Cuzco Takes Form on Its Soccer Fields

Televisions flew off the shelves; images of Neymar and Messi appeared all over the place. Soccer fever hit like a striker looking for a goal.

This took place though Cuzco is in the midst of its Jubilee Month. Grand celebrations recognize its Inca past and the city and state’s wishes for a glorious present. The dancers and parades occupy the main square while the World Cup that begins today in Brazil will steal the attention of young and old alike. They will sit before their TVs, hopes and dreams rising and falling with games a continent away.

Those who can are traveling to Brazil, abandoning their beloved Cuzco and its celebrations for a while.Those who cannot fear tourism will be down, especially for the Grand pageant Inti Raymi, as foreigners are drawn to the land of samba and soccer instead of to Machu Picchu and Inca Cuzco.

Watching a Championship Game (Photo: David Knowlton)
Watching a Championship Game (Photo: David Knowlton))

Though strong, the culture of celebration cannot claim everyone all the time, even in normal years. Many other realities take place even in years when the World Cup does not pull people to their TVs and the media world of celebrity soccer.

Even when there is no world cup, men gather every Sunday and often during the week on fields, large and small, throughout the city. They come to compete or just to enjoy the give and take of bodies colliding and the challenge to make a play and get that round ball down the field. Afterwards they enjoy time shared with team mates and friends drinking beer and remembering good plays, although that will fade into conversation about the business of everyday life in Cuzco

You Can't Take the Ball (Photo: David Knowlton)
You Can’t Take the Ball (Photo: David Knowlton)

Futbol, soccer, is one of the most important activities in the city, far beyond whatever comes on TV screens.

While the older and the richer parts of town center their life on events within the closed walls and gardens of homes, along with the public space of plazas, the poorer, new neighborhoods that throng Cuzco’s slopes center on a soccer field, even if no bigger than a basketball court.

In these poorer neighborhoods people work hard. Many are self employed or are fighting for a hold in Cuzco’s cut throat economy. Soccer not only relaxes them, but is a major tool they have for organizing themselves.

Every weekend and most afternoons and evenings these soccer fields are in use. Groups of friends come for pick up games, or they organize teams to compete with other teams. Neighborhoods organize championships to draw teams from other areas and try out moves and strategy.

Leaping for the Chance (Photo: David Knowlton)
Leaping for the Chance (Photo: David Knowlton)

But there is another important aspect. In this drama of teams seeking to win and young men seeking to become stars like Ronaldo, they get to know each other and build acquaintances that crisscross the city. They have measured each other’s mettle on the court and now pass information of social realities and business deals, if they themselves do not form enterprises.

Striving to sense the weaknesses of the defense and make a goal is the yarn that is woven into fabric every day in the life of Cuzco. Soccer organizes neighborhoods, as well as businesses. It is part of what makes the modern city of Cuzco work.

While institutions present themselves through troupes of dancers, performances of Cuzco’s official folk culture, and parades in the celebrations that make this month, all year round its men visualize and create the city through soccer.

Right now, some of this will be interrupted by the World Cup. Peru’s national team did not make the competition this year. Nonetheless, even competitions in Cuzco will pause so people can watch the important games in Brazil. The World Cup roar already sounds.

Neighborhood Friends after a Game (Photo: David Knowlton)
Neighborhood Friends after a Game (Photo: David Knowlton)

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