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Temples of the Earthbound Gods

Temples of the Earthbound Gods
Stadiums in the Cultural Landscapes of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires

In this groundbreaking tale of two cities, a geography scholar and soccer aficionado delivers a fascinating tour of the sport’s hallowed grounds.

December 2008
This is a print-on-demand title. Expedited shipping is not available.
285 pages | 6 x 9 | 53 photos, 7 figures, 15 maps, 2 tables |

In Rio de Janeiro, the spiritual home of world football, and Buenos Aires, where a popular soccer club president was recently elected mayor, the game is an integral part of national identity. Using the football stadium as an illuminating cultural lens, Temples of the Earthbound Gods examines many aspects of urban culture that play out within these monumental architectural forms, including spirituality, violence, rigid social norms, anarchy, and also expressions of sexuality and gender.

Tracing the history of the game in Brazil and Argentina through colonial influences as well as indigenous ball courts in Mayan, Aztec, Zapotec, Mixtec, and Olmec societies, Christopher Gaffney's study spans both ancient and contemporary worlds, linking the development of stadiums to urbanization and the consolidation of nation building in two of Latin America's most intriguing megacities.

  • Foreword
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • Chapter One. The Stadium in Theory and Practice
  • Chapter Two. Rio de Janeiro: Spiritual Home of World Football
  • Chapter Three. Stadiums and Society in Twenty-first Century Rio de Janeiro
  • Chapter Four. Buenos Aires: Estadiolandia
  • Chapter Five. Class and Conflict in the Stadiums of Buenos Aires
  • Chapter Six. Comparative Cultural Urbanism
  • Appendix A. Stadiums in Rio de Janeiro, 2008
  • Appendix B. Clubs and Stadiums in Buenos Aires, 2007
  • Appendix C. Time Line, Brazil
  • Appendix D. Time Line, Argentina
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Christopher Thomas Gaffney is an independent scholar based in Durham, North Carolina. Also a journalist and local radio commentator, he has played soccer on four continents, winning the 1997 Taiwanese Footballer of the Year Award.


Have you ever entered an empty stadium? Try it. Stand in the middle of the field and listen. There is nothing less empty than an empty stadium. There is nothing less mute than the stands bereft of people.

Eduardo Galeano


Like many others throughout the world, you have probably experienced the drama and passion of sport with tens of thousands of others, screaming, shouting, celebrating as one. Perhaps you have had your memory indelibly scored by a great musical performance, religious ceremony, or political rally. Maybe you have had your heart quickened by a monster truck show or a NASCAR race. Or it could be that you were (or are) skilled enough to play in stadiums and recount your glory days or imagine yourself playing in front of fifty thousand adoring fans. You might work at a stadium, or pay taxes to subsidize stadiums. You might hate stadiums but pass one every day on your way to work or school or get caught up in game day traffic. Regardless of your experience, you have stadium stories to tell. This book connects those stories with places and people across time and space.


Nearly every city in the world has a stadium; it is among the most recognizable features of the cultural landscape. Elliptical tracks circle rectangular fields; fence-bound patches of brown dirt abut acres of genetically manipulated grass surrounded by tiers of silver bleachers. Hectares of black tar envelop giant white domes. Transportation infrastructure leads the anticipated thousands to and from the structure. On the ground, the stadium fills the visual field and road signs point the way. Although not as tall as skyscrapers, stadiums dominate their local environments and can be products of the cutting edge of architectural techniques and engineering technology.


Stadium lights brighten the night sky, drawing us like moths to the flame. Along with tens of thousands of others, we rush to and from stadiums. Traffic clogs transportation arteries, locals turn lawns into parking lots, enterprising youth commandeer curbsides. Subway cars suddenly fill with scores of people wearing their team jersey. Children drag their parents across the parking lot, groups of friends trot towards the gates, and long lines cause anxiety. Men ply the approaching human tide with upraised fingers, buying and selling scarce tickets.


