A History of Copa América, the Oldest Fútbol Tournament on the Planet

Football in Latin America is written with an accent – fútbol – and with it comes its own style of play, full of pause and dribble, which contrasts with the European style of long passes and precise shooting.

Italian filmmaker-poet Pier Paolo Pasolini once said that Latin American soccer was poetry; rhyme and verses created through beautiful dribbling, while its European counterpart was long prose; cautious and tactical. These ball-kicking Latin American poets meet every four years to play the oldest tournament in the world: Copa América.

It was the English who first took a leather ball and soccer rules into Argentina in 1861. Thirty years later, an organized league in Buenos Aires had already formed. The sport had also spread to neighboring countries. In Uruguay, teams have played each other in tournaments since 1889. In Brazil, the sport took just a little longer to arrive, but before the end of the 19th century, the ball was already rolling.

In a nod to the sport’s bourgeoning popularity at the beginning of the century, Argentinean President Victorina de la Plaza organized a 4-team tournament in order to celebrate the country’s 100-year anniversary in 1916. In addition to the host Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Chile joined the soccer celebration that would initially be known as the South American Championship.

Uruguay defeated Chile in the first game in the Gimnasia y Esgrima Stadium of Buenos Aires, and become the first South American champions two weeks later when they tied with Argentina in Racing’s stadium.

That tournament also served the purpose of forming CONMEBOL, South America’s football federation. It was agreed that going forward, subsequent editions of the tournament would be called Copa América. The following year, Uruguay once again took the South American tournament and become the first champions of the new edition, taking home the 20-pound, 30-inch trophy, made by renowned Buenos Aires jewelers Casa Escasany.

The table was set for new guests to join. In 1921, Paraguay joined, followed by Bolivia in 1926, Peru in 1927, Ecuador in 1939, Colombia in 1945, and Venezuela in 1967.

The first non-CONMEBOL guests came in 1993, with the participation of the United States and Mexico.

The oldest tournament in the world is back this summer, and despite predating the first World Cup in 1930 and having been played 44 years before the first Euro Cup in 1970, it still remains as exciting as ever.

We’ll be tuned in to find out what team will take the title of the tournament’s 44th edition, with correspondents in Chile catching all the action – so keep an eye on our coverage here.