Contradictions and disguises

With the Copa Libertadores group stage underway, I have decided to take this opportunity to get back into regular blogging here on I like football me. My original plan today was to discuss the opening round of matches and give my opinion on some of the fascinating encounters we enjoyed this week.

Unfortunately though, football has to take a back seat after events on Wednesday evening in Huancayo. During the second half of an interesting match between Peruvian side Real Garcilaso and Brazilian champions Cruzeiro, which Garcilaso deservedly went on to win 2-1, Cruzeiro’s black midfielder Tinga (formerly of Borussia Dortmund) was greeted with monkey noises from the home fans whenever he touched the ball.

To see such behaviour coming from Peruvian fans, a people who have suffered greatly from oppression and persecution throughout their history, is upsetting. Even more so considering the abuse took place in Huancayo, a city with such a proud Quechua heritage.

However, the reality is that the black population in Peru is relatively small (approximately 2% of the total population) and racism towards Afro-Peruvians is not unheard of. Furthermore, the fact that Peruvians have historically had to endure similar prejudice themselves perhaps goes some way towards explaining the racist actions of those Garcilaso fans on Wednesday evening. In the same way that an abused child may grow up to become an abusive parent, the oppressed becoming oppressors isn’t a difficult concept to understand.

Of course, that doesn’t make Wednesday’s acts of racism any more or less deplorable, but it makes them more tragic.

While match reports from Peruvian sports media (as well as Conmebol’s official report, written by AFP) refused to make any reference to the monkey noises (the first mention of the incident in Peru came from sports daily Depor who managed to mix up Tinga and Dede, Cruzeiro’s two black players, in the article’s photograph), the reaction in Brazil was one of widespread disgust and outrage.

Several Brazilian footballers of various ethnic backgrounds expressed their solidarity with Tinga, while clubs, ministers and even President Dilma released statements condemning the incident and supporting punishment for Real Garcilaso. Alexandre Kalil, the outspoken president of Cruzeiro’s fierce local rivals Atlético, called the events “lamentable”, and claimed they “took away all of the pleasure in seeing Cruzeiro lose”.

Although the majority of reactions were refreshing to see, I couldn’t help but notice a streak of tribalism in some of the responses. Most were fairly subtle, but Cruzeiro director Alexandre Mattos chose to fight fire with fire, or in this case, fight racism with xenophobia, saying that Peru is a “small place in which football shouldn’t even exist”.

There is a clear contradiction here, as Brazilian society, especially Brazilian football, is rife with masked racism and frankly blatant homophobia. The idea of Brazil being a racial democracy is one that has been proved time and time again as a complete fallacy.

One encounters racism at almost every turn here in Brazil, albeit disguised. In football, black goalkeepers are often seen as unreliable, while black coaches are a rarity. Take the example of Cristóvão Borges, an intelligent and competent coach, who came in as a caretaker and took Vasco da Gama to a second place finish in the Brasileirao, was fired the following year and couldn’t find a job. Or Andrade, who was also a caretaker coach at Flamengo, won the Brazilian championship in 2009 and ended up unemployed. Contrast that to white managers like Joel Santana, Adilson Batista, Caio Júnior and Dorival Júnior, who are bounced around the biggest clubs in the country, despite their relatively poor records.

Outside the realm of football, there is Rede Globo’s “comedy” show Zorra Total, shown at primetime every Saturday night, which features a recurring sketch in which two actors in blackface ridicule poor black women.

Homophobia is also common, but far more obvious. During Brazilian football matches, it is common for one set of fans to call opposition players viados – an extremely pejorative homophobic slur – in chants that are often loud enough to be easily heard by people watching at home on television. Unfortunately, there is an institutional difference between racism and homophobia in Brazil. Racism is illegal, while homophobia is not legally considered a hate crime.

The objective of this blog is not to undermine the severity of what happened in Huancayo, or any feelings of genuine disgust from Brazilians, but simply to point out that this is an issue that exists all over Latin America, not just in Peru, and is increasingly prominent in Brazil.

Hopefully, Conmebol will arise from their slumber and, considering the influence that the Brazilian champions wield among the organisation, hand out serious sanctions to Real Garcilaso. One doesn’t hold much hope however, as this is the same organisation that last year was quoted as saying that Olimpia’s Salustiano Candia calling Newell’s forward Maxi Urruti a “black piece of shit” was not evidence of racism.

I’ll talk about football next week. Honest.

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