The rituals of the stadium are familiar: face paint, lucky clothes, consumption of red meat and alcohol, souvenirs, programs, team songs, national anthems, wild gesticulation, yelling at the referee. Stadium events are anticipated well before they happen. Newspapers fill with histories, predictions, statistics, probable lineups, and odds of victory. Dollars, Euros, yen, yuan, and pesos change hands. Media production facilities swing into high gear as millions, even billions, of people gather in bars and homes—even other stadiums—to watch the event. From the "thrill of victory to the agony of defeat," the stadium occupies our attention long after the floodlights have been turned off.


The roar of the crowd may send a tingle up the back of our necks or make us hurry in the opposite direction. As Eduardo Galeano suggests, even when the stadium is empty, it communicates power, history, and meaning. Important for locals and tourists alike, one only has to think of the Roman Colosseum to understand the lasting imprint of stadiums on urban areas.


Stadiums matter to us because they are places where we share common emotions in a common place in a limited time frame. Stadium games, concerts, and spectacles are momentous occasions that live on in our collective memory. The limited space and time of the stadium gives spectators a sense of privileged participation. "I was there when . . . " is a prideful claim made by millions who have attended a stadium event. However, stadiums have also been sites of tragedy, murder, and repression. They represent and reproduce political and economic inequalities. Neighborhood communities organize to stop stadium construction. The effects of the stadium radiate outwards, affecting traffic flows, daily routines, environmental quality, and property values. The stadium has an impact even on those with no interest in what happens there.


Stadiums are the sites of unforgettable human dramas and mundane realities. Jesse Owen's victories in the Berlin Olympic Stadium did not halt Nazi advances across Europe, but they did diminish the glories of the self-styled Aryan race. In 2005 the Louisiana Superdome and the Houston Astrodome housed tens of thousands of refugees from Hurricane Katrina. As you are reading this book, there is an Olympic Stadium under construction somewhere in the world. The ancient Greeks, Romans, Aztecs, and Maya all had stadiums that functioned in ways similar to ours, which suggests that there is something essentially human about them.


More nations compete officially in international sport than in international politics. FIFA (soccer's governing body) and the International Olympic Committee both have more member nations than the United Nations (205, 202, and 192 respectively). This means that nearly every politically organized territory in the world has a stadium where local, national, and international competitions take place. The stadium might be the most global of the globalized.


At the local level, stadiums are monuments, places for community interaction, repositories of collective memory, loci of strong identities, sites for ritualized conflict, political battlefields, and nodes in global systems of sport. On a weekly basis millions of people all over the planet gather at their stadiums, their home grounds, to participate in sporting events where they renew communal bonds and host teams from other communities. The dying wish for thousands of people is to have their ashes scattered on the field. Others go to the stadium to work as janitors, parking attendants, security, media, or manual laborers. The stadium experience is as particular as the person who has it.


Obviously, stadiums are built so that we can perform and patronize sport, but the ways in which stadiums are constructed, managed, experienced, and understood are as different as the events they host. The meanings and histories they contain, represent, and produce are inseparable from the cultures in which they exist. As fundamental elements of the urban cultural landscape, stadiums impart ideological messages wrapped in discursive frameworks that are in turn informed by multiscalar geographic processes. Which is to say that the more we look at and think about stadiums, the more complex they become. By using stadiums as lenses to observe cultures, we survey historical, economic, political, sociocultural, technological, and globalizing processes as they are expressed on the local level.


This book explores the stadiums of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires in their historical and contemporary contexts. However, before entering into these Latin American mega-cities through their stadiums, it will be instructive to explore how stadiums function on a more general level. What were the historical antecedents for stadiums, and how did they become such important elements of modern cultures? What are the general characteristics of stadiums that make them such apt mechanisms for comparing and contrasting vastly different times and places? And finally, how can we look at stadiums to discover who we are and what we have in common with people past, present, near, middle, and far? After answering these questions, we will be able to make better sense of the stadiums, cities, and cultures of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.


