Video-assisted shambles in Brazilian football

. Aug 31, 2020
var football brazil

Welcome back to the Brazil Sports newsletter! This week, VAR troubles in the Brazilian league, with one player taking out his frustrations on a television screen. Plus, the Copa Libertadores returns: we explain the detailed safety protocols in place.

Open VAR in Brazilian football

Opinions on VAR are like football teams: everybody has one. However, no-one has made his feelings clearer on the video assistant referee system than Botafogo’s Paraguayan goalkeeper Gatito Fernández, who — after seeing his side having two goals disallowed by VAR in a 2-0 home loss to Internacional — angrily knocked over the pitchside review booth with a kick square to the monitor.

Indeed, this past weekend had more VAR than football, with a special mention for the big Sunday afternoon kick-off between Santos and Flamengo, in which two goals for the home side were ruled out in a decision-making process that took a full 10 minutes.

“Of course I regret it,” Gatito said the following morning, as the dust settled. “But we cannot have completely unprepared professionals using this technology.”

Bad workman blames his tools. Beyond the VAR complaints seen all over world football — “it ruins the flow of the game!”, “football isn’t meant to be fair!”, “it’s biased against my club!” — there is an added element to the technology in football debate in Brazil, touched on by Gatito Fernández the day after his rage quit captured live on TV. The main criticism of the system in Brazil is that the referees are not sufficiently prepared to use it.

Skipping steps. Referees in Brazil are not professionals, meaning that for them, football is simply a gig on the side, supplementing their income from teaching gym, working the beat as a police officer, or — in the case of recently retired whistler Péricles Bassols — pulling teeth. As such, there is a call for Brazilian football to first improve the standard and training of its officials, before introducing technology. In the current state, it is akin to giving a souped-up motorcycle to someone who has barely learned how to ride a bike.

Countries approve protocol for Covid Libertadores

With the acquiescence of the governments of Argentina and Uruguay, the 2020 Copa Libertadores — South America’s biggest club football competition — is ready to return in two weeks’ time. After much discussion among all 10 member states of the South American football confederation Conmebol, the safety protocols to resume the tournament during the deadly Covid-19 pandemic have now been fully approved by all nations involved.

Special permission. The main stumbling block to the continuation of the Copa Libertadores was the ban on commercial flights between South American nations, instated to contain the spread of the coronavirus around the continent. Conmebol has received special permission from each individual government to fly away teams to their matches, and the organization will pay for all chartered trips.

Having their cake and eating it. With Latin America becoming the global epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were real doubts over whether the 2020 Copa Libertadores — which was postponed in its early stages — would ever be completed. Now, not only is the tournament to be resumed, but Conmebol has made no concrete changes to its format, with every proposed match — including two-legged knockout ties — scheduled to go ahead. Along with the already existing disruption to domestic leagues and World Cup qualifiers, insisting with a full Libertadores fixture list is set to leave the South American football calendar completely jam-packed right up until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Protocol. According to what was agreed by member nations, the remainder of the 2020 Copa Libertadores will work as follows:

  • Before away teams embark, they must have submitted results of PCR tests of the entire delegation 24 hours before traveling. Anyone with positive or inconclusive results will be barred.
  • When in foreign countries, teams must remain in their hotels, leaving only for a pre-scheduled training session, the match itself, and then the return to the airport.
  • Upon arrival in foreign airports, delegations will be taken through immigration separately from all regular passengers.
  • Upon entering team buses, a representative from Conmebol will “seal” the vehicle, not allowing anyone to enter or exit until arriving at the pre-agreed destination.
  • Hotel keys will be distributed on the bus, to avoid excessive gatherings in hotel lobbies and elevators.
  • Players will not be able to shower in stadium changing rooms, having to instead use hotel showers before arriving at the match.
  • After the game is finished, clubs have 24 hours to return to their home country. Visiting delegations are forbidden from remaining in foreign countries for over 72 hours.

What else you should know

  • F1 axed. While Covid-19 has led to the cancellation of the Brazilian GP later this year, fans of Formula 1 received another piece of troubling news as TV giant Globo announced it would no longer broadcast the F1 season on free-to-air television. This means that, in 2021, Formula 1 GPs will not be shown on national television for the first time in almost 50 years. The expectation is that this will lead to the F1 TV streaming service being expanded to Brazil.
  • Hyper Pharma Arena. Along with ‘deadline,’ ‘impeachment,’ and ‘home office,’ the Brazilian Portuguese lexicon has been expanded to include the English term ‘naming rights’ as a result of Corinthians’ six-year struggle to find a commercial partner to advertise on the name of their stadium, built for the 2014 World Cup. Pharmaceutical firm Hyper Pharma is hotly tipped to have made the winning bid, in a deal reportedly worth BRL 350 million (USD 63.9 million) over 20 years. 
  • Nike drops Neymar. Less than a week after he was pictured in tears after his Paris Saint-Germain side lost the Champions League final to Bayern Munich, Brazilian star forward Neymar has been dropped from his sponsorship contract with Nike. Neymar has been paid to wear Nike equipment since he was just 13 years old, but will now have to find someone else to supply his boots. As pointed out by website MKT Esportivo, the apparel giant’s recent ad campaigns have not included the PSG icon, suggesting the move has been planned for some time.
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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