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The shirts may create a sea of yellow and green among home-country fans at a World Cup match between Brazil and Croatia in Sao Paulo earlier this month, but the faces are almost uniformly white. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)
The shirts may create a sea of yellow and green among home-country fans at a World Cup match between Brazil and Croatia in Sao Paulo earlier this month, but the faces are almost uniformly white. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

Brazilians confront race and inequality through the World Cup Add to ...

When David Santos joins colleagues and friends to watch World Cup games these days – at street parties in the low-income periphery of Sao Paulo – he scans the images of the stands on the big TV screens in hope. But he’s pretty sure what he will see.

“At these games, you will count more black people on the field than in all the stands,” he says with a sigh. “It’s FIFA apartheid.”

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Friar David is a Franciscan and the president of Educafro, which works for racial equality. His organization has been trying for more than a year to make sure that the Cup would reflect Brazil’s diversity. But, he says, that effort was a crashing failure. The Brazilian fans in the stands at Cup games are almost entirely white – even though 54 per cent of Brazilians identify as black or mixed-race.

“You can’t say it is racial discrimination – it would be discrimination if they didn’t sell a ticket to a black person, and that’s not what happened,” says Carlos Costa Ribeiro, a sociologist who studies race and inequality at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. “What happened is that most blacks are poor and they couldn’t buy tickets because they’re expensive. But why are blacks not rich? Because there is discrimination.”

Brazil has seen enormous social and political change over the past 15 years, but the correlation between wealth and race remains absolute, he says, while the cultural barriers to better education and employment for black and mixed-race Brazilians remain largely unchanged. And it has become apparent in the past two weeks that the World Cup, in its official incarnation, is for rich people. The bulk of tickets were sold for between $90 and $990 – while minimum wage in Brazil is $330 a month. Forty-one per cent of black and mixed-race Brazilians earn minimum wage, according to the national census, while 61 per cent of those unemployed for a year or more are black.

After Friar David and his colleagues at Educafro saw the nearly all-white stadiums during the Confederations Cup, played here a year ago as a precursor for the World Cup, they wrote to FIFA to ask that organizers make sure this event would be different by setting aside 20 to 30 per cent of tickets for black Brazilians.

FIFA secretary-general Jerome Valcke replied that the donated and low-cost tickets would ensure that “white, black, indigenous and immigrants” would have “the same opportunities to enjoy the event” but he declined to reserve a set block of seats.

“The biggest portion of tickets were sold through lotteries, making the chances equal and fair for every Brazilian or foreign fan,” he wrote. “FIFA has created conditions for everyone who is interested, in every social class, to watch the games.”

It did not look that way when Brazil played Mexico in Fortaleza last week: Ticket-holders entered the stadium through a long, narrow path that cuts through the surrounding low-income neighbourhood. The fans in their festive green-and-yellow on their way in the doors were almost uniformly white. And their entry route was lined with black and mixed-race Brazilians (also in their Brazil jerseys), watching them go in.

“People who came from outside are getting a weird picture of Brazil because Brazil really is a mix of black and white and brown,” says Jorge Fernando Vasconcellos. He caught the most recent Brazil game at a street party on the edge of Rio. He wore a green-and-yellow clown wig, a Brazil team jersey, and the orange trousers from his uniform as a city sanitation worker. The crowd he joined was a mix of skin tones, and it is at parties like these that most lower-income Brazilians are experiencing the Cup. “I knew I wouldn’t be able to buy tickets – it would take my whole budget,” he says.

Some Brazilians have gone so far as to suggest that the disproportionate presence of rich people (who don’t regularly go to city club football matches, as Mr. Vasconcellos does) is undermining the quality of the games – atmospherically and in the level of play.

“These are not Brazilian football supporters,” wrote the popular Sao Paulo blogger Leonardo Sakamoto about the fans at the first Brazil match. They don’t know the songs or the chants, and they don’t propel a team in the way a Brazilian expects, he said. “The fans that come rain or shine, win or lose, who are there supporting their team, live, however mediocre it is – these people, who help make our football what it is, they deserve to be better represented in the stands ….”

The Brazilians who shaped public discourse here until recently (that is to say, white people) love to trumpet the idea that this a multiracial democracy – and, it is implied, therefore not racist – based on the idea that Brazilians of all races have had ostensibly equal political and economic rights since the end of slavery 130 years ago. That narrative is increasingly challenged, and the country is grappling with debates about affirmative action. The policy was introduced in higher education starting in 2003, to huge controversy. Earlier this month, Congress passed a law to reserve 20 per cent of federal government jobs for the next 10 years for black and mixed-raced people; this has provoked far less debate.