A Brief History of Stadiums


The word stadium comes from the Greek estadion, wooden posts that marked the beginning and end points of Hellenic footraces. The Greeks eventually extended the term to include the entire architectural structure surrounding the race course. As early as 900 BCE stadiums were used as places to celebrate religious festivals through games and athletic competitions. Generally located in rural areas, each religious site possessed a mythical background, and the stadium was intended, along with shrines and temples, to reestablish connections with the divine.


The stone and wood stadiums of the ancient Greeks had dressing rooms, approach tunnels, VIP sections, and tiered seating. Situated within vast religious complexes, a stadium's racetrack ran towards the temple of Zeus. As with modern stadiums, clear boundaries separated judges, participants, and spectators. Greek Games (of which the Olympic Games were but one) were marked by official ceremonies, oaths, and sacrifices similar to modern-day presentation of athletes, singing of national anthems, and pregame consumption of meat. There were wine-fueled Greek hooligans as well. The archaeological record suggests that episodic fan violence sometimes resulted in the destruction of the stadium. Eventually, there were ushers to keep rowdy fans under control. The four-year cycle of pan-Hellenic games that began at Olympia in the sixth century BCE attracted thousands of spectator-pilgrims and hundreds of athletes. As the games became more popular and less religious, the athletes came to be regarded as cult figures in their own right. Athletes underwent rigorous training regimes leading up to the games and were considered paradigms of Greek masculinity. The games also served a larger political role as they began a period of peace throughout the isthmus. The founder of the modern Olympic Games, Pierre de Coubertin, was similarly inspired by the potential of sport to achieve universal, if temporary, and localized peace among nations.


Like the Greeks, de Coubertin also thought it unseemly for women to participate in the Olympic Games. In Greece, other than the priestesses who presided over ceremonies, women were prohibited from entering the stadium, although they were likely part of the large encampments that blossomed around the site of competition. Games brought together a wide spectrum of Greek society: traders and merchants, food and souvenir vendors, wealthy businessmen and landowners, cooks, prostitutes, musicians, religious figures, soldiers, poets, and common people. Wealthy citizens sponsored an early form of athletic professionalism. The conquests of the athletes they funded brought status and honor to the individual, town, or region. In broader terms, Greek stadiums and quadrennial athletic competitions renewed and reflected Greek religious, sexual, and political ideologies. Games were an integral part of Greek life, and the stadiums were important sites and symbols of Greek civilization.


Panem et Circences


To the Greeks, the coronation of a wrestling or running champion with an olive branch symbolized the close association between the human and the divine through bodily perfection. The Romans were not as poetically inclined. They regarded bodily pursuits that did not have a practical end as effete. So while both the Greeks and the Romans sought bodily strength and perfection, the Romans did so with a focus on battlefield performance. It is difficult to say if this bodily pragmatism was the chicken or the egg relative to Rome's militaristic imperialism. However, the gladiatorial competitions and chariot races of the Roman Empire give deep insight into the social and political structures and mores of Roman society.


The bloodiest and most well known of the Roman games were the gladiatorial contests (munera) that emerged out of funerary rites in the third century BCE It was common to erect temporary wooden stadiums that served as a venue for the human and animal slaughter. Later, as the munera became instrumental as a political tool, these improvised stadiums took on immense dimensions. "Event producers" hastily constructed wooden bleachers, which the Roman Senate banned after a rash of stadium collapses in the late first century BCE. Legislative control over the development of large amphitheatres effectively placed the production and control of public spectacles in the hands of the imperial elite. Only the state or the very wealthy could afford to build concrete or stone coliseums, amphitheatres, and circuses. The use of these spaces in the service of the state reached its height with the construction of the 250,000-capacity Circus Maximus and the 50,000-capacity Colosseum in Rome in the first century CE.


The circuses of the Roman and Byzantium Empires were scenes of intense chariot competitions with enormous fan groups battling each other in the stands and on the streets. These circus factions counted as many as fifty thousand members and went en masse to the stadium in their team colors: red, blue, green, or white. Partisanship in sport extended to the political realm where factions were able, through sheer force of numbers, to make demands of senators and city councils. In return, politicians courted favor with these groups. Factional loyalties extended across the empire, with one group of "blues" taking revenge for a wrong done to their like-hued brethren in another city. The parallels with modern hooligan groups and stadium cultures are shockingly apparent and merit more detailed analysis than can be given here. There is significant evidence to suggest that the relationships between politics, hooligans, stadiums, urban life, and social control has been part of human culture for millennia.


