How football is used as a political tool in Brazil

. Jun 18, 2018
How football is used as a political tool in Brazil Corinthians: "Go out and vote on the 15th"

Sport and major events such as the World Cup can provide a small economic boom for countries. In Brazil, retailers expect an injection of BRL 20 billion into the economy – a sorely needed stimulus. Besides finance, however, it can also be a tool to spur nationalism and promote political agendas. In Brazil, as in many countries around the world, politicians and governments rarely miss the opportunity to use the country’s favorite sport in their favor.

The easiest example of such a relationship came during the 1970 World Cup. During Brazil’s years of lead, when the military dictatorship’s political oppression reached new levels of cruelty, the government used the Seleção to steer up nationalism, tying the love for the team to love for the motherland. The government’s public relations sector repeatedly associated the administration and the 11 players in yellow jerseys.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Even Pelé, the &#8220;King of Football,&#8221; saw his image used by the government, which launched the Pelé Education Plan, which destined part of the revenue from state-controlled sports lotteries to the construction of new schools.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The interference of the administration in football was so great that the government even ordered a change to the national team&#8217;s coaching staff, sacking notorious leftist militant João Saldanha a short time before the tournament and replacing him with the docile Mário Zagallo. When the <a href="">world&#8217;s greatest team</a> came back from Mexico with the trophy, President Médici awarded the players with medals of honor and swept the countless <a href="">human rights violations</a> he oversaw under the rug.</span></p> <h3>Brazil, the land of football?</h3> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The mere idea that Brazilian identity is shaped by the country&#8217;s love for football is a political creation. The <a href="">Getulio Vargas</a> administration (1930-1945), another dictatorship, supported the professionalization of the sport and built several stadiums across the country. In Rio de Janeiro, the president, who was known as the &#8220;father of the working class&#8221;, used pre-game ceremonies to deliver political speeches.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">That was the time when the idea of Brazil as a &#8220;racial democracy&#8221; began being spread. Sociologist Gilberto Freyre defended the idea that Brazil&#8217;s superiority on the pitch was a result of its miscegenation of blacks, Europeans, and native populations. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The association of the very idea of country and football took a big hit in 1950, when <a href="">Brazil hosted the World Cup</a> but lost the crucial final match to Uruguay, taking the lead before conceding two Uruguayan goals. On the eve of the game, Brazil&#8217;s training center was filled with politicians looking to capitalize on the imminent title. When the trophy went to the other team, these same politicians were nowhere to be found.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The use of football as a tool for national integration returned to the fore after the military coup of 1964. The government had a strategy to promote one team from each key state it controlled, thus attaching the structure of our football league to the interests of the generals.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After every World Cup win, the Brazilian national team has been invited to the presidential palace. But that won&#8217;t happen this year, should Brazil lift the cup for a record sixth time. National team coach Tite has decided to distance his players &#8211; and his image &#8211; from the tumultuous political scene in Brasília.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">After all, who would want to be photographed with President Michel Temer, the head of state with the lowest approval ratings in Brazilian history? Last week, polls showed that Mr. Temer beat his own record, with 82 percent of voters considering his administration as either &#8220;bad or terrible.&#8221;</span></p> <h3>The Corinthians Democracy</h3> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But football was not used as a political tool exclusively by governments. In the 1980s, players of Corinthians, the country&#8217;s second-most popular team, staged a movement that became known as the &#8220;Corinthians Democracy.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It started off as a players&#8217; demand to have more of a say in the team&#8217;s decisions. They started influencing new signings, match strategies, and methods of physical preparation. The movement, however, quickly evolved. In November 1982, Corinthians took the field with the phrase &#8220;Go out and vote on the 15th&#8221; printed on their shirts, a reference to the state and municipal elections that would take place on November 15. Though the country still lived under the military dictatorship, opposition parties were allowed to dispute elections, generals&#8217; regime was starting a slow process of political transition.</span></p> <div id="attachment_5107" style="width: 820px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-5107" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-5107" src="" alt="How football is used as a political tool in Brazil" width="810" height="450" srcset=" 810w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 810px) 100vw, 810px" /><p id="caption-attachment-5107" class="wp-caption-text">Corinthians: &#8220;Go out and vote on the 15th&#8221;</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Two years later, Congress voted on whether the 1985 presidential election was to be direct or indirect, with Congress itself choosing who would be Brazil&#8217;s first civilian president in 20 years. In the run-up to the vote, Corinthians midfielder Socrates &#8211; the country&#8217;s most outspoken player at the time &#8211; said he would accept a transfer to Italy if the people weren&#8217;t given the right to choose their president. The threat didn&#8217;t work, Congress rejected the direct elections and, true to his word, Socrates signed for Fiorentina.</span></p> <h3>The 2013 protests and the impeachment</h3> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Five years ago, Brazil hosted the FIFA Confederations Cup, a preparatory event for the World Cup. Prior to the event, a small group of students started to protest against rising bus fares in the city of São Paulo. The movement was violently repressed by the state police and ignited a nationwide movement of social indignation.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Hundreds of protests were held, including some that disrupted the football, with demonstrators building barricades to prevent people from going to the stadium. One of the protest&#8217;s rallying cries was &#8220;There will be no World Cup&#8221;, but once the tournament kicked off the following year, much of the rage subsided.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In 2015 and 2016, the yellow national team jersey and the Brazilian flag became the unofficial symbols of demonstrators supporting Dilma Rousseff’s removal from office. According to pro-impeachment groups, it was a way to reclaim the country’s national colors. They contrasted with Ms. Rousseff’s supporters, who wore red, the color of the Workers&#8217; Party.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Above all, pro-impeachment demonstrators shouted against corruption. It was ironic, then, that their chosen symbol was the jersey of the Brazilian football association (CBF), an institution knee-deep in its own corruption scandals. Over the past seven years, the CBF has seen three of its former presidents lose office after facing corruption allegations. One of them has already been convicted of corruption in the U.S. The others are afraid to travel abroad, as they are featured on Interpol’s red list of wanted men.

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Maria Martha Bruno

Maria Martha is a journalist with 14 years of experience in politics, arts, and breaking news. She has already collaborated with Al Jazeera, NBC, and CNN, among others. She has also worked as an international correspondent in Buenos Aires.

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