Speaking at the Paraty International Literary Festival (commonly known as Flip) on Sunday evening, iconic Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil made an observation regarding the ethnic composition of supporters at the recent Confederations Cup: “The place where the players ran to hug the fans didn’t have any of the ethnic Brazilian hue, it had been whitened.”
He has not been the only one to speak out on this issue. Renowned sports journalists Juca Kfouri and Antero Greco also expressed their disappointment at crowds that they felt did not accurately represent Brazilian society.
This problem is not exclusive to national team matches either. The “whitening” process has affected the domestic game as well. Although, while this may appear to be an issue concerning race, as inferred by Gilberto, it is more of a question of social class. However racial inequality is never too far away in Brazil and a study by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) estimates that 69% of Brazil’s classe alta is white, while 69% of the classe baixa is black.
So what is making the working class stay away? There is a number of contributing factors, such as the scheduling of kick-off times (major midweek matches start at 10pm, after Rede Globo’s evening soap opera), fear of violence in stadiums and even the fickle nature of the average Brazilian fan. The most obvious reason, however, is the price.
Ticket prices in Brazil range from the slightly expensive to the downright offensive. The average ticket for a league match is R$ 38 (about £12) and rapidly rising, while the cheapest ticket for the Confederations Cup final came in at R$ 130. This may not seem like much for people outside of Brazil, but when compared to the average monthly salary of R$ 1,792 (around £530), it is easy to see why millions are being priced out.
The real tragedy of this exclusion is that the demographic being kept out is the one responsible for Brazilian football’s unique identity. Although the game was initially an elite sport, it was the contributions of players like Pelé, Zizinho, Tostão, Leônidas, Rivellino, Ronaldo and Romário that helped define the Brazilian footballer.
Perhaps the most symbolic example is Mané Garrincha – who gives his name to the newly renovated national stadium in Brasília, due to host seven money-spinning “home” games of the country’s most popular club, Flamengo. If Mané was growing up today, in a poor household in Magé, Rio de Janeiro, getting a ticket to one of these matches could mean a week without food or electricity.
Nevertheless, Brazilian football has reaped some benefits from the globalisation and monetisation of the game. Forty years ago, it would have been hard to see an individual like Kaká, an engineer’s son, become a professional sportsman. Football is now a feasible career path for the middle classes, opening the doors to different styles of player, namely those raised in more sheltered environments.
The Brazilian game is at a crossroads. The increased sponsorship and state-of-the-art stadiums brought by the World Cup will no doubt force a profound change on the match day experience, similar to what happened in England with the Premier League. However, putting class issues to one side, clubs are simply not getting enough bums on seats. The average attendance in last year’s national championship was just 12,983, lower than the J-League in Japan and Major League Soccer in the US.
Empty stadiums spoil the Brasileirão product, which reduces potential gains from television deals and sponsorships. The powers that be (whether that be the CBF or the clubs themselves) must act quickly in order to restore the wider audience.
Perhaps in the current climate of protest and public unrest, Brazilian football supporters can take the initiative themselves and demand fairer ticket prices, like what is being done in the UK with the Football Without Fans Is Nothing campaign.