The archaeological remains of Roman-era stadiums stretch from North Africa to Scotland, from Portugal to Asia Minor. Roman stadiums were expensive, sophisticated architectural undertakings that held tens of thousands spectators. Then as today, a large stadium served as a badge of urban distinction. Roman stadiums were urban public spaces that allowed for a variety of entertainments, social control mechanisms, and interactions between the state, its citizens, and its slaves. From highly regimented seating arrangements to the control and domination of man and nature, "the social organization of Roman society took on a spatial form in the Coliseums and Circuses of the Roman Empire." Many of these continued to serve a variety of functions long after the sack of Rome: miniature walled cities in the Middle Ages, anti-aircraft batteries in the Spanish Civil War, places to corral livestock. Their continued presence on the landscape is a reminder of the engineering technology, political ideology, and geographic extent of the Roman Empire.


Mesoamerican Ball Courts


A third form of stadiums we have inherited from our ancestors comes from pre-Columbian societies in Mesoamerica. Maya, Aztec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Hohokam, and Olmec societies all had ball courts with tiered seating for spectators. While not as architecturally complex as Roman coliseums, the myths, rituals, and sacrifices associated with the games played in ball courts were an integral part of the social, political, and religious orders of their societies. Spanning a period of twelve hundred years, the architectural evidence of ball courts extends from western Honduras, Guatemala, and southeastern Mexico through central Mexico to southern Arizona. Like Greek stadiums, these stone and wood sporting arenas were located within temple complexes.


The varied mythical, religious, and political significance of ball courts provides clues to social organization, politicoreligious structures, and the use of leisure time in pre-Columbian societies in the region. While only the largest ball courts remain, we can assume that a diffuse sporting culture necessitated the basic shape of the ball court for practice; thus many more informal spaces probably existed. Although they have fallen into disuse as sporting arenas, Mesoamerican ball courts testify to the historically central role of sport in the region.


Ideological, architectural, and cultural similarities between ancient and modern stadiums abound: athletic professionalization among the Greeks; human sacrifice in Mesoamerica; the Romans' politically organized spectacle of gratuitous violence; moralities and ideologies of sport; ritual performance; mythology; record keeping; body culture; eroticism; local, regional, national, and ethnic identities; celebrity status for athletes; symbolic warfare; organized fan violence; architectural complexity and achievement (including a retractable canvas roof in Rome); political influence; and discourses of nation, class, and gender. The more we look at stadiums, the more complicated they become.


Industrial Britain and Stadium Diffusion


The stadiums of the Greeks and Romans fell into disuse as empires and states fell apart. Mesoamerican ball courts faced a similar fate in the face of Spanish colonization. Even without stadiums, sport continued to be played, usually around festival days or as part of large social gatherings. Folk games have always been a constituent of human societies, and the undercurrents of centuries-old traditions survived into the modern era.


It was not until the nineteenth century that stadiums coalesced as features of industrialized European and North American cities. This processes by which this happened cannot be separated from larger cultural, economic, and political shifts. Speaking in very general terms, the rise of mercantile capitalism at the end of the long sixteenth century, the enclosure of rural spaces as a result of the agricultural revolution, the migration of rural populations to growing urban centers, the loss of traditional ways of life, the commodification of time and space, the development of a leisure class, the emergence of a global industrial economy, and British domination of the seas all played their part in the formation and diffusion of stadiums. The emergence of stadiums from the morass of early industrial life in Britain and their insinuation into the modern urban fabric was a logical response to these multiscalar geographic patterns and processes. To understand the historical trajectory of stadiums, we need to first explore the development and influence of the games that were played within them.


