stenciled image of masked EZLN futbol/soccer player on wall next to door with varied graffitti tags

Zapatistas Create Alternative Futbol

El EZLN le pediría a la comunidad lesbico-gay nacional, especialmente a travestis y transexuales que se organizaran y deleitarán al respetable con novedosas piruetas en los partidos en México y, además de provocar la censura de la tv, el escándalo de la ultraderecha y el desconcierto en las filas del Inter, elevarán así la moral y ánimo de nuestro equipo. Y es que no hay únicamente dos sexos y no solo existe un mundo, y siempre es recomendable que los perseguidos por su diferencia compartan alegrías y apoyos sin dejar de ser diferentes.[1]

“The EZLN would ask of the lesbian-gay national community, especially transvestites and transsexuals to organize themselves and work towards getting rid of respectability politics with grand cartwheels during the games in Mexico and to provoke television censorship, scandalization by the right, and the distraction of the players of Inter, which would elevate the morale and spirit of our team. And it is because there are not just two sexes, or one world and it is always recommended that those who are persecuted for their difference take part in happy moments and receive support without having to change what makes them different.”[2]

The above quote is from a communique Subcomandante Marcos wrote to Massimo Moratti, the President of the Italian professional futbol club Inter Milan, in March 2005.[3] Through communiques from the EZLN or Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (Zapatista Army of National Liberation), and from Subcomandante Marcos in particular, the rebel organization has been able to gather international support for its cause. In this example, Marcos speaks to the international soccer community, naming EZLN players as a Zapatista team and making a connection between the movement and its engagement with the sport. A year prior to above statement by Marcos, Javier Zanetti, a player in the Italian futbol club sent over 5,000 euros, an ambulance, futbol gear, and a pledge to provide ongoing support to the Zapatistas on the Italian team’s behalf. Although the EZLN futbol team is rarely talked about, this letter shows evidence of the rebel team’s participation and its subversion of the colonialist elements of futbol by reimagining an alternative material, rhetorical, and visual approach to it.[4]

Scholars Brenda Elsey and Joshua H. Nadel suggest that colonial ideas about race influenced Mexico’s implementation of futbol as a mandatory part of its physical education programs. Mexico expanded this project to rural areas with the idea that sport could improve the eugenic health of the nation, with Europe as a guide.[5] The EZLN futbol team, and the statements made on their behalf by Subcomandante Marcos, subvert this nationalist project by practicing an alternative futbol, i.e., employing the sport for their rebel cause. Alternative futbol aims to change how we think about futbol and who we think is capable of playing it by calling attention to the ways that the sport has been used by governments to discipline populations into binary sex categories, ideas of correct gender performance, racial whitening, and profit making. The team subverts this same enterprise by generating monetary support from officially recognized clubs or other alternative teams from Europe.

The EZLN statement emphasizes that there is not just one way of being within this universe of different worlds and invites us to see futbol as a possible place where those of all walks of life can come together. Futbol in the communique is situated as a site of happiness without constraints. It is one of a series of EZLN communiques that question the gender binary and put forth solidarity with those of the LGBT+ community, though in this case these ideas unfold in relation to futbol. Haudenosaunee Studies scholar Audra Simpson suggests the important connection between sports praxis in Indigenous communities and sovereignty in her book Mohawk Interruptus. When the Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team (INLT) decided not to participate in the World Lacrosse League Championship tournament in 2010 they were refusing, she says, “to play the game of being American or Canadian.”[6] Reimagining game play, team naming practices, the visuality of uniforms, gender, and inviting international teams to play within their autonomous zones are also EZLN efforts to assert sovereignty.

Earlier in the communique cited above, Marcos explains how professional sport continues to work as a colonial tool within current and recurring global events.[7] One such recurring event he notes is the displacement of indígenas (Indigenous peoples) to make room for stadium construction. The Estadio Azteca that was built in Mexico to host the 1968 Summer Olympics held the futbol final, yet the 1968 student protests against funding the Olympics rather than the needs of Mexico’s working poor was met with a violent massacre. The contentious relationship between sports fans and sport infrastructure is not only a Latin American issue, however. In this same period the construction of the Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium displaced Chicanx communities. Scholar Eric Avila discusses how families in the Chavez Ravine community of Los Angeles were forcibly pushed out of their homes for the stadium yet the growing popularity of the team and the desire for African American and Latinx representation within baseball added to the push for the violent land grab even if it meant displacing people of color.[8] The Chicano Movement that grew into fruition in the 1960’s remembered this event and continues to reference its tensions in popular culture.[9] The postwar timeframe for the construction of the Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium and the Estadio Azteca connects these events as projects that use sport for nation building and national identity.

