A game across time

5 things the World Cup can learn from the ancient ball game


The fever of the World Cup is alive and kicking, whether you’re a fan or not, it is a global event that brings all the nations into a friendly competition where it seems that the world is at stake. But before we had soccer fever (football for most Latin American countries), we had the ancient Mesoamerican ball game.




Filled with the fervor of a sacred ritual, the Mesoamerican ball game represented a fight between darkness and light. The ball—made out of a heavy rubber material—represented the movement of the sun, the moon and Venus. The winner of the game was protected and aided by the gods. The victory represented the triumph of light and the birth of the sun.

The game was a sacred ritual invented in around 2500-100 BCE, evolving by time and regions. Many versions of the game and its meaning have been found but one thing is for sure: our modern World Cup players can sure learn a thing or two about this ancient ritual.




1.- Present a daring and impossible play

During ancient times, the ball game consisted in the team members hitting the 4-kilogram ball with their hips and forearms looking to make master plays so epic that they were impossible to respond by the opposing team which meant triumph for the most skilled players.
Such as in ancient times, the modern players of the World Cup—representatives of every nation—must portray mastery plays defeating their opponents with the utmost skills, taking the glory home.

2.- Unite across borders and time

Historians believe that the game was often used as an alternative to war and to solve conflicts between terrains. Relics and representations of the ancient ball game have been found across Mesoamerica with ball courts found all across the region down south in Nicaragua and even up north. These ball courts vary in size but all represent a similar sport and although the game’s rules vary from region to region, one thing is certain: human’s need for a friendly competition. As we gather around our televisions and social networks to share our passion, we can’t help but stand in awe as how these games bring the world together—to laugh, to cry, to celebrate the human triumph.




3.- Aim high, for the ultimate goal

If you think passing the Mexican goalie Memo Ochoa’s defense line is difficult, imagine thrusting the heavy ball into small rings on the wall 6 meters (about 19.69 feet) high above the game court. The game could be ended when one team placed the ball through the hoop, although archaeologists and historians believe most games were probably won by the sum of points. The biggest ball court is located in Chichen Itza as most of the ones left behind are smaller than the measurements mentioned above.
In any case, our World Cup players must not settle for smaller court games but aim for the ultimate win: the 6-meter wall.

4.- Play fair

Despite the level of difficulty and risk of the game, the honorable players of the ancient sport played fair and honored the sanctity of the ritual by respecting their fellow players. It was an honor to be chosen a warrior of the games and stand for all that the sport represented for these ancient civilizations. In the modern day World Cup, the players must go boldly and carry the colors of their nation with pride, respecting their opponents and playing a fair game.




5.- Represent with honor

As in most rituals, playing in the sacred game was a great honor. The players were considered warriors—the strongest and fastest of their village. The winner was sacrificed and then in turn converted into a god himself. In the Chichen Itza glyphs, it is shown how—out of the beheaded player surges 6 serpents and a plant which signifies plenitude. For some authors, the plant-serpent signifies the tree of the universe, the beginning of life.
Now we are not suggesting the sacrifice of any player, but rather the honor of playing with heart and soul. The champions representing us in the World Cup must honor their nation by playing with passion and giving it their best.


Comment: What other points would you add to this list?

For whom are you cheering this World Cup?