During the Middle Ages in Britain, games of foetbol were played between entire villages and there were few distinctions made between spectators and players. Because the game lasted for several days it was probably common for individuals to alternate between active and passive roles. The biggest games were played on Shrove Tuesday, just before Lent, with thousands of people battling each other in a space of several miles between neighboring towns. As early as the fourteenth century the practice of folk football was banned by British kings because of the destruction that accompanied it.


But folk football continued below the surface of visible culture for some time and was generally practiced in towns along the coal mining belt of northern England. Beginning in the 1750s, the agricultural revolution radically changed the shape and characteristics of the British landscape. As agricultural productivity increased, fences, hedges, embankments, and drainage channels enclosed open space and constrained the "flying game" of folk football. These same processes pushed people from the countryside towards cities, which began to grow as never before.


Industrial urban culture progressively managed and compartmentalized workers' time throughout the nineteenth century. Leisure time was at a premium and was increasingly the focus of evangelical groups or other urban distractions. The limited leisure time of workers and a dearth of recreational spaces in the city stunted the development of an urban sporting culture that could sustain folk traditions. Although we should not assume that folk football had fallen into complete obscurity by the beginning of the nineteenth century, the practice and observation of sport was not yet a generalized characteristic of industrial urban cultures.


In the 1840s Thomas Arnold, headmaster of the Rugby School, wanted to teach his boys discipline, courage, teamwork, and toughness and so had them play sports modeled on folk customs. With the great success of this pedagogical experiment, other headmasters followed his lead. The schools began to play each other but split over the rules they should use for their games of football. Two varieties developed: Rugby Football and Association Football, of which "soccer" is an abbreviation. The graduates brought their schoolboy games (and ideologies) to British cities and factories.


Once modern sports gained a foothold in urban areas, sport associations and teams (particularly soccer and rugby) became central elements in the lives of young men. In a dense urban society segmented by gender and class, pubs and sporting clubs were places where men of similar tastes and predilections gathered. The codification of Association Football rules in 1865 helped to expand organized competitions, and teams grew out of casual associations in the pub, market, or workplace. Groups of young men pooled resources and either found or created spaces to play. The increasing popularity of soccer attracted spectators, and the playing spaces gradually formalized into crude stadiums, where slag heaps and earth mounds functioned as terraces for spectators to stand on. The expansion of rule-based sport required "the leveling of the field," which translated into the creation of relatively homogeneous spaces for the performance and consumption of institutionalized sport. Similar processes happened on the other side of the North Atlantic: Canadian and U.S. cities adopted stadium forms from the British.


As sport and leisure became central components of industrial cultures throughout the world, their associated spaces increasingly defined the cultural landscape. As the global economy expanded, the spaces and cultures of modern sport diffused. The old adage "cricket follows the empire" implies a whole series of interrelated political, economic, and geographic processes related to the development and diffusion of sport and stadiums. The basic premise of this saying is that wherever the British Army went—Canada, South and East Asia, the Caribbean, South and East Africa—cricket became popular with local people. However, it was not just the British Army that carried bats, balls, and wickets in their rucksacks. The emergence of an international industrial economy and the growth of British mercantilism in the nineteenth century gradually brought Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay (among others) into the sphere of global capital. By the mid-nineteenth century, Britain was the major trading partner of each of these countries, and the agents of British capital—bankers, industrialists, engineers, managers, dockhands, sailors—were in every major port along the Atlantic coast of South America. As the British economic presence increased so did their cultural influence; British sports and the spaces to play them appeared in South American cities. Similar processes happened with all European and North American colonial powers: the French extended soccer into North and West Africa; the gringos brought baseball into Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and East Asia.


Patterns of sport diffusion were based in the broad popularity of institutionalized sport at home. As industrial, urban cultures evolved in the metropolis the expansion of the global economy ensured (for example) that British sailors, merchant marines, laborers, and government agents spread it throughout the domain. Not only cricket, but soccer, rugby, golf, horse racing, polo—and their stadiums (spatial forms)—followed the empire. The emergence of local sporting clubs is an excellent indication of when localities were incorporated into global economies or imperial domains. Even within countries such as the United States, the expansion of an internal economy and shifting settlement patterns are reflected in the tremendous boom in professional sport teams and stadiums in the Sun Belt and the West in the last quarter of the twentieth century. We will examine the details of this development in the contexts of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires in the coming chapters.