But there were no quotas for the Cup. The government says FIFA donated 50,000 tickets to Brazilians who are beneficiaries of social welfare programs and to indigenous people, and 50,000 to the construction workers who helped build the stadiums. That’s about 3 per cent of total tickets. Another 400,000 tickets were sold to Brazilians for the equivalent of about $30, or $15 for senior citizens and students.

But almost all sales were done on the Internet, notes Celso Athayde, director of a favela advocacy organization, and they were for all over Brazil. So buyers had to be prepared to fly nearly the length of a continent to get to the game they got tickets for – with the end result that most low-income Brazilians could not or did not try to buy them.

Educafro also criticizes the design of the stadiums, which in Brazil traditionally have a general stranding-room section where tickets are cheap. For the Cup, those sections have been replaced with seats. “No question, FIFA has imposed a norm for the stadiums that left Brazil less Brazilian,” Friar David, the Educafro president, says.

And, mindful of promised sales for its sponsors, FIFA forced Brazil to ban the traditional vendors who work football games, selling food and drink and trinkets outside the stadiums and who are almost all black. This has shut much of the informal Brazilian economy (dominated by black workers) out of the Cup dividend.

Many World Cup watchers, in Brazil and beyond, first noticed the skewed racial representation during the song-and-dance spectacle in Sao Paulo that opened the tournament. FIFA billed it as a celebration of Brazil’s diversity: It featured an indigenous child in an Amazonian canoe, and dancing gauchos in leather hats. But the ceremony was strikingly white. There was no samba, the music most identified with black Brazilians – and even the troupe performing capoeira, the fluid martial art invented by Brazil’s slave population, appeared remarkably pallid.

“FIFA had white people doing capoeira!” exclaims Friar David.

Two weeks later, he’s still shaking his head, in anger and amazement. Some white Brazilians do practise capoeira, of course. But it’s a hallmark of black culture, and he feels the ceremony troupe was yet another missed occasion to show a positive image of his community. “This World Cup has been very, very bad for black Brazilians.”

***

Brazil’s reality displayed only on the field, World Cup veterans say

Paulo (Caju) Cezar Lima, 65, played in 1970 and 1974 World Cups:

“Most of the players in this country are black. I remember, two years ago, when this wave of racism started here in Brazil, they interviewed Neymar and he said he wasn’t black. Then he went to Europe, and they threw a banana at him. I don’t know if he’s realized yet. … I think the best way for players to realize if they are black or not, is to go to the United States, land of Ku Klux Klan. There they will see. Racism always existed, but now, here in Brazil, due to this ‘FIFA standard’ joke – the poor, who can be white or black, people who make $350 a month, have no chance to see the World Cup. It’s a competition for foreigners, tourists, not for us. The poor people in Brazil are black, from the Northeast, and they are not participating. I went to two games in Maracana, and you see all that luxury, with the politicians, the businessmen …. It’s not a party for the people. It feels more like a tennis championship in Wimbledon. This is all because of this ‘FIFA standard’ crap. They want to turn football in an elite sport, but they won’t make it. Football is a sport for the people, for everyone.”

Paulo Isidoro de Jesus, 60, played for Brazil in the 1982 World Cup:

“Today, it bothers me because I’m paying attention. Back in the day, I didn’t, I never had this kind of problem. Now I notice that even the little kids who escort the players on the field are all white. If you see one black kid there, I’ll give you a prize. That really upsets me. We are a country where the majority of people are black, but we are not participating in this party. This is cruel. Cruel is maybe not even a strong enough word, given the discrimination we see. As a black man, I watch these people on television saying there is no racism in this country and I can only think they are the biggest of all racists. It’s a party in a country where most people are black and black people aren’t in it, and it makes me really mad. I’m almost sure players don’t notice this. When I was playing, I didn’t worry about things like that. The concentration involved in playing the matches is too great for you to notice anything else. After you stop playing you notice and then you realize how cruel the world we live in is.” I watched as the national team went in, and no black kids with them. It makes me want to turn away and not watch it. I get too upset. The party is beautiful, but for us who are from this land, we are shut out of it. I even tried to see if we, as former athletes, would have the opportunity to watch a game, get tickets. But they didn’t even give us that much. You are worth something to them only in the moment you are playing. Afterwards, nothing.

Stephanie Nolen and Manuela Andreoni

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