Brazil BETWEEN THE 2014 WORLD CUP AND THE 2016 OLYMPICS.


BEAUTIFUL GAME: THE EPIC ROMANCE 

The phrase "Beautiful Game" pays homage to Pelé and the Brazilian style of play that unfolded in Brazil from 1958-1970, the pinnacle of instinctive, natural decision-making while in motion on a soccer pitch. Brazilians often refer to ‘ginga’, the instinctual hip movement that propels a player forward while deceiving an opponent. In the pantheon of Brazilian football, Garrincha, Pele, Socrates, Zico, Ronaldo, and Neymar represent the divine. As Brazil struggled with problems of inequality, fear, and violence, football became a source of national identity, a symbol of excellence, spontaneity, and connectedness. Joga Bonito, "beautiful play" was the expression for the style. Borrowing from Brazil, the “Beautiful Game” is now a part of our lexicon, securing a place in the world’s hearts and minds.

The Seleção Brasileira has a rich history, symbolized by the five stars on its crest. For Brazilians, the National Team has been  a source of pride and hope.  Winning the FIFA Confederations Cup three consecutive times, Brazil then succumbed during each successive World Cup. The team’s reputation and spirit suffered during a shocking 7-1  loss to Germany  in front of a worldwide audience.

Brazilian football is forever marked by its  World Cup victories during the Golden Age of Pelé in 1958, 1962, 1970  and again in 1994 and 2002. But today, attendance is less than down, fan violence is constant, the biggest Clubs are deeply in debt and behind on payments to players and other workers.  All of this  negativity is  on top of the implosion of the National Team in the World Cup at home and the recent Copa America.   Football, a source of  joy and dignity for a proud people has become a topic for pessimism , shame and cynicism.  Brazil's economy is in recession weakening demand for services and eliminating gains made by Brazil's once growing middle class.  Corruption in soccer is endemic yet nowhere does it threaten to suffocate the soul of a nation to the degree as Brazil.

The National Team's performance in the 2015 Copa America prompted David Wilson of the Guardian to write:  "It’s been a long time since the notion of Joga Bonito (Beautiful Play) was anything other than an empty marketing slogan. The beauty has left the Brazilian game. The obsession with running and physicality that first developed – belatedly – as a response to a first-round exit in the 1966 World Cup has become dogma. The dictatorship that took power in Brazil in 1964 imposed technocrats in all walks of life: it was an article of faith that everything could be measured and analyzed. That is why a military PT instructor, captain Cláudio Coutinho, worked with the team at the 1974 World Cup and was the coach in 1978. The 80s and Telê Santana brought a brief re-flowering of the old way, a re-ignition of the myth, but since then the drift into pragmatism has been relentless.”

The introduction of broadcast satellite technology and the ability to beam live televised live soccer matches around the  world in the early '70s changed soccer forever. Media rights and sponsorship revenue began to climb. Private organizations operating under the mantle of public stewardship of soccer,  FIFA and the Brazilian Soccer Federation (CBF), for example, increased their power through the expansion  and mutual support of regional soccer federations. 

The recent corruption scandal involving the oil and gas industry has already hampered Brazil's ability to invest in itself at the same time foreign investment is slowing. Transparency is increasingly a societal  value and a reality of daily lives because of digital technology and the internet.  In 2011,  a joint Statement of Brazil’s College of Lawyers, the Brazilian Press Association, and The National Bishops’ Conference stated  "corruption in our country is a pandemic which threatens the credibility of institutions and the entire democratic system.” Since that warning, Brazil has enacted new laws aimed at greater transparency.   

The Brazilian players movement known as Bom Senso FC  emerged in sympathy with the one million Brazilians who took to the streets and used the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup to protest corruption. Bom Senso is a force of 1000 players that is carefully opposing the CBF and advocating for transparency, democracy, and professionalism in soccer.   Meanwhile, the Brazilian Congress has taken up legislation to significantly reform the football system. Bom Senso and the CBF are squaring off in a public conflict that the CBF  and most of the Brazilian Clubs would like to keep private.

The Clubs seek to resolve their debt burden and avoid upsetting the system that has been extraordinarily lucrative for those at the top.  Bom Senso seeks  a host of solutions to concerns including the organization of the football calendar, players health,  financial exploitation of players on the smaller professional  teams, ticket prices,  dangerous fields, and fan violence.

The Epic Romance tells a story about the FIFA corruption scandal  and how its effects  the world's most popular sport.  Nowhere  is the identity of a nation more  tied to soccer than Brazil.  The  World Cup and Olympics have created intense global interest in Brazil. For the campaign for change in football is to succeed, Brazilians must  find a way to accept failure and move on.  In a way, corruption in FIFA and the CBF may be the best thing to happen to a nation much in need of a boost.  Brazil has an opportunity to shine a light back at the world and advocate for the worthy values of transparency and democracy.  In this way , Brazilian excellence in football can be a power helping to ensure that the nation takes its rightful place a major player in global society.