounds, including a fourth-place finish in 2010. Yet, one of the worst stretches of the country’s national team performances was during the country’s dictatorship, which lasted officially between 1973-1985. During this period, Uruguay gained the unenviable title as the Torture Chamber of Latin America and boasted the highest rate of political incarceration in the world, which included imprisonment at some of the country’s most well-known sports stadiums. This talk will explore how soccer reflected national malaise under authoritarian rule, how the dictatorship attempted to use the sport to invoke nationalist sentiment, and how opposition actors used soccer as an avenue for resistance. While many historians ignore the connections between Uruguay’s sports history and its dictatorship due to its failures on the international stage during the period, this talk reinserts the importance of how both the military and the opposition saw it as a battleground during the period to further their goals. The talk points to how the violations that took place in the stadiums continues to be a contested site of memory even today, as Sharnak makes connections between Uruguay’s experience and its implications for growing authoritarianism around the world today. 

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