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Brazilian Football: Is Racism a Major Issue to Be Addressed Immediately?

Santos goalkeeper Aranha, who suffered racist abuse at the hands of Gremio fans last Thursday night.
Santos goalkeeper Aranha, who suffered racist abuse at the hands of Gremio fans last Thursday night.Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images
Robbie BlakeleySpecial to Bleacher ReportSeptember 2, 2014

The headlines should have been about Robinho, his revenge on Luiz Felipe Scolari and Santos' chances of making the last eight of the Copa do Brasil.

Instead, they ran along far more sinister lines. Santos prevailed 2-0 over Gremio in the first leg of their cup tie last Thursday night, but the result was overshadowed by a section of Gremistas, who made the Paulista club's goalkeeper, Aranha, a target for their racist abuse.

Visibly upset both during the match and at the final whistle, Aranha gave a moving interview to reporters on the touchline at the final whistle. The insulting chants were a major talking point on sports chat shows the following day.

Now, after the goalkeeper admitted how much pain the remarks caused him, it must be hoped this issue is not swept under the rug.

But is this a one-off incident, incited by a small group of narrow-minded individuals, or does it indicate a longer, underlying problem in Brazilian football?

Certainly, if Aranha's account is to be believed, the behaviour of referee Wilton Pereira Sampaio was reprehensible.

The goalkeeper claimed the official had told him he was provoking the fans when Aranha informed him of the abuse, as reported by Exame (link in Portuguese), but Aranha said he had done nothing of the sort—the only thing provoking these fans, according to him, was the colour of his skin.

There are worrying indications this could be part of an ugly trend. According to Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo, there have been 12 reported incidents of racism in 2014, including one just three days before Aranha's case in a Serie C match between Treze and Cuiaba (link in Portuguese).

Earlier this year, bananas were left on top of the vandalised car of referee Marcio Chagas, in Bento Goncalves in Rio Grande so Sul, the same state in which Serie A club Gremio is based.

Usually, a fine of a few thousand reais is paid, but now the subject is being fiercely debated, with loss of points and the right to play matches at home being mooted as possible future deterrents, as reported by BBC Brasil (link in Portuguese). The most serious punishment Gremio could receive is expulsion from the Copa do Brasil, as reported by Globo Esporte (link in Portuguese).

Headlines should have been about Gremio coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, and Santos forward Robinho who got the better of him.
Headlines should have been about Gremio coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, and Santos forward Robinho who got the better of him.Lucas Uebel/Getty Images

But radio broadcaster Alvim Bellis said the preconception goes beyond the football pitch. “The racism problem in Brazil is historical, cultural and social.

In Aranha's case, the goalkeeper had a great game and a part of the Gremio fans decided to swear at him to try to destabilise him. Except they tried to do it in the dirtiest way possible. The Aranha episode is not isolated, nor is it personal.”

In a country as racially diverse as this one, its policies can, at times, seem strictly one dimensional. Brazil, in 1888, was the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery.

The football field, historically, was formerly an enormous racial barrier that needed to be broken down. Here in Rio de Janeiro, 2012 league champions Fluminense were founded by members of the white upper classes, the metropolitan elite. Black and poorer members of society were excluded from joining.

Fluminense, one of Brazil's biggest clubs, was founded by Rio's elitist upper class.
Fluminense, one of Brazil's biggest clubs, was founded by Rio's elitist upper class.Friedemann Vogel/Getty Images

Carlos Alberto, the first black player to represent the club, whitened his face with rice powder before games, as told by Alex Bellos in his book Futebol, and the club's prejudicial stance eventually led to the formation of what has become the country's biggest outfit, Flamengo.

Almost a century later, there remains, certainly amongst some sections of so-called support, the same abhorrent attitudes of Brazil's footballing forefathers.

But there was a touching moment at the Maracana on Sunday afternoon, when Santos took on local club Botafogo in the Campeonato Brasileiro. All fans applauded the Santos goalkeeper prior to kick-off, who has become somewhat of a symbol for racial intolerance in the country over recent days.

Meanwhile, referee Sampaio from the cup tie has since altered his report and Gremio will be reported to Brazil's Supreme Court for Sporting Justice, the STJD. The player's own son has spoken out on social media, asking when such attitudes will end, and stating he is proud to have a black father, as reported by Lancenet (link in Portuguese).

Brazilian football has been in seeming freefall since the events of the World Cup. What recent events have shown is there are far more than on-the-field problems that need solving in the country's sporting circles at present.

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise stated.


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