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Soccer an Indigenous Invention? According to a Guarani Documentary Yes

Rick Kearns

“The Guarani Invented Football” is the title and main point of a documentary recently released in Paraguay that presents research evidence of Guarani indigenous people playing football (known as soccer in the U.S.) as far back as 1639; this contradicts the current theory that the sport was a British creation in the 19th century.

“It is a reality that we want to proclaim to the entire world that football did not start in England, that football as a game played with the feet with a ball, was born here, in San Ignacio,” said Father Antonio Betancour of the parish of San Ignacio Guazu. The story of how Europeans and Latin Americans came to know of the sport started with Guarani indigenous playing the game after mass at a mission in San Ignacio Guazu.

According to materials gathered by Father Bartolomeu Melia, a Jesuit Anthropolgist and Linguist based in Paraguay and one of the main researchers, the sport was first mentioned in print in a 1639 study called “Treasure of the Guarani Language” in which a Paraguayan priest describes how the Guarani played a ball game with their feet, using a ball made of resin.

“It was the Sunday sport par excellence in the missionary plazas but it was unknown in Europe,” asserted Fr. Melia, who is also known in human rights circles for winning the international Bartholomew de las Casas Prize in 2013 for his defense of Guarani efforts to recover their territory in Paraguay.

One of Melia’s other sources, a book entitled The Missions of Paraguay, published in 1771 was featured in the film and also included descriptions of the game played by the Guarani.

“From the quartermaster to the last settler of San Ignacio, they affirm that this is the city of football and that it is a part of the conservation of the sport’s identity,” asserted Marcos Ybanez, creator of the documentary and one of the films researchers.

However, Ybanez did note that the original form of the game was not competitive as it is now known throughout the world.

“It was a community game. It was more about integration, resistance and the warrior spirit. All the families joined in the game,” he said.

“We are open to discuss this,” Ybanez added, “above all amongst the peoples of the Argentine missions that could revise the history of the roots of the game. Because we are not saying that this is the only city that can claim the subject of football, because it was a collective game of our America.”

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