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  • Hazel Montgomery-Walsh

Brazilian Futebol: A Puppet of Politics

It is the 72nd minute of the 2022 FIFA Men’s World Cup. Vinícius Júnior, Brazil’s number twenty, speeds down the upper-left side of the pitch with the ball while Richarlison, number nine, anticipates the pass in the middle of the eighteen-yard box—the offensive, dangerous, goal-scoring zone of the field. Júnior sees the pass; the ball is kicked horizontally into the air to Richarlison, who gently touches the ball up to himself. Once the ball is over shoulder height, his feet leave the ground and suddenly his body is horizontal with the ground. Facing the opposite direction to the goal, he kicks the ball up behind him, straight into the bottom left of the net, flying past the Serbian keeper. Richarlison lands on his back. The scissor kick. The FOX Sports news commentator exclaims, “That’s Samba soccer at its absolute best. That’s jogo bonito–THAT is the beautiful game!” The crowd, 90% Brazilian fans despite the World Cup being in Qatar, wearing striped green and yellow jerseys, waving the Brazilian national flag, goes crazy. Brazil wins the match.

Meanwhile, back in Brazil, the country prepares for a transition from the right-wing, socially conservative President Bolsonaro, to the left-leaning and two-time former President of Brazil, Liz Inácio Lula de Silva, which will take place on January 1st. In the election that took place this year, Brazil’s star player, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, appeared in a campaign video endorsing Bolsonaro. After receiving negative feedback on this support, Neymar continued to tweet about how it is un-democratic for critics to not allow him to support who he wants. Bolsonaro supports cutting funding for federal education, decreased gun restrictions, fewer LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights, and restrictions on freedom of speech. About half of the nation, 49.1%, also supported Bolsonaro.

Futebol plays a major role in the politics of Brazil both domestically and internationally. Political power and praise are heightened when the Brazilian national futebol team wins the World Cup, but these wins often hide the reality of what is going on socially and politically in the country. Politicians such as President Bolsonaro (2018-2022) inflict damage on indigenous Brazilian groups and mishandle the COVID-19 pandemic, causing extremely high death rates, behind the scenes of the glorious Brazilian futebol team. This relationship between politics and futebol is clearly pictured when comparing Brazil’s wins to losses, whilst inequalities exist nonetheless. The success of Brazilian futebol is used as a pawn by the government to blind international actors from the reality of inequality by authoritarianism in Brazil. Further, the beautiful game that is known today as Brazilian futebol would not look the way it does today without the struggle and strength of Brazilian players to escape oppression in the form of socioeconomic barriers and racism.

Over the course of Brazil’s history, players have developed a unique style of play based on Ginga, flow, flair, and individualism. Ginga, a waddling, bending, triangular series of movements used to deceive an opponent, is a style and strategy that shows up in various aspects of Brazilian culture, including futebol, Capoeira, and Samba. In Capoeira, the Ginga strategy is used by a capoeirista to deceive their opponent in defensive and attacking moves. In futebol, Ginga manifests in a swing of the hips and swagger with the ball. It includes a triangular back, forth, and side to side motion, designed to trick the opponent into thinking the player is going one way when in reality they are quickly going to go the other. It requires a sort of improvisation that is the constant ability to deny the request of the opponent to take the ball. It has also been extended to stereotypically describe the attitude of not only Brazilian players, but also Brazilian people, as a “constantly optimistic and creative vision of life”. This style and strategy of play shifted from the “European” style of play, brought to Brazil by English immigrants, to the Brazilian style, distinct to players such as Pelé and Garrincha. Rather than the stricter and collective passing movements of European football, futebol focuses on more creative and individualistic movements. Such movements include the volley, chip, and flick–tapping the ball into the air to strike the ball out of the air when the opponent least expects it, such as Richarlson’s scissor kick goal in Brazil’s 2022 match versus Brazil. These movements establish a flair–an improvisation distinct to Brazil’s team. This flair has been described as a sort of dance, combining art and physical ability. Domingos de Guia, a Black player on the Brazilian national team in the 1938 World Cup in France, even explained how “[being] good at dancing…helped me a lot on the field…that kind of samba”. Importantly, Guia’s remarks follow a description of his own fear of playing futebol because of witnessing the many times that Black players were beaten on the fields if they fouled another player–or even if not. His brother taught him to dance in futebol in order to avoid being beaten. Likely, the form of improvisation and dribbling was created not because of an inherent attitude or stereotyped cultural characteristic of Brazilians, but because they needed to avoid contact in order to progress in the game. They needed to avoid contact in order to climb the ranks of professional play and showcase capabilities that were worthy of playing alongside the non-white players. Ginga, with its swift swag and quick fakeouts around the defender, helped to avoid such contact.


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