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.

Advertisements

Responsibilities

Being in control of a football club comes with certain responsibilities. First and foremost, there is a responsibility to run the club honestly and within the law. Besides that, there is also a responsibility to take decisions with the club’s best interests at heart.

The ‘new European model’ of club ownership has never sat particularly well with me, with control going to the highest bidder, people with absolutely no connection or passion for a club are capable of taking full control of it. It turns football into pure business. Furthermore, the abhorrence of a wealthy entrepreneur using a football club as a bank for his/her own personal debt goes against everything I believe football should be.

While these owners are almost always portrayed as successful, savvy businessmen, in my opinion the most intelligent business decision would have been to swerve club ownership in the first place. There is precious little money to be made by owning a football club.

Back in my native Scotland, the recent situation with Rangers Football Club is a textbook example of a traditional club being (knowingly) run into the ground by the ridiculous overspending under the watch of previous owner and chairman Sir David Murray. A blatant lack of owner’s responsibility.

The South American model, where football clubs are social clubs and not businesses, is certainly more appealing on an ideological level, but in practice it is perhaps even more of a mess than the European style. For example in Peru, the league is currently in the midst of a momentous player’s strike, after hundreds of players throughout the top flight have gone without wages for several months thanks to the clubs’ maddening financial situations and haphazard administration. As a result of this chaos, the 2012 Peruvian league season kicked off last week with sides only able to field youth teams.

In Argentina, the politics surrounding the election of club presidents and officials has given rise to a new breed of football thuggery, the ‘professional hooligan’. Every big club in Argentina has their own organised group of thugs, known as a barra brava, who are essentially employed by the club in exchange for political backing. The barras are involved in all kinds of illegal behaviour, from ticket touting to drug dealing at stadiums, and they are a true poison in Argentine football.

Here in Brazil there is a different problem, as fan-elected administration has given rise to a painfully counter-productive culture of short-termism. When a manager is brought in to coach a Brazilian club, he is expected to bring success immediately, and if he fails to do so, he will most likely be out on his behind faster than you can say Copacabana.

Last week, southern side Grêmio sacked their manager Caio Júnior after a paltry eight weeks in charge of the club. During his brief reign, Grêmio only played eight competitive matches; all of them in the largely inconsequential opening stage of the Rio Grande do Sul state championship. Out of those eight matches, Grêmio won four, drew one, and lost three times. Strangely enough, that record was enough for Grêmio to qualify – fairly comfortably – for the knockout phase of the tournament.

Whether I believe that Caio Júnior was the right man or not for Grêmio job is not ad rem, the fact is that this was another in a long line of ridiculous dismissals. Anyone with half a brain can see that eight weeks is clearly not enough time for a coach to leave his mark on a team.

Grêmio are one of the worst offenders in this surge of short-termism, since 2003 they have changed manager 16 times (not including caretaker managers or the pending arrival of Vanderlei Luxemburgo).

This problem has ramifications that run far deeper than Brazilian domestic football however, as it has significantly stunted the development of Brazil’s home-grown coaches. Afraid that one bad result will cost them their job, Brazilian managers often revert to safer, more defensive tactics. In addition, managers are employed for such short time periods that they often do no more than motivate the players in the dressing room and pick a starting eleven. They end up playing the role of cheerleader instead of head coach.

With this in mind, is there really any wonder why there are no Brazilian coaches managing at top-level clubs? Or that in the Copa Libertadores, Brazilian sides are often eliminated by continental sides who play much more expansive and attacking football? If Brazil ever wants to be the world’s greatest footballing nation once more, people at all levels of the game need to start taking responsibility.

Manure-handlers, projectiles and Hamilton Ricard: South America update

For the past few months, you would be forgiven for thinking that ILFM solely focused on football here in Brazil and nowhere else. However, the fact is that I aim to write about all types of South American football, Argentine, Uruguayan, Venezuelan… You name it, I have a passion for it.

The remarkably exciting 2011 Campeonato Brasileiro season certainly took centre stage here on this blog, but now that it has been concluded, allow me to bring you up to date with everything else that’s going on in this beautiful continent. Continue reading Manure-handlers, projectiles and Hamilton Ricard: South America update

World Cup 2014: The Road to Rio begins

With just over 1,000 days until the Final in the Maracanã, CONMEBOL’s nine nations (excluding Brazil) begin their march towards the World Cup with the first round of qualifying matches taking place this week. With every side in action on Friday and again on Tuesday (even Brazil have friendly matches on those days) we have plenty of thrilling football to look forward to. Let’s take a look at Friday’s four qualifiers, and cast a quick glance over the 2014 hosts and their friendly in Costa Rica.

Continue reading World Cup 2014: The Road to Rio begins