Football remains a sexist environment. Female journalists have to battle harassment from bosses, players, and supporters – to the point that a group of Brazilian women launched a campaign back in March to denounce such incidents. A total of 52 journalists launched the #LetHerWork campaign, which exposed double standards in newsrooms and cases of violence in stadiums.
But when the 2018 World Cup kicked off this month, it looked as if something had changed. A Fox Sports journalist became the first female commentator of a World Cup match in Brazilian television history. However, it didn’t take too long for that feeling to be squashed by a group of brainless supporters.
Just a couple of days into the World Cup, a group of Brazilian men shared a video on WhatsApp Messenger depicting them singing in Portuguese with a blonde woman – apparently Russian. With the woman clearly not understanding the language, she is unwittingly led by the men to sing a song about her genitals.
Reactions from Brazil
The case has sparked heated reactions in Brazil, with some of the men’s identities being exposed by the media. The group includes a police officer from the southern state of Santa Catarina and a former member of a municipal administration in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. The latter actually has a rap sheet of his own, with a corruption conviction and a lawsuit for failing to pay alimony to his ex-wife.
A third member of the group talked to UOL, a Brazilian news website, about the negative repercussion of their actions. He said he was sorry for what he called an “unfortunate joke,” but said that people were making too much fuss out of nothing. “Brazil has problems with public healthcare, education, and corruption – and people are doing this with us. They are trying to turn the Russians against us.”
Despite playing the victim card, the men could go unpunished. That’s because Russia has no law criminalizing sexual harassment – plus, the woman in the video may not even know she had been harassed.
But the public outcry against the men has called the attention of the Russian media. Two important outlets, Meduza (a Riga-based news aggregator in Russian) and Moskovskiy Komsomolets (a Moscow-based daily newspaper), picked up on the story. Both published different versions of the same headline: Brazilian tourists insult unaware Russian woman.
Russian activist Alena Popova started a petition asking for punishment to the Brazilian men featured on the video. The petition was addressed to Russia’s Ministry of Interior and Brazil’s Embassy in Moscow.
Their case, however, is not the only shameful act by Brazilian supporters in Russia. Nor are Brazilians the only tourists in Russia to be misbehaving.
Similar videos – with men asking Russian women to say sexually-explicit things in Portuguese – have also been shared. Moreover, Brazilian journalist Thales Machado, who is covering the World Cup, reported several other incidents – such as jokes about how Middle Eastern tourists are potential terrorists, or how Africans must deal with poverty.
All dressed in yellow football jerseys, these deplorable men reminded me of some of the people who – wearing that same outfit – took to the streets asking for Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment. In several demonstrations that took over Brazil in 2015 and 2016, some protesters used sexist slurs to demean the female president.
In a country where almost 1,000 women are victims of femicide every year, they are only contributing to the perpetuation of macho culture. It’s a shame it is these people who carry Brazil’s image abroad.