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Soccer (football) in the Dominican Republic
The recent victory of the Italian soccer team signaled the end to another thrilling World Cup tournament. The World Cup, held every four years, has become one of the world’s most anticipated and watched sporting events. It has helped elevate the popularity of soccer to great heights, and has even made soccer popular in countries where other sports dominate public attention. The World Cup has been the main topic of conversation in many households around the world, and the Dominican Republic is no exception.

Though soccer takes a back seat to popular sports like baseball, basketball or track, there is a dedicated following of the sport in the country. In fact many would be surprised to learn that there is a history of the sport in the Dominican Republic, which includes the founding of the national federation of soccer, La Federacion Dominicana de Futbol, which is the sport’s governing body.

But there are many challenges that face the expansion and development of soccer in the Dominican Republic, though capitalizing on the excitement of the World Cup every four years will attract many more Dominicans to play the game.

Soccer was introduced to the Dominican Republic by the Spanish. Some time after the Spanish Civil War, Spaniards who found themselves exiled on Dominican shores, would seek out open fields and play improvised games with makeshift nets and balls, and no referees. It was during this period that some Dominicans fell in love with the sport and the country’s first two teams were founded, El Pindu and El Condor. Dominicans and Europeans played in these squads, but European participation dominated.

Due to the initial growth of the popularity of soccer in the country the Dominican soccer federation was formed in 1953, with Isodoro Cruz and Spanish national Julio Antonaza as its first leaders. And in 1958 the Dominican Republic officially became a member of FIFA, soccer’s governing body.

As the sport’s size and popularity grew, so did the number of new teams in the league. Along with football clubs Pindu and Condor came the addition of clubs Espana Franquista, El Espanol, El Iberia, El Sporting and El Oriental, amongst others.

Though these clubs were made up of Dominicans and Spaniards, there was also participation in the newly formed league by Portuguese, English and French nationals who lived in the country.

During soccer’s initial phase, members of religious orders also took part in the game. The Augustinians, Jesuits and Salesians all played, and made their mark on the Dominican soccer league, adding to support needed by the new sport in its early stages.

There are considered to be two defining stages in Dominican soccer. The first stage is characterized by an almost exclusive participation by European players and referees. Although there were many Dominicans playing soccer in the league, the strong presence of Europeans continued to define the association in its early stages.

Part of the reason for the low level of Dominican participation in the sport can be traced to the popularity of baseball in the DR, dating back to 1894, and the support that baseball received from then dictator Rafael Trujillo.

The second stage in the development of soccer was defined by the arrival of Bolivian coach and labor leader, Prof. Fortunato Quispe Mendoza, in 1965. His arrival saw the founding of many soccer schools, and the dissemination of the sport beyond the boundaries of the capital city of Santo Domingo can be partially credited to Mendoza at this time. During this period football was introduced to public and private schools, city universities, and taken to the larger neighborhoods surrounding Santo Domingo.

It is also during this period that the national intercollegiate football league and national youth and children’s leagues were founded.

Eventually thousands of spectators would attend football games, an indicator of the rising popularity of the sport in this country. This was most evident when in 1974 Estadio Cibao was filled by a capacity crowd to watch Cerro de Montevideo (Uruguay) play our national team, which lost 2-1. This was a strong showing for a nation with such a recent football history, but moreover it exemplified the potential for the success of the sport in the DR.

There were close to 10,000 in attendance for a game in the Estadio Cibao to see the same national team play the UCMM (now PUCMM) national champs in 1974, and in September 1975 20,000 spectators came to see Pelé and the NY Cosmos play Violet from Haiti at the Estadio Quisqueya.

By 1975 there were 54 junior teams in the northwest, and there were many football fields from La Herradura to Villa Vasquez. Santiago and Santo Domingo, along with Moca and La Vega, had Second Division teams that played locally, and had national playoffs.

The national champions participated in the CONCACAF Tournament (Confederacion de Futbol Asociacion de Norte y Centroamerica y el Caribe) of Champions in Suriname, and played in Curacao, Puerto Rico and Haiti.

There were also teams like Refor, the UASD, the UNPHU, Aurora, The Spanish colony in San Pedro, San Francisco de Macoris, Villa Tapia, Moca, La Vega, the UCMM (now the PUCMM) and ISA.
 
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