Homeland of futebol cleats: book reports on the overcoming of racism for the triumph of the Brazilian National Team in 1958

capa

Note from BW of Brazil: Brazil has never been a country that is considered a world power, but it does have a certain image and reputation for certain things. Some people believe that Brazil has some of the most beautiful women in the world. Such a topic is always a matter of opinion but no one can dispute this. Brazil also has some great site-seeing and tourist locations, no doubt about it. Among those sites are some of the finest beaches in the world. Again, no argument here. But internationally, it has always been Brazil’s ‘beautiful game’ of futebol that consistently has the country somewhere near the top in the opinions of specialists on the topic.

It’s worth remembering that between 1958 and 1970, Brazil’s National Team won the World Cup 3 out of 4 times, a feat that is still unmatched in the tournament. Then, from 1994 to 2002, the team won the Cup 2 out 3 times. Even with a current Cup championship drought of 16 years now, Brazil remains the only team that can boast of five world titles.   

In terms of its players, it can argued that Brazil’s black (including mulatto) players have been hailed as some of the best in the world. A few names that surely make the list of any futebol critic would be people like Leônidas da Silva, Garrincha, Pelé, Ronaldinho, Romário, Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Neymar…well, that is if you consider the last two as black, as both have proclaimed themselves not to be so. Anyway, it’s clear that Brazil owes much of its success to these players of African descent, but Brazil has not always been welcoming of its non-white athletes.

Believe it or not, there was a time when top futebol clubs would not accept black players. In fact, if we go back far enough, we come to a time when dark-skinned players were forced to wear rice powder on their faces in an attempt to hide their race. Black players may be celebrated today, but we can never forget that in Pelé’s time, they were the targets of constant racist comments and were stereotyped as not having enough heart to play the game on a high level and became scapegoats when Brazil came up short in tournaments. 

Remnants of these stereotypes still linger today as since the 1950 World Cup disappointment, it is rare to see a black goalie as starter for the National Team, black players still face racist sentiments when they are accused of contributing to losses or a team’s poor performance and, still in the 