Until When Will the Great Brazilian Football Idols of Today Continue to Ignore Racism, Prejudice, and Brutal Social Inequality?
By Joao Evangelista (CCR, Section of the RCIT in Brazil), 24 February 2016, http://elmundosocialista.blogspot.com
Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, or simply Socrates, not the great Greek philosopher of course, but the great footballer and a doctor of medicine, delighted the planet with his fellow Brazilian teammates in the 1982 World Cup in Spain. But Socrates was also notable for his political activism, particularly during the 1980s, when he led a movement for the democratization of football as well as that of the entire country. While the military dictatorship in Brazil officially ended in 1985, with the election of Tancredo Neves as president, his election was not by popular vote but rather indirect, by means of an electoral college. At that time Socrates took part in the “Direct now!” movement, in which he militantly stood for the right of the Brazilian people to elect the president of the republic by a direct and secret vote.
Socrates died in 2011, bequeathing to us both longings and lessons; not only as a football genius, but also as a militant fighter for democracy. By comparison, we can say that he was the Brazilian version of the American boxer Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali), who refused to be sent off to the war in Vietnam; or that of the champions of the 1968 Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos who, in their courageous protest against racism, held aloft clenched black-gloved fists in a salute to Black Power when the American national anthem was played after they received their medals, an act which caused such a scandal at the time. But Socrates was the happy exception in every way. Unfortunately, he has not been, and still is not, a model for today’s sports idols.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento (“Pelé”), our greatest example of foot-balling perfection, renowned worldwide, named the so-called “athlete of the century” in the 1980s, during an all out campaign for the democratization of the country and against the military dictatorship scandalously declared that “The Brazilian people are not ready to vote, due to a lack of both practice and education. Vote more out of a sense of fellowship!” Furthermore, Pelé always denied that racism existed in football; in fact, in the mind of Pelé racism simply doesn’t exist; for him it is rather an optical illusion of the beholder, and supposedly the little that he himself actually does witness, he recommends not to report, not to protest against. Pelé is a true “Doubting Thomas.”
Ronaldo Luis Nazário de Lima, known as Ronaldo, Ronaldo the Phenomenon, or simply Ronaldinho, is considered by experts to be one of the greatest football players of all time. Well, this so-called phenomena commenting about expressions of racism at football stadiums, said unbelievably “I think all blacks suffer (from racism). I, who am white, also suffer from such ignorance!” But Ronaldo’s true ignorance is his not realizing that he himself is of African descent. This very same Ronaldo Nazário recently took part in the demonstrations calling for the impeachment of the elected president of the republic, Dilma Rousseff, thereby aligning himself with the most reactionary and conservative forces in Brazil who are doing their utmost to pull off a coup d’etat. During the preparations for the 2014 World Cup, demonstrators protested against the criminal absurdity of spending so much of public funds, invariably at the expense of health, education and housing. When the protestors were violently repressed by the police, Ronaldo Nazario gave his opinion saying “The World Cup has got nothing to do with the building of hospitals!” Of course, being a millionaire, Ronaldo and his family have access to the best health care.
The footballer Romario de Souza Faria, known simply as Romario, was a team member of the 1994 Brazilian World Cup Championship which was held in the US. In 2010, he was elected to the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies for the state of Rio de Janeiro, as a candidate of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) which, by the way, has nothing at all to do with socialism. In parliament, Romario has delivered fierce speeches against corruption in Brazilian football and FIFA. He is currently president of the PSB for the state of Rio de Janeiro. In April 2015, he gave a controversial interview to the sports magazine Placar (Score) in which he first revealed his desire to one day become mayor of Rio de Janeiro, and added what became an emblematic comment about Brazilian politics: “I thought politics was a place of thievery and dirt. And I was right.” Following publication of the interview, the senator apologized on his Facebook page and said he was overexcited during the interview. In his apology he claimed that “there are great politicians in Congress.” As the 2015 political crisis headed towards an attempted impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, Senator stated that care should be taken saying that “Regardless of whether we are for or against (impeachment), we senators want the country to get back to economic growth and to get out of this crisis. In the current context, opportunistically, Romario largely stands with those supporting a coup d’état. But nothing is by chance, as Romario is now playing for his new audience: the reactionary proponents of the coup and right. As already reported, he is one of the candidates for in the elections for mayor of the city of Rio de Janeiro to be held in October 2016.
Daniel Alves da Silva, commonly known as Dani Alves, a member of the Brazil national football team who plays for Barcelona in the Spanish league (where he achieved heroic status during that club’s fantastic 2014 season), was involved in another episode of football racism. During a Spanish league match, a supporter of Villareal threw a banana at the Brazilian Alves who responded humorously by taking a bite of the fruit before resuming the match. The story went viral on social networks worldwide, with an overwhelming number of comments welcoming the player’s easy handling of the incident while condemning the racist act. Among the various personalities who expressed solidarity with Alves’s handling of the matter was the current great football idol Neymar da Silva Santos Junior, better known as Neymar Junior.
Neymar himself was a victim of racism in Barcelona’s match against Español in January 2016. At the beginning of the match, fans began chanting racist slogans and later in the game, when Neymar made contact with the ball, some fans started making monkey sounds. The former head of the Barcelona club, Toni Freixa, wrote on his Twitter account that “I hope that the racist cries made towards Neymar will be recorded in the minutes of any arbitration.” But, somehow, completely inexplicably, Neymar commented that he “did not hear the screams. I do not hear things off the playing field. It is truly difficult things which bother me; I just play football!” In this reaction, Neymar shows himself to be a true disciple of Pelé.
Currently Neymar, along with his father and the former president of the Barcelona club, are being accused in Spanish and Brazilian courts of an alleged multimillion-real tax fraud involved in Neymar’s move from the Catalonian Santos team to Barcelona. The Spanish press indicates that the “unreported” amount of the transaction comes to more than 170 million reals, with obvious negative implications for the public coffers due to unpaid taxes. Strangely, in the Brazilian media, in which headlines and entire pages are devoted to crimes of alleged corruption and money laundering by politicians, the only mention of the multimillion-real tax fraud perpetrated by Neymar are relegated to the sports pages. Obviously, this is the media’s way of hiding from the population that their great idol may have withheld millions of reals in taxes, which would otherwise be available for healthcare, education, housing, etc. In the end, Neymar and Ronaldo Nazario are one and the same.
Meanwhile, thousands of young people from all over Brazil, from the periphery to the urban slums dream of being the next football phenomenon. This dream can only become a reality for a very, very few. The vast majority of the country’s football players never reach either fame or fortune. The dream is almost in all cases an illusion as impossible to achieve as winning the lottery. And yet, because of this cruel illusion, many young people place no value at all in their studies; rather they drop out of school early to participate in tryouts for kids’ football clubs. And for most of the very few that do become professional, their salary is no more than twice the minimum wage. It is only when they mature, with no professional success nor with the necessary educational background, at times even semi-literate, that they realize that they have lost a considerable part of their lives in search of an impossible dream.
The current heroes of Brazilian football, and some veterans like Pelé, are sad examples of political alienation, opportunism, the ostentatious display of wealth, tax evasion, the complete ignoring of the most grotesque acts of racism, homophobia, and sexism. By their example, they confirm the truth of what the great German playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht once very appropriately said: “Unhappy is the land that needs a hero!”
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