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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 ...

“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:

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