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Sports Commentary: Debilitating effect of racism on football in Brazil and elsewhere
Published on July 21, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Lincoln Depradine

I’ve now removed myself officially from the Brazilian football bandwagon. Like most of the young fellas of my time, I grew up as a huge Brazilian fan. We even named ourselves after Brazilian players; or others would christen us with the nicknames of Brazilian players.

lincoln_depradine.jpg
Lincoln Depradine has worked in journalism, marketing and public relations for 20 years. He has been published by the Grenadian Voice, Toronto Sun and Share (Toronto). He was also sports correspondent for the Caribbean News Agency's radio division, and a regular contributor to acenterprise.com, an online magazine. He holds a Bachelor of Arts (York University), a diploma in marketing (Seneca College) and a diploma in Mass Communications from the University of the West Indies.
Our affection for Brazil was spurred by three things: Brazil really put the “beautiful” in the “Beautiful Game” of football; it was the only playing-nation that comprised a sizeable number of players whose pigmentation was the same as ours; and third, not only were these players black, but they also were – far and away – the best footballers on Planet Earth.

Now, my loss of passion for Brazil has very little to do with them not winning the 2014 FIFA World Cup that culminated on their home soil Sunday.

Germany played well enough to make it to the final game and win one-nil, capturing their fourth World Cup title. Argentina reached the championship final on the strength of Lionel Messi who – by his play at the World Cup – has established himself as the undisputed best footballer on the globe right now.

It appears that, from their showing at the World Cup, some smaller nations are catching up to the traditional football powerhouses.

The Costa Rican people and their President Luis Guillermo Solis, who traces his roots to Chinese-Jamaican immigrants, ought to be particularly pleased with the inspiring performance of their country, which got to the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time ever.

I won’t put my neck on a block just yet and say Costa Rica and other smaller countries of CONCACAF – the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football – have arrived at the same place as a Germany or an Argentina; I need to see their performances over the next four years, and in the campaign leading up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

CONCACAF’s president Jeffrey Webb is convinced that this group of football nations – that includes Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, the United States, Canada and the countries of the English-speaking Caribbean – should be allowed another spot in the World Cup final playoffs.

FIFA now allows 32 playoff finalists at the World Cup. I have no problem with an increase; not because I’m totally convinced, as Webb is, that performance merits it. I support an increase because of equity. Let’s bring more Caribbean, African and Asian nations into the World Cup.

And, talking about Africa, apart from Algeria, the rest of the continent’s representatives – Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria – were just pathetic in Brazil.

While the African nations try to sort out their post-World Cup problems, FIFA must get around to giving serious consideration to parity when selecting officials to oversee World Cup tournaments. There are still too many European referees and assistant referees – those whom we called, back in the days, “linesmen”.

As I said earlier, I’m not now cold to Brazil because they failed to win a sixth World Cup; or embarrassed because they were humiliated 7-1 by Germany; and then lost 3-0 to the Netherlands in last Saturday’s third place playoff.

Brazil, where slavery was abolished in 1888, has the world's largest black population outside of Africa. Racism was made illegal in Brazil in 1989.

My change in respect of Brazil’s football was the culmination of years of watching their soccer degenerating, and scratching my head in wonderment at the absence of a good, core group of talented black players. The black presence, at best, is spotty and mediocre. How’s that? I ask myself.

Eventually, I’ve had to confront the truth. Brazil soccer – like football in other parts of the Latin American region – is wrought with racism.

Football is poor people’s sport; all you need, as a beginner, are your feet and something to kick.

And, it’s hard to believe that African-Brazilians have stopped playing football; or three or four or five are not good enough, not skilled enough, to cement a permanent star presence on the Brazilian team.

The reality is that just as black footballers and other people of African descent face racial discrimination in Europe, they do similarly in Brazil.

“Although many Brazilians think of their country as the model of race relations, racism is a hidden reality,” Nicolas Pinault wrote in a July 8 article for the Voice of America.

“On television or seen from abroad, Brazil still portrays a white image. Blacks, indigenous or other non-white people are seen less than whites on TV commercials and programs,” Pinault continued. “Racism is both everywhere and invisible, and has its effect on education, employment, income and life expectancy.”

And, I daresay, Brazilian racism is having a debilitating effect on its football as well.

One human rights group has described black Brazilian footballers as “both victims and heroes”, who are regularly subjected to racial abuse.

It reported that in March, midfielder Marcos Arouca da Silva from FC Santos came under attack during a post-game interview. Fans called the 28-year-old a monkey, reducing him to tears.

“The attacks are not isolated cases,” the human rights group said. “Racism on the sports field is an age-old problem in Brazil.”

Brazilian historian Marcel Diego Tonini, who wrote his doctorate at the University of Sao Paulo on blacks in football, says that that racism in Brazilian football remains a taboo topic.

Many black players, he says, avoid bringing up the topic publicly because they're concerned it will hurt their careers.

Lest you believe it’s in Brazil only that the scourge of racism is impacting football, think again.

Brazilian midfielder Tinga, a black man with dreadlocks, recalls playing in Peru in the South American Cup for Cruzeiro against Real Garcilaso. Tinga heard the racist monkey chants every time he touched the ball.

Similar incidents of racist taunts and prejudice against black people have been reported in Mexico, Uruguay and other Latin nations.

In Argentina, football is an important way of life for most young people – white, black and others.
But take a look at the Argentine side at the just-concluded World Cup. The only identifiable non-white was goalkeeper Sergio Romero.

More than 85 percent of Argentines are of white European decent. Most of the remainder is a mix between European and indigenous people, also known as “Mestizos”.

Argentina’s once large black population began to dwindle around the start of the 19th century.

According to historians, many things contributed to the decline, including conscripting black Argentines into the frontline of many wars and deliberate government policies resulting in genocide.

“The substantially reduced numbers of Afro-Argentines -- by some accounts the population totals only a few thousand -- have enabled Argentina to deny the historic relevance of blacks and portray theirs as a white nation free of racism,” one writer has argued.

I’m in search of a team behind which to throw my support for the 2018 World Cup. In fact, I really won’t mind rooting for two or three teams at the next World Cup; perhaps Grenada, together with Jamaica or Trinidad; or Ethiopia, Guyana, Barbados and/or some other CARICOM or African nation.
 
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