Alternative futbol stands as a reminder of these histories and the potential for imagining a different relationship to sports that does not hinge on ideas of development and nationalism (even if with multicultural representation). Marcos’s statement furthers this argument by critiquing the drive for profit that leads to community displacement. Instead, he suggests, the accumulation of capital the professional sphere of futbol brings could fund the legal fees of those who were imprisoned for their involvement in the antiglobalization movement. The letter also reimagines futbol as a weapon in combatting harmful anti-immigration legislation and actions as well as unjust violences around the globe. It references the Zapatistas’ plan to engage in visual anti-colonial work during their futbol team’s travels by planning to paint snails on a Christopher Columbus statue and indicates that Marcos expects that Inter Milan would cover the fines for their actions.

The earliest documented match played by the Zapatista futbol team occurred in 1999 during their travels to different parts of Mexico.The team played a friendly, a noncompetitive low stakes match, against professional Mexican futbol players at the Jesus Martinez Stadium. The photos that exist of the match, display the Mexican professional players in typical futbol attire from jerseys, to shorts, shin guards, and cleats.[10] In contrast, the EZLN players donned their ski masks and black shirts that displayed the letters ‘EZLN’ and their red five-pointed star on them, identical to their flag. Many arrived in combat boots although opting to switch them out for tennis shoes that were offered by the public during the game. The visuality of their futbol uniforms show how stadium space and sporting events are repurposed as avenues to represent their movement, showcase their image to the public, and practice solidarity. Since then, they have grown the number of local teams they field, organized matches with the Easton Cowboys, and partnered with Inter Milan. In their practice, futbol works in tandem with other solidarity and organizing efforts. Using a “loophole in the legislation that allowed sporting teams to enter the state,” the Easton Cowboys would travel to Zapatista territory despite the ban on foreign visits by the Mexican government.[11] The Easton Cowboys, now known as the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls, are a team based in Easton, Bristol. The Easton Cowboys are committed to connecting sports and activism on an international level not only by engaging with the EZLN team but also by organizing the “Alternative World Cup.” The Easton Cowboys played 21 matches of futbol in total during their visit to Mexico against teams such as, “Los Tigres, Nuevue Revolution, and Siete Enero, the last named after the date in 1994 in which the “Mexican army stormed into Morelia, laid menfolk down on the basketball court, tortured them and murdered three village elders.”[12] The Zapatista teams evoke histories of injustice within their futbol team names to educate outsiders and pay homage to community memory and loss. Evoking important dates, the practice of naming, and the visual are all significant tools within the Zapatista practice of futbol.

Although the Easton Cowboys, much like Inter Milan, provided monetary funds, water infrastructure, and other methods of solidarity, they went on to engage with the visual projects of the Zapatistas. In 2001, the artist known as Banksy joined the Easton Cowboys on the team’s second visit, playing as a goalkeeper. Banksy also contributed to the visual landscape by painting murals, one in which he depicts a futbol player with a black ski mask kicking a ball surrounded by the words, “A La Libertad Por El Futbol.”[13] Banksy also painted murals depicting EZLN women’s resistance where a woman pushes a soldier and his weapon back while another woman holding a baby in a ski mask that looks out into the distance. The third mural paints homage to Zapata with the words, “Zapata Vive” while the surrounding images are that of a satellite, a computer with a fist smashed through its monitor, and other imagery depicting the EZLN’s internet rebellion.[14]