Stadium Evolution


The geographers John Bale and Martyn Bowden have proposed different and intersecting models that describe the architectural and functional trajectories of stadiums since the late nineteenth century.21 These models suggest that beginning with crude, open spaces or on the infields of horse-racing grounds, stadiums changed to reflect the increasing organization and sanitization of urban life. While stadiums have always conditioned human movement through architecture, the trend has been from less to more control, from a larger to a more limited public, and from less to more economic and architectural rationality.


Late-nineteenth-century stadiums allowed for a freedom of movement that did not necessarily create clear boundaries between spectators and players. As sport became more organized and competitive, stadium owners imposed architectural divisions that established control over space. The architectural complexities of stadiums evolved fairly quickly, primarily through the efforts of the Scottish architect Archibald Lietch who created the first double and triple tiers as well as cantilevered roofs. By the first decades of the twentieth century, stadiums in Britain, North America, and continental Europe had coalesced into something approximating their modern form. Field dimensions were standardized, spectator capacity was dependent on building materials and architectural know-how, and stadiums were generally dedicated solely to the hosting of sporting events. European stadium models were the templates from which stadiums in many other parts of the world emerged, and architects from Europe were instrumental in the design and construction of stadiums in South America, Africa, and Asia.


Stadium architecture changed in relation to construction technologies: wood and brick gave way to concrete and steel, which yielded to plastic and metal alloys. The internal architecture and location of stadiums also reflected social changes. The United States is a good example of these relationships. Following a period of stadium building in the urban core, the post-World War II era of urban decline and mass movement to the suburbs, cavernous plastic and steel stadiums such as New York's Shea Stadium (1964), Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium (1972), Pittsburgh's Three River Stadium (1970), Irving's (Dallas) Texas Stadium (1971), Philadelphia's Veteran's Stadium (1971), and Seattle's Kingdome (1976) peppered the landscape.22 The recent or imminent destruction of many of these plastic stadiums can be understood in the context of a generalized failure of social and urban planning in the United States.


With the reanimation of downtown districts throughout the United States in the 1990s, there has been a commensurate boom in downtown stadiums that attempt to recover the "classic" feel of the early twentieth century: Baltimore, Denver, Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Francisco, Milwaukee, the list of new facilities goes on. These publicly funded stadiums have incorporated architectural influences from shopping malls with the aim of maximizing consumption, taking public dollars, and pouring profits into private hands. Instead of responding to population shifts, stadiums are frequently built speculatively in the hope of providing an urban "amenity" that will attract internal migrants and businesses to a city. Unfortunately, the economic realities of stadium building for professional sports franchises in the United States creates significant and well-documented disamenities.23


In the 1990s and early 2000s, after decades of stadium-related violence, British stadiums underwent a radical transformation. The biggest change was the elimination of the terraces that were minimalist, standing-only, holding pens traditionally occupied by working-class fans. The government-mandated emergence of the all-seater stadium has had two related effects. First, because the clubs, not municipalities, were forced to pay for stadium renovations, ticket prices increased across the board. This had the effect of pricing out many working- and lower-class fans. Second, those who could afford to go to the stadium were confined to seats, which were monitored by closed-circuit television and increased stewardship. While many bemoan the loss of the traditional atmosphere generated by the fans in the terraces (as the crowds have become older, wealthier, and more sedate), British soccer has blossomed in the post-Taylor era. The all-seater stadium model was adopted by both FIFA and UEFA in 1995, requiring that all international and continental matches be played without standing fans. The trend towards increasing crowd control through seating arrangements is reshaping stadiums all over the world.24


In Asia, Australia and New Zealand, North America, and Europe new stadiums have reached a high level of technological sophistication and organizational rigidity designed to extract the maximum profit from fans. It is a rare person who can gain access to all areas of a stadium as the boundaries between differentiated seating sections are patrolled by ushers and security guards. The generalized effect has been an atomization of the crowd, whereby social value is ascribed to an individual's capacity to consume. The traditional public, one that could afford to go to stadiums on a regular basis, has changed to a more limited and affluent crowd. What once were inclusive public spaces are, much like city parks, squares, and other spaces of shared interaction, predicated on the notion that one must consume (and heavily) to be part of the event. Thus, the stadium continues to reflect larger social and architectural trends associated with (post)modern cities. These changes have yet to be chronicled in detail, yet clearly merit more attention from scholars.




Although stadium clearly derives from the Greek, developing a working definition of the word is not as straightforward as it would appear. For instance, some golf courses have "stadium seating" and charge spectators admission to view a tournament, but they are clearly not stadiums. Many stadiums contain hotels, shopping malls, office space, museums, movie theatres, golf ranges, and wedding halls. Is it a mall, a stadium, or both? Bale calls them "tradiums." The ambiguous terminology used to name modern stadiums further confuses: Amsterdam ArenA, Ameriquest Ballpark at Arlington, Wrigley Field, The Den, SkyDome/Rogers Centre, Los Angeles Coliseum, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Nanjing Sports Park, Cotton Bowl, The Valley, White Hart Lane, Landsdowne Road, Boleyn Ground, and so on. All of these places can hold over thirty thousand people and have the form and function of a "stadium," but apparently none of them are.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines stadium as "an enclosed area for sporting events equipped with tiers of seats for spectators." Okay, but is a fenced baseball field at a neighborhood park with a single bleacher a stadium? Not really, but it does share similar characteristics. By contrast, an arena is "the central part of an amphitheatre, in which the combats or spectacular displays take place, and which was originally strewn with sand to absorb the blood of the wounded and slain." Ballpark is simply "a baseball stadium." Field has obvious geographic connotations and implies an open stretch of land that has come under cultivation or a generalized, bounded space of interaction. "Fields of play" are essential characteristics of all stadiums and imply the incorporation of natural elements, yet when the word field is generalized to an architectural structure we are faced with a paradox.


The words used to describe stadiums are conditioned by local sporting, political, economic, and geographic conditions. In the British vernacular stadiums are referred to as grounds. The implication is that without being grounded, a team is rootless and cannot develop lasting place-based relationships. For this reason, soccer stadiums in the British Isles are frequently named for streets or the geographic features in which they are situated.


In the United States, naming rights to professional stadiums are typically purchased by corporations (e.g., QualComm Park, Gillette Stadium, Reliant Stadium, FedEx Field, ProPlayer Field, Coors Field) and links to place are routed through the corporation. In Latin America, most stadiums are named after important political leaders or prominent men associated with the club that owns the stadium. However, most Latin American stadiums have popular nicknames that avoid the need to refer to them by their official names. For instance, the official name of Boca Juniors' stadium in Buenos Aires is Estadio Alberto J. Armando but is generally called La Bombonera, or the Chocolate Box, in reference to its stacked and steeply inclined terraces (itself a term borrowed from agriculture).


Given the wide variety of sportscapes, or landscapes of sport, within a cultural landscape, I use the criteria of architectural form, primary use, and micro-physical function as a means of defining the stadium. Although stadiums and indoor arenas have much in common, I focus exclusively on structures that host sports played on natural or artificial grass fields. A stadium is a large, usually permanent, open-air structure that is built, maintained, and primarily used to host field-based sporting spectacles. It has the capacity to accommodate many hundreds or thousands of people in seats or terraces that extend from a focused sphere of action. Entry to the stadium is regulated through ticketing mechanisms that tend to separate spectators by socioeconomic level. Space within the stadium itself is organized to control human movement and action in a patterned and deliberate manner. The multifunctionality of modern stadiums is a recent development that has its origins in Western Europe and North America but has since spread to East Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. In the rest of the world, we know a stadium when we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel it.


The Theory and Practice of Stadiums


From satellite communications to ergonomic seats, stadiums operate at different scales simultaneously. The relations and systems of production that create and support stadiums are nearly impossible to describe in their entirety. There are as many theoretical approaches to the stadium as roads leading to and from it. Each path takes us to different destinations. Stadium architecture and design, financing, law, and structural and social engineering are all pertinent fields of investigation, but as with the city at large, describing the fine details tends to obscure the larger picture. For instance, we can take it as axiomatic that the architectural history of stadiums in the local and global contexts is a rich and complex theme and that stadium- and sports-specific technologies intersect with other arenas of social life. Yet by focusing explicitly on architecture we lose touch with the cultural milieu, historical context, and connections to other stadiums.


In what follows, I examine stadiums from a perspective based in cultural and urban geography highlighting three interrelated themes: the symbolic characteristics of stadiums, how they function as sites of convergence, and, taking Latin America as an example, the ways in which they function as urban public spaces. The combination of these elements helps to create powerful yet heterogeneous meanings for individuals and communities. But first, a theoretical sidebar.


You and I cannot step into the batter's box at Yankee Stadium, take a penalty kick at the Maracanã, or hit a crushing forehand at Wimbledon's Centre Court, but we can play baseball, soccer, and tennis in similar spaces. As athletes progress through their sports careers, they move through a series of sporting spaces of which stadiums are the highest expression. Tending towards greater regimentation, organization, and levels of achievement, athletes move from informal practice to high school, college, or apprenticeship leagues before reaching the professional level. Each one of these movements is conditioned by excelling in the previous athletic space. That is, hierarchies of athletic achievement are mirrored by the hierarchies of spaces in which they occur. Zinidine Zidane did not play for his local pub; he played in Real Madrid's Estadio Santiago Bernabeu. Yet the soccer fields of the pub league and Real Madrid's stadium are related, mutually supportive, and together define an interlocking spatial and cultural complex dedicated to the performance, production, and consumption of sport. When sixty thousand people go to a stadium to watch athletes perform, they pay to watch people who have spent their lives practicing, excelling, and moving through a phenomenally diffuse hierarchy of associated spaces and places, each of which shapes the cultural landscape.


The interconnected cultural and spatial worlds of sport suggest that stadiums are some of the most extensible human constructions. The word extensible implies that stadiums are "nodal points in communication networks" and that the structures, meanings, and effects of stadiums are predicated on a complex set of social relations that extend forwards and backwards in time and space. Because they are sites of convergence, stadiums bring together a broad spectrum of society in a limited space for a limited period, which tends to increase the social value of stadium time and the economic value of places (seats) within the space of the stadium.


Imagine a map of the paths that fans, players, laborers, team owners, and media personnel take to get to the stadium. The coming together of tens of thousands of people necessitates transportation networks, electricity grids, sewage lines, communication networks, vast human and natural resources, and an implicit set of cultural values that tell us that what is happening in the stadium is worth all the bother. Next, imagine the exponentially larger number of places to which the stadium is broadcast via radio, television, print media, and the Internet. Have you ever read the sports section to see yesterday's results? This effectively transports you through time to the events that took place in the stadium.


As nodal points in interlocking networks, it is difficult to imagine a more extensible place than the stadium. Because of this, as Galeano so eloquently acknowledged, stadiums do not only communicate when they are actively used. They speak to us across generations and help us to imagine our collective futures. The architecture, size, location, and generalized function of stadiums as public spaces shape the memories, texture, and experience of cities around the globe. Continuing with our theoretical exploration of stadiums, we will next examine and compare the general functioning of stadiums as constituent elements of the cultural landscape.



“Written for both academic and general audiences, the book seems appropriate for undergraduate or graduate teaching as well as more widespread readership. I highly recommend Temples of the Earthbound Gods as both a lively read and an insightful reflection on sports and society in Latin America.”
Journal of Latin American Geography

“A fascinating account of how the world’s most popular sport has left an indelible mark in two world cities.”
Joseph L. Scarpaci, Professor of Geography, Virginia Tech


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