Anti-Bolsonaro outburst sparks free speech debate in Brazilian sport

. Oct 05, 2020
volleyball player Carol Solberg Volleyball player Carol Solberg. Photo: FIVB/FP

Welcome back to the Brazil Sports newsletter. This week, allegations of political censorship in Brazilian volleyball, as one athlete has the book thrown at her for criticizing President Bolsonaro. And, a legal victory for the families of the victims of a harrowing 2016 air disaster. That, and much more.

Political censorship in volleyball?

The matter of athletes’ right to express political opinions has taken center stage in Brazil this week, after sports justice prosecutors issued a complaint against beach volleyball player Carol Solberg, who criticized Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro during a live TV interview in mid-September.

What happened? After winning a bronze medal in a beach volleyball event in Rio de Janeiro, Carol was interviewed live on television alongside her playing partner, Talita. At the end of the interview, she took the microphone and said: “just so I don’t forget, Bolsonaro out!”

Hot water. Immediately after the incident, the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation (CVB) renounced the player’s comments, saying they were “not in line with the ethical attitude athletes should adopt.” Furthermore, the CBV promised to “take all necessary measures so that incidents such as this, which denigrate the image of the sport, will not happen again.”

Carol’s explanation. “This ‘Bolsonaro Out!’ has been repressed here in my throat. To see this government acting in this form, with the Pantanal burning, 140,000 deaths, and the way we are facing this pandemic. This cry has been repressed, and I feel that as an athlete I am obligated to take a stand.”

An expensive comment. Beyond a telling off from her bosses, Carol Solberg could now face hefty punishment for expressing her political opinion. The disciplinary case against her in the Superior Sports Justice Court (STJD) could result in a fine of up to BRL 100,000 (USD 17,800) and a six-match ban.

  • Claims of political censorship from her defense have drawn attention to the case, however, illustrated by the fact that she will be represented by the president of the Brazilian Bar Association, Felipe Santa Cruz.

Double standards? Regardless of merit judgments on athletes expressing their political opinions, another reason this case has gained such magnitude is that Bolsonaro-supporting volleyball players have been able to express their support for the president without sanction.

In the 2018 Volleyball World Cup, Brazilian players Wallace and Mauricio Souza were pictured making positive gestures alluding to then-presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro. The CBV did not initially come out against this political expression, and the association went as far as posting the picture on its official Instagram account. After complaints, the association declared it was “against discrimination, but in favor of free speech.” Neither player was punished.

Airline convicted for negligence four years after Chapecoense disaster

Almost four years after the horrific Chapecoense air disaster killed 71 people and rocked the world of football, a state court in Florida, U.S. ruled that now-defunct Bolivian charter airline LaMia must pay USD 844 million (BRL 4.77 billion) in compensation to the victims’ families.

The crash. On November 29, 2020, a plane carrying the delegation of Brazilian football team Chapecoense crashed into a mountain upon approaching the Colombian city of Medellin, where the team was set to play in the final of the Copa Sudamericana — the South American equivalent of the Europa League. A total of 71 people died in the tragedy, including the vast majority of the Chapecoense playing squad, as well as staff, journalists, and flight crew.

Gross negligence. In an attempt to improve profit margins, the LaMia flight was not filled with enough fuel to safely carry out the flight from Bolivia to Medellin. Rules stipulate that aircraft must have enough fuel to reach their destination, plus an extra reserve to reach emergency landing areas in the event of faults. Records showed that the flight had exactly the amount of fuel necessary to make its trip, meaning that even small delays or diversions would have caused fuel emergencies.

Back at home. There is a public-interest civil action currently pending in Brazil, in which federal prosecutors demand USD 300 million in damages for the victims’ families. The case, however, has stalled indefinitely.

Read more. On the one-year anniversary of the crash, we at The Brazilian Report went back over the tragedy, highlighting the accusations of foul play.

What else you should know

  • 2022 World Cup. Considerably behind schedule, this week South America will begin its qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. What is usually a marathon to qualify for international football’s top tournament will now be a dash. Over the next 18 months, South America’s ten competing nations will play 18 matches each, fighting out for four automatic qualification spots and one play-off berth for the country finishing in fifth place. Brazil face Bolivia at home on Friday, before traveling to Lima to take on Peru.
  • 2022 World Cup 2. Of course, the major focus of these opening matchdays will not be on the football. The start of qualifying in South America is already seven months late, but that is not to say that the Covid-19 situation is under control, especially in countries such as Brazil and Peru. Officials have assured club teams around the world that strict safety protocols will be in their place for their players, but a potential outbreak in any of the 10 teams — with squad members playing all over the world — could be catastrophic. Some 75 percent of players from South American squads play their club football outside the continent.
  • Twitch. Brazil star Neymar is the latest in a long line of professional footballers to start their own channels on videogame streaming platform Twitch. In a broadcast on Thursday night, the PSG forward played 90 minutes of first-person shooter Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, before playing half an hour of popular social deduction game Among Us. After this single broadcast, his channel already has over half a million followers.
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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