The digital presence of the movement has not lost momentum as shown through their continual appearances within the digital art realm throughout the 2000’s. In 2019, the team inspired other artist mediums such as that of Colombian artist Juan Obando in his interactive art installation entitled Pro Revolution Soccer. This project was a modified vision of the popular franchise game, “Pro Evolution Soccer 2019.” In the original game, players are able to play as FIFA affiliated teams, but in Obando’s work, he changes the game to include the EZLN team and the Inter Milan team. In an interview by Isabella Achenbach in the Boston – Art Review the artist comments that:

“With this piece, [he is] interested in using the EZLN story and the subculture of the video game hacking in Colombia to present a counter-narrative to the historical crisis of the revolutions that are defined by the takeover of a system, and to hopefully inspire a reading on alternative forms of dissent and intervention. In a sort of parasitic relationship, EZLN takes sponsorship and support from global figures that are integral parts of capitalism (like Inter Milan) but, with their political agenda, they also actively reject the introduction of capitalism into their community. They have created a capital-free zone supported, in some ways, by capitalistic actors.”[15]

Obando’s piece helps audiences conceptualize the central role of futbol and the relationship building with other teams that has led to alternative futbol. Obando also features women in the game while other written and visual documentation by the EZLN that I was able to find does not. Although there are pictures of women and girls playing futbol or even engaging with Inter Milan there is no accompanying written context or descriptions. Another important aspect here in the gendered artwork of Juan Obando then is the filling of the gaps in documenting the relationship of women to futbol by making them playable characters in the game.

Recognizing futbol as a colonial tool prompts us to examine how organized sports furthers indoctrination into  “binary sex differentiation and male superiority [which were] central to the European ideology of ‘civilization,’ in contrast to ‘primitive’ gender systems that were more fluid and egalitarian,” which also allows us to see connections between the role of futbol in physical education, stadium construction, and gender separation as societal management projects served to facilitate the goal of modernity.[16] The EZLN made its presence first known to the world by contesting the implementation of NAFTA on January 1, 1994. Throughout their travels away from their autonomous zones since 1994, the Zapatistas have bought futbol along with them from the very beginning and continue to do so. Obando, Banksy, and the EZLN team all iterate futbol as an anti-capitalist tool whose origins are clear in the post-NAFTA era. Gendered opposition to NAFTA rippled into sports very quickly throughout Mexico, indicating the importance of the Zapatista project of alternative futbol.  The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Estadio Azteca stadium construction projects prompt us to think critically about Mexican, Latinx, and EZLN efforts to use sports as a stage to fight against modernity’s project of free-flowing capital. While gender binaries are often reinforced and shaped by futbol, where hypermasculine and increasingly homophobic and transphobic behaviors are evident, alternative futbol shows that different relationships to sports can and have existed. Alternative futbol, as well as the communiques and art that have been inspired by it have worked to reshape and challenge colonial and neoliberal sports origins at the same time that these are slowly attempting to undo the sport’s gendered history. With further work, hopefully there will be an uncovering of the trans folks and women in EZLN futbol that takes them out of uncontextualized photos or communique quotes and into EZLN and our history. Futbol is and will always be a place where niñas and putos not only play but rebel.


Photo Credit: “Portero Mareador” by Flickr user Lanpernas. March 30, 2015. CC BY 2.0 DEED. The top portion of the original photo is cropped here to ensure that the figure of futbol player is visible in this template.

[1] Marcos, Subcomandante, “Carta al Inter de Milan,” Enlace Zapatista, March 30, 2005,

[2] Translation is my own

[3] Now known as Insurgent Subcomandante Galeano as of 2014

[4] Sandoval Garcia, Carlos. 2006. Fuera de Juego: Futbol, Identidades Nacionales y Masculinidades En Costa Rica. 1. Ed. Editorial UCR, Insituto de Investigaciones Socials. 27.

[5] Elsey, Brenda and Joshua H. Nadel. 2019. Futbolera: A History of Women and Sports in Latin America. 1st ed. Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture. University of Texas Press, 7.

[6] Simpson, Audra. 2014. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. Duke University Press. 25.

[7] Elsey, Brenda and Joshua H. Nadel, Futbolera, 5-7.

[8] Gaspar de Alba A., Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, and Alicia de Alba, eds. 2003. Velvet Barrios: Popular Culture & Chicana/o Sexualities. 1st ed. New Directions in Latino American Cultures. Palgrave Macmillions, 135.

[9] Ibid, 137.

[10] Sanchez-Tello, George, “Subcomandante Marcos and the Zapatista Theory of Futbol,” Howler, April 12, 2021,

[11] Simpson, Will and McMahon, Malcolm. 2017. Freedom Through Football: The Story of the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls. Tangent Books, 88-89.

[12] Simpson, Freedom Through Football, 99.

[13] Ibid, 107-110

[14] The photos of Banksy’s face are blurred out from the documentation found in the Easton Cowboy’s book or with web searches online, but it is interesting to note that it does not appear that Banksy wore a face covering while on Zapatista territory.

[15] Achenbach, Isabella, “Digital Domain: In Conversation with Juan Obando,” Boston Art Review,

[16] Jones, CJ and Travers, “The Sports Issue: An Introduction,” Transgender Studies Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 2 (2023): 94.

Reference Works

Achenbach, Isabella, “Digital Domain: In Conversation with Juan Obando,” Boston Art Review,

Adjepong, Anima, “Playing for oman Ghana: Women’s Football and Gendered Nationalism,” Contemporary Journal of African Studies, vol. 9 no. 2 (2022): 1-22.

di Piramo, Daniela. 2010. Political Leadership in Zapatista Mexico: Marcos, Celebrity, and Charismatic Authority. FirstForumPress.

Elsey, Brenda, and Joshua H. Nadel. 2019. Futbolera : A History of Women and Sports in Latin America. 1st ed. Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture. University of Texas Press.

Gaspar de Alba A., Tomás Ybarra-Frausto, and Alicia de Alba, eds. 2003. Velvet Barrios: Popular Culture & Chicana/o Sexualities. 1st ed. New Directions in Latino American Cultures. Palgrave Macmillions.

Gaytán, Marie Sarita, and Matthew L. Basso. 2022. “The Political Economy of Puto: Soccer, Masculinities, and Neoliberal Transformation in Mexico.” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 43 (2), pp. 28-61.

Gollnick, Brian. 2008. Reinventing the Lacandón: Subaltern Representations in the Rain Forest of Chiapas. University of Arizona Press.

Jones, CJ and Travers. “The Sports Issue: An Introduction,” Transgender Studies Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 2 (2023): 93-99.

Leger, Marc James, Tomas, David, and Douglas, Emory. 2022. Zapantera Negra: An Artistic Encounter Between Black Panthers and Zapatistas, Common Notions.

Magee, Will. “Javier Zanetti, Inter Milan and The Rebel Football Match That Never Took Place,” Vice, January 30, 2017,

Marcos, Subcomandante, “Carta al Inter de Milan,” Enlace Zapatista, March 30, 2005,

Moises, Subcomandante Insurgente, “Camino a Europa…”, Enlace Zapatista April 12, 2021,

Munoz Ramirez, Gloria, Laura Carlsen, and Alejandro Reyes Arias. 2008. The Fire and the Word: A History of the Zapatista Movement. City Lights Books.

Osorio, Jamaica Heolimeleikalani. 2021. Remembering Our Intimacies: Mo’olelo, Aloha ‘Aina, and Ea. University of Minnesota.

Reuters Photographers, Image ID: 2D59RN9. March 16, 1999.

Sanchez-Tello, George, “Subcomandante Marcos and the Zaptista Theory of Futbol,” Howler, April 12, 2021,

Sandoval Garcia, Carlos. 2006. Fuera de Juego: Fútbol, Identidades Nacionales y Masculinidades En Costa Rica. 1. ed. Editorial UCR, Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales.

Santos, Marlene, “Con mucho gusto colaborare en el partido Inter-EZLN: Aguirre,” La Jornada, July 17, 2005.

Simpson, Audra. 2014. Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States. Duke University Press.

Simpson, Will, and Malcolm McMahon, Freedom Through Football: The Story of the Easton Cowboys and Cowgirls. Tangent Books.

Sirenio, Kau. “‘Compañeroa es una palabra que te incluye como eres’: Marijose,” Pie de Página, September 5, 2021,

SupGaleano, “412st Squardon,” Enlace Zapatista, April 20, 2021,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *