Brazilian football in times of Covid-19

. Mar 16, 2020
covid-19 coronavirus grêmio football Photo: Grêmio coach Renato Portaluppi. Photo: GFPA 

Welcome back to the Brazil Sports newsletter. This week, sport around the country has been all but completely canceled due to the Covid-19 outbreak, and we look at what that will mean for the year ahead. Plus, former football boss Ricardo “Tricky Ricky” Teixeira makes a surprise return to the public spotlight, and there’s news of another trophy to add to Ronaldinho’s collection—with an extra twist. Enjoy your read!

Brazilian sport gets the coronavirus

With similar situations seen around the world, Brazil’s major sporting leagues and competitions have been suspended until further notice, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The Brazilian football confederation announced that all national-level competitions would be interrupted, and several regional federations followed suit by pausing their ongoing state championships, with others expected to announce similar measures later today.

Hysteria? After Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro broke Health Ministry protocol at the weekend, shaking hands with supporters in public demonstrations, he declared to the press that canceling football matches was “hysterical,” but club administrators have largely been open to suspensions, fearing that their players may become infected.

Protests. On the weekend, state championship matches went ahead behind closed doors, but some clubs—such as Grêmio, Vasco da Gama and Botafogo—took to the field wearing protective masks in protest.

What’s to come? Suspending or potentially canceling state championships is less of an issue, with the real question concerning the fate of the national league set to start in May. Brazil’s football calendar is already completely packed, with clubs even scheduled to play during this year’s Copa America. 

  • There are a number of alternatives, with one possibility being the 2020 national season reduced down to a 19-game league followed by a knockout tournament. There is also the chance that Brazil would use this opportunity to switch its calendar to a staggered 2020-2021 model, beginning in September and ending next May, as is the case with European leagues.

Olympics. Another huge question mark hanging over Brazilian sport is the fate of the Tokyo Olympics, which appear increasingly unlikely to take place in the middle of this year, as originally scheduled. Qualifying tournaments are suspended worldwide, and only eight sports out of 50 have already finalized their lists of competitors.

‘Tricky Ricky’ Teixeira claims the U.S. is out to get him

For the first time in years, former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) Ricardo Teixeira appeared in front of the television cameras, giving an interview to CNN Brasil, broadcast on Sunday evening.

Looking considerably more frail than usual, this was Mr. Teixeira’s first appearance in public since world football governing board FIFA handed him a lifetime ban from the sport in November, after finding him guilty of bribery. 

Who? Ricardo Teixeira led the CBF from 1989 all the way up until 2013, originally getting the job from his ex-father-in-law, the late João Havelange, who left the CBF to become president of FIFA. Surrounded by corruption allegations wherever he went—earning him the nickname ‘Tricky Ricky’ from Scottish investigative journalist Andrew Jennings—Mr. Teixeira stepped down as CBF president in 2013, immediately moving to the tax haven of Andorra, where he could not be extradited to Brazil.

Clinton’s revenge? In one of the more bombastic statements in the interview, 72-year-old Mr. Teixeira claimed that he was being persecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice because he was “one of the people who killed [former President Bill] Clinton’s World Cup.” This is in reference to the 2022 edition of the World Cup, on which the U.S. lost out to Qatar in the host selection process.

“I killed their World Cup and they know it.”

  • In 2010, the U.S. hosting bid for 2022—led by Bill Clinton—seemed to be almost guaranteed to win the dispute over Qatar. Subsequent revelations from the FBI showed that the Middle Eastern country offered bribes to a number of football association presidents around the world, allowing them to topple the U.S. bid. 

‘Son of a bitch.’ Mr. Teixeira also touched on the night he realized the FBI were after him, noticing during a dinner in Miami with colleague and sports marketing kingpin J. Hawilla that his long-time friend was in fact working undercover for the U.S. Department of Justice. The tale is superbly described in Allan de Abreu and Carlos Petrocilio’s O Delator (The Informant), a biography of the late J. Hawilla:

Teixeira, who by then had already left the CBF under strong suspicions of corruption, greeted Hawilla cordially as always, but noticed something different, a level of tension. The conversation began pleasantly, in between some glasses of wine.

All of a sudden, [Hawilla] began reminiscing about events from their past. Hawilla spoke a lot about money, legal and illegal, which came from the relationship between [Hawilla’s sports marketing firm] Traffic and the CBF. A strange conversation considering the environment and the circumstances.

While his old partner spoke, Teixeira glanced at the tables surrounding them. Nothing out of the ordinary, except from the movement of the waiters who constantly walked close to their table.

Teixeira—with all of the craftiness passed on by his former father-in-law João Havelange—had correctly sniffed out the trap: having already turned state’s witness, Hawilla was a walking wiretap, surrounded by FBI agents disguised as waiters.

Suddenly Teixeira’s face went red. He stared down Hawilla with eyes full of rage, slammed his first on the table and stood up. He then pointed his finger at his former partner:

“Son of a bitch”

What else you should know

Ronaldinho. Still in a Paraguayan jail accused of using false documents, Ronaldinho began to socialize with his fellow inmates and even managed to play a spot of football, being part of the winning team in a prison 5-a-side tournament. Paraguayan press reported that the inmates’ teams had been fighting among themselves to get Ronaldinho to play for their side, and he eventually relented, scoring five goals and setting up another six as his team won 11-2 in the decisive encounter. Besides a small trophy, Ronaldinho’s team was also awarded a 16 kg pig to be enjoyed on the barbecue. Not bad.

Euan Marshall

Originally from Scotland, Euan Marshall is a journalist who ditched his kilt and bagpipes for a caipirinha and a football in 2011, when he traded Glasgow for São Paulo. Specializing in Brazilian soccer, politics and the connection between the two, he authored a comprehensive history of Brazilian soccer entitled “A to Zico: An Alphabet of Brazilian Football.”

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