Apr 14

Calcio Fiorentino

Football (or soccer) is one of the world’s most popular pastimes; professional leagues have extensive, devoted, and extremely passionate followings.  The sport is believed to be the descendant of a variety of ancient ball games, particularly those enjoyed by the Romans and Greeks.  Although nearly all of these versions eventually died out and gave way to the current form of football, one precursor to the modern game has survived.

Originating in the sixteenth century, the game is now referred to as calcio storico (historic football) or calcio fiorentino (after Florence, the city where it is still played).  While the roots of modern football are evident in calcio storico (primarily as players use their feet to maneuver the ball toward the opposing team’s goal), there are also stark contrasts between the modern and historic games.  Storico matches often appear more similar to rugby than football, as players can also use their hands to manipulate the ball and are permitted to be exceptionally violent.


Calcio storico allows the use of a wide range of strikes against opponents.  Throwing of punches, elbows, and headbutts are all legal according to official rules, as is choking an opponent.  Its combative style requires a unique type of athleticism from its players.  During the 1500s, the game became notorious beyond Italy for its violent nature.  The French king Henry III, who attended a match while on a diplomatic visit to Venice, is said to have remarked that storico was “…too small to be a real war and too cruel to be a game.”


Like many other predecessors to football, calcio storico eventually lost popularity and support.  It largely fell from practice during the 1600s.  Fortunately, however, cultural and historic interest (as well as a desire to distinguish Italian sport from that of its neighbors) brought about its revival in 1930.  A limited number of games are played annually in Florence, with four teams representing each quarter of the city.  As with many traditions in Italy, the final match corresponds with a religious holiday, and is held on the feast of the patron of Florence, San Giovanni (St. John).

Rules established in the sixteenth century remain in use today; calcio storico is still as brutal a sport as it first was.  Fifty-minute matches are played on sand fields, with long, narrow goals at each end.  Teams consist of twenty-seven men, and matches require a total of seven officials.  Traditional uniforms (namely pants in the sixteenth-century style) are used by the teams from each quarter, which are designated by a color (red, blue, green, or white).


The rebirth of calcio storico has preserved a unique aspect of Italian history and culture.  Its annual matches bring the Renaissance back to life each year, and just as modern football is linked to this sixteenth-century ancestor, storico has its roots in the ancient Roman game of harpastum.  Although the immediate attention of locals and visitors at the yearly matches is always on sport, calcio storico calls to mind a rich history and the importance of its preservation.


Sep 13


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The city of Rio de Janeiro (soon to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics) has gained international fame for the mountaintop statue of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor) that overlooks the city and for its numerous, white-sand beaches.  However, just as unique as the city’s geographical features is the singular culture of its residents that has developed throughout Rio’s history.

Rio de Janeiro


Those who live in Rio de Janeiro (known as Cariocas in Portuguese) seize every opportunity to appreciate life.  In a city known for its beaches, the culture has become greatly oriented around life at the shore.  Its residents frequent the city’s beaches and, consequently, a large portion of Rio’s social scene takes place on the sand.  Brazil is also home to many fervent soccer (futebol) fans, and naturally the game has become a favorite pastime for Brazilians (including Cariocas).

Unfortunately, when the Cariocas took their favorite sport to the beach with them, problems arose.  Stray balls and rough play began upsetting an increasing number of beach-goers, tourists and native Cariocas alike.  Eventually, the sport was banned from all public beaches, disappointing many throughout Rio de Janeiro.

For those Cariocas who still wanted to hone their soccer skills without having to leave the beach, Octavio de Moraes presented a unique solution.  In 1965, Moraes brought a new sport to one of Rio’s most famous beaches: Copacabana.  Footvolley (futevôlei), a combination of soccer (called football outside of the United States) and volleyball, gained immediate popularity.  It quickly spread throughout the city, helping soccer players avoid the strictly enforced ban by adding a twist to their favorite sport.  By 1970, footvolley was being played in multiple cities throughout Brazil and beginning to spread beyond the country’s borders.

As you may have gathered, footvolley is played with a soccer ball on a beach-volleyball court.  Its rules are relatively simple.  Playing and scoring are governed by traditional volleyball rules, but players cannot use their hands.  This requires not only speed and agility, but also skill and accuracy when striking the ball.  Traditionally, games played between greatly skilled or professional soccer players were two-on-two in order to increase difficulty.  However, casual games are often played with larger groups.


The popularity of footvolley led to the creation of a professional league.  Official events were held primarily in Brazil until 2003, when the United States hosted an international competition.  The sport has since grown in many places around the world, especially where soccer is popular and beaches are plentiful.  Although it has a diverse group of international participants, the Footvolley World Cup (Mundial de Futevôlei) is often hosted in Brazil, where the sport was born.

Official footvolley matches are often designed for more aggressive play.  With lower nets and altered rules, fast-paced professional footvolley requires even greater skill than traditional play.  Nevertheless, the sport presents a distinct challenge in any form.  It is a unique application of soccer skills that also requires overall athleticism.  While still a growing sport, it is far from likely that those who have found footvolley will ever lose their taste for its one of a kind nature.


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