Soccer. It’s a big thing in Brazil. Everyone belongs to a team. Whether it be in Serie A or Serie B, from where they were born or where they grew up, everyone likes a team. Corinthians, Santos, Palmeiras, Flamengo, Cruzeiro: these are probably the most famous soccer teams, but the list keeps going, and it’s not short. There are a few TV channels that only broadcast soccer games. Everyone is so passionate about this sport, and I’ve seen tears on people’s faces when the worst (in their opinion) team scores or when the best player has to leave the field due to an injury. There are a lot of emotions running through people’s bodies when they gather on a Sunday afternoon to have lunch and watch their beloved team play an important match which determines whether or not they will win the national league.
Supermarkets sell out (mostly meat and beer), the roads are quiet, even the dogs sit by the TV waiting for that ever more familiar sound that starts the game. And so it begins: pass after pass, running from one side of the field to the other, the best players of each team show off their talents and woo the spectators who cheerfully support them but are the firsts to insult them when they do something wrong. It’s quite a spectacle, yes. Players who are caressed by their opponents and fall to the ground screaming of pain. Referees who favor some players and punish others unjustly. In many ways, it’s a partially accurate representation of our society, isn’t it?
But let me talk about one specific example.
On Sunday, Ponte Preta lost 2-3 to Vitória. Ponte Preta is a team based in Campinas, one of the largest cities outside of São Paolo and my host family’s hometown. The team is third to last, which means that next year they will be out of Serie A, the most prestigious category in all of Brazil. After an excellent first half, Vitoria was able to score three times and win the match.
Wait, the game never officially ended. Instead, it was interrupted by Ponte Preta’s fans who had the brilliant idea of breaking the metal fence that separated them from the field and invading it. They charged Vitoria’s players, who ran away as fast as they could. They attacked the police who had intervened to placate the turmoil. They were mad. They were furious that they team had been so weak. They were sad and angry because next year they won’t be able to play against soccer giants such as Corinthians or Flamengo. They were outraged because they felt betrayed, betrayed by Ponte Preta’s players who hadn’t been able to show strength and determination.
Every news outlet reported on what happened three days ago in Campinas. Everyone knows about his. Every man, woman, and child I have talked to knows about this.
Frankly, I wasn’t surprised to see this. I have seen reports and videos of stuff like this in Italy, and I know how much conflict soccer creates, even though I’m not a big soccer fan. And frankly, it’s quite disheartening. Yes, people feel profoundly connected to their respective teams. Yes, soccer is such an essential component of Brazilian culture. Yes, there is a lot of passion and unity around soccer. However, we must not forget that it is a sport, a form of entertainment. When violence, hatred, disrespect, and intolerance become driving forces for people who lose reason because of a leather ball, I think we need to stop and reflect upon the priorities of the societies we are creating. And this doesn’t apply only to Brazil. It applies to Italy, England, the US, France, Spain, Colombia, and many more.
Sadly, the people who trigger this chaos are not representative of the millions of civil individuals who sanely enjoy a soccer match. But these events are somewhat frequent.
Violence is never justified, but what if the same vehemence was employed against a government that, in the case of Brazil, doesn’t care if its children don’t go to school. Why is soccer more important than the condition of one’s people? How astray are we going?
I would like to end this on a positive note.
Soccer is amazing! It gives hope to so many children. It motivates them to work hard and learn. It’s such a fun game to play and probably one of the most entertaining to watch. Everybody is getting ready for the 2018 World Cup, and I am inevitably rooting for Brazil, just because Italy didn’t qualify…