Of Brazil, Football and Discrimination
Have you ever wondered why the Brazilian football players are not known by their original names but rather by their sobriquets? Pelé, may be the one name most recognised in this world but not even half of those who can relate with the name Pele can say that he was born with the name Edson Arantes do Nascimento. Similarly, Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima is famous as Ronaldo, Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite is known as Kaká, Ronaldo de Assis Moreira is known as Ronaldinho and Rivaldo Vítor Borba Ferreira, is known as Rivaldo. There are too many with such pseudo names, these are just a few famous people. How many of you know the name of Garrincha? His name is Manual Francisco dos Santos and belonged to one of the many tribes of Brazil, importantly in an international career spanning a decade Brazil lost only once when he played for the national team.
Such a practice of using sobriquets is not just a happening but it is a result of a historical social process. Brazil abolished slavery in 1888 and was the last country in America to do so (Bellos 2014). This was the time when the country was undergoing tremendous social change. Football was introduced in the country by Charles Miller in 1894, who while returning from Southampton, had brought two footballs. Football arrived or was brought into the country when there was chaos and confusion after it had gained independence in 1889. It was period when the nation was struggling to establish its identity and social symbols. Football acted as a catalyst to form this identity albeit the racial discrimination and prejudice that existed. The whites played the game and excluded the natives from participating. When mixed race players started to play for clubs, 'they were made to feel ashamed of their colours' (Bellos 2014;32). Authur Friedenreich, a son of a Brazilian German father and an Afro-Brazilian mother, 'was without question the highest scoring striker of his days and the darling of the press, who nicknamed him El Tigre ('The Tiger') in Uruguay and 'Golden Foot' in Brazil' (Goldblatt 2014;29). He had to flatten his hair, which resembled more of the native, with a turban (Bellos 2014) to look completely white. Another player, Carlos Alberto, is known to have used rice powder to colour his face white. Another important thing that is of interest, is the Brazilian footwork or in common parlance, the act of dribbling, is also a product of discrimination. Bellos (2014) says that when the natives used to play along with the whites they had to avoid contact with the whites, to ensure that the whites were not hurt during such collision. In case of collision and the whites being hurt the natives were beaten as punishment. To avoid such contact the natives started to dribble.
The genesis of discrimination and the sobriquets is found in the processes and evolution of Brazilian football and its structure. As has already been mentioned, it was not the natives who brought the beautiful game to Brazil. As football started to connect with the people of Brazil clubs also started to be established. Initially the clubs were formed by the elites and the whites, who considered themselves to be superior to the natives. Because of this constructed racial supremacy the whites did not allow the natives and blacks to participate in football matches. Far from being allowed to play alongside, the natives had to watch the matches being played from a distance.
'Membership rules at the big clubs were essentially rules to keep the sport as white and upper class as possible. Football provided a justification to reconsolidate theories of white supremacy, which had been thrown into doubt by the abolition of slavery' (Bellos 2014;32).
Football had however, also caught the imagination of the natives, who were also playing the game on their own. Once the clubs were formed competition among them started and championships also started taking place. However, the natives were barred from taking part in such competition. By blocking professionalism and advocating amateurism the whites were effective in maintaining social distance from the natives. The policy of amateurism demanded that the players needed to have an alternative sources of income, this was instrumental in creating an obstacle for the natives to represent any club, as they did not have any alternative sources of income.
The natives were inducted into competitive football by another discriminated group of people, the Portuguese. Vasco da Gama, popularly known as Vasco, was the club of the Portuguese people. They went against the set norms of the big clubs in Brazil by recruiting players not just from among themselves but the best from among the natives, who were playing their own leagues. They provided employment to these players in their shops and business to fulfil the criteria that the players needed to be employed and have alternative sources of income. The participation of the natives, in a short span of time altered the fortunes of Vasco. From mediocrity they became champions. This was not tolerable to the elite clubs who later formed a league of their own, which excluded Vasco. However, due to the popularity of the club, Vasco was invited again to participate but with other set of conditions. One of the conditions laid was that the players had to be able to write and sign their names. This was the strategy for exclusion of the native players who were generally illiterates. However, Vasco found a way to bend this rule. They started sending their players to learn to read and write their names and those with more complex names were given short names which were easier to write, thus the use of sobriquets among the native Brazilian players started.
On the other hand, professionalism in Europe had grown, which threatened to take away the great talents of Brazil. This necessitated professionalism in Brazilian football. Professionalism in Brazil football started in 1933 and this effectively led to the collapse of the class and racial prejudice and discrimination in the sphere of football in Brazil