National sports give identity to countries. Along with language, culture, tradition, and many other aspects that conform to a national society, sports help us maintain and support our identity as a nation. However, some national disciplines are not widely present in their corresponding countries nowadays. This may be due to globalization, inconsistency, or even amateurism. Fortunately, each Latin American nation has managed to keep its national sport alive throughout time. That’s why, today, we can talk about them and have complete insights into what they are about.
National sports are in constant competition with popular sports seeking survival. Young athletes commonly incline towards disciplines that are known worldwide when choosing what to specialize in. Even though likings can also influence this, each nation must maintain its national sport as a profitable activity for people to show interest. Do you know which is your country’s national sport? What about the other nations in your region?
As we said before, national sports carry a significant amount of the nation’s identity. National sports are usually a reflection of tradition, history and become an intrinsic part of their culture. Despite the possibility of not being the most popular in the region, national sports strive to stay current as they are both historically and culturally relevant to the country’s identity. But, how does any sport become the one that carries a country’s legacy? Who is in charge of deciding what discipline is the most important for a national territory to represent it worldwide?
Well, any discipline can become a national sport. There is no official method to claim any physical activity as the most important one for a nation’s culture. Although, many have appeared when the territory is undergoing some identity crisis. This is not always the case, for each country decides the when, why, and which discipline should become an official national representation. As a plus, it’s also each country’s task to spread it locally and regionally to make it widespread. Mainly, there are two ways to do this:
Now that we know what a national sport is, we have the following question: What are the main differences between the most popular sports in a country and a national sport? Well, this is not as difficult to explain as it may sound. A country’s population may feel inclined to practice a specific discipline. This may be out of preference, worldwide popularity, professional growth potential, or just because it is trendy. However, this sport may not be the one designated as culturally relevant for that nation. The discipline itself was not created in that particular area or did not carry a traditional load when making the call.
But, how is a discipline declared popular if it’s not of national and cultural interest? Well, popularity is measured using a different scale. While some people may say that a sport is popular due to the number of athletes that practice it, others may claim that this method is unfair to individual disciplines. Thus, popularity becomes a question of the number of fans. Nowadays, this is easier to measure since social media allows us to check the most mentioned sports. Inaccurate as it may sound, it gives an idea of how popular a specific activity is, both within a nation and worldwide. And so, we have created the following chart.
|Football, or Soccer (the US and Canada)||
82.7 million posts
|Basketball||34 million posts|
|Baseball||20 million posts|
|Tennis||13.7 million posts|
|Cricket||10.3 million posts|
Even though the word “football” may be tricky, including American football posts, soccer would still lead the chart with 45.7 million posts.
Now that we know the difference between the most popular sports and national sports, we can jump into our list of Latin American national disciplines. The main idea is to explain why they became essential for each country’s culture and identity. We will also see how they were recognized as the most relevant activity nationwide.
In this list, you will also see how globalization has affected some nations to the point of having a national sport that was not initially created within the territory. However, these countries and their societies took these disciplines and made them relevant to their cultures. In most cases, as we will show you, they also coincide with the most popular sport within those nations.
Played initially during colonial times, pato was recognized as Argentina’s national sport in a decree in 1953. Later on, it was confirmed by law in 2017. Even though the Argentinean Pato Federation has adjusted its original rules, for it was quite a violent sport, its fundaments remain the same. The federation aims to foment, direct, and advertise its playability.
Pato consists of two teams of four members on horseback. A single ball with six handles. Each squad has to pick the ball and pass it or score points by placing it into the rival’s hoop. Matches are divided into six, and each part lasts eight minutes. It is a fast-paced game filled with adrenaline. It also demands physical agility and strength from players.
Capoeira’s history dates back to about 500 years ago. West African slaves exported by the Portuguese started this tradition in the Americas, which still exists nowadays. It was initially practiced to develop skills to defend themselves from colonial troops. Still, it then became the sport that today blends martial arts and dance. Although it is not officially declared as the national sport, capoeira has become a popular discipline automatically identified with the Brazilian society. It is now considered of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Although it underwent banishment due to its violent aim, capoeira became a popular activity in the 1900s. The first capoeira schools opened during that time, and it stopped being related to criminal practices. It emphasizes style, movement, and techniques such as kicking, sweeping, and other lower-body abilities.
With its origins between 1557 and 1561, rodeo is the national sport in Chile. It began as a tradition when huasos or horse riders went to the Andes to herd calves to the city. The Chilean Olympic Committee recognized rodeo as a national sport in 1962. Of course, the methods and practices in this sport were of great debate due to the violence it initially had towards animals.
The main goal of rodeo is to score points in a ring. Huasos have three attempts or atajadas to lead a young calf into a smaller padded arena within the limited zone. This softened surface was proposed to minimize any potential harm to the animal. Although rodeo practices occur throughout the year, the main attractions are held with the National Rodeo Championship Finals between September and April.
The history of tejo origins is quite unclear. However, most people agree on the fact that natives started it in the center of Colombia. It was recognized as Colombia’s national sport in the year 2000 by law. Throughout time, rules suffered different modifications that made it a more playable sport, aiming to decrease its dangers.
The main goal of tejo is to land your metal piece (known as “tejo”) as close as possible to a metal ring employing an underhand toss. The target is amidst a clay surface and has mechas that are filled with gunpowder. If by any chance, you explode a mecha, you earn extra points.
Together with other Latin American countries that haven’t officially recognized a discipline as a national sport, Cuba, Costa Rica, and Venezuela have baseball in this category. This is mainly due to the popularity, globalization, and regional influence of the United States. However, this has not made them second to any other country, with major MLB players throughout their sports history.
An adaptation of rodeo, charreria has become the Mexican national sport in 1933 with a presidential decree by Abelardo L. Rodríguez. This tradition came from Salamanca, Spain, in the 16th century. When Spanish people settled in the territory, they had orders to raise horses without allowing natives to ride. In 2016, this sport went into the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Wearing traditional charreria clothing, participants compete in nine scoring events. As most charreadas don’t award money as a prize, it is not considered a professional sport. Still, it survives as a tradition that serves as a cultural messenger through consecutive generations in its amateurism.
Another example of tradition brought to the sports industry is destrezas criollas (or gaucho skills in English). They consist of a group of activities that Uruguayan people perform to exhibit their cultural heritage. A national sport since 2006 by law, Uruguay has decided to use this sport to support and maintain historical customs.
In Uruguay, several tournaments are held throughout the year where gauchos show their abilities. In these competitions, horse riding, cattle marking, and other activities are closely related to an American rodeo.
National sports help nations to maintain their cultural heritage alive. Some disciplines tend to vanish through time, and declaring them of traditional relevance is a method of prevention and preservation. Many Latin American countries have not yet announced their national sport and were not added to this list. At Inmersivo, Empointe’s learning platform, we celebrate cultural heritage through sports.