How realistic was it to hope that Brazil would follow the redemption narrative, win the World Cup and shine brightly as a soccer team of manifest destiny? Not very. Yet, soccer is no less a window into the soul of Brazil. The Brazil national team is but one element of the complex cultural landscape in Brazil set against the enormous international phenomena of soccer.
So what are the real stories of Brazil and the World Cup. And how do we appreciate and understand the incredible contributions of Brazilians to the sport at home and globally? Brazil remains the only national team in the world with 5 stars on their jersey and has helped define the game for many years.
A big media company such as FIFA (yes, they live off of media rights) might tend to see the story of Brazil and soccer one way according to how revenue is involved. This suggests that that there is room for independent voices that may stand up and stand out at times when the prevailing wisdom is so far from reality. Taking what is important in sports, good and bad, adding cultural context, history, and a focus on stars, but not only a few stars of the moment, can make the story a whole lot more interesting.
One Série A (big league) futebol player wrote about Brazil's crushing defeat by Germany in the semifinal of the 2014 World Cup and its political symbolism and implications for the national character:
"This is more than a simple game! It represents the triumph of competence over trickery! It sets an example for generations of children who know that to succeed in life one has to grind, train, study! End this myth of the Brazilian trickster who wins the game with his swagger, earns money without getting sweaty, becomes president without training! The great legacy of this disaster is the example for the future generations! That a country is made by honest people, hard working, and not by a parasite population transformed into a government that teaches us to receive food in the mouth and not to fight to get it! Germany wins masterfully and with merit! That serves as a lesson!
Brazil has to be loved every day in our work, in our study, our honesty! Loving the country in a football game one day and stealing the country in an act of corruption, whatever it is, evading taxes, killing, robbing! What love of country is this! Enough! Brazilians are tired of being betrayed by their own people! We need to educate our children for a generation without shame and become a true nation that prides itself on its people, and not just his football!"
Whether Brazilian fans agree with this diatribe or not (many will agree), there is fertile ground to be explored amongst 200 million mostly soccer fanatics who uniquely identify their country with the game. We can learn as well as be entertained by the soccer nation.
The REAL soccer season for fans in Brazil has resumed and the state soccer tournaments with famous teams like Flamengo, Corinthians, Fluminense, and Santos occupying the hearts and minds of fans. THIS is the soccer that Brazilian fans REALLY idolize.
Protest against FIFA, the Brazilian elite, and government last year and leading up to the World Cup shows how soccer can be a focal point for what works and what does not work in society. Brazil's national elections are in October. The events leading up to the World Cup gave a focus to many Brazilians who concluded that if Brazil's elites are to continue to prosper they are going to have to learn how to thrive without doing it on the backs of the Brazilian people. Sound familiar?
Brazil will continue to be in the international spotlight at least through the Olympics in Rio in 2016. For generations, Brazil has been held up as a country with "awesome potential." Indeed, it has risen to become the world's 6th largest economy. It will be very interesting to look beyond the narratives of winning and losing futebol championships to understand soccer's role in the lives of people including ordinary Brazilian fans struggling to find their place in in the game of life. It is as if now that the national team has failed to redeem the nations soccer soul, it is back to REALITY. What next? Will the Olympics (by the way, Brazil has never won a gold medal in Olympic competition) become the focus of social ire? The answer is yes. For larger questions about how soccer contributes to change in Brazil, what emotions will linger from the World Cup, and what segments of Brazilian society are willing to steer the ship for a better life for its people, we will have to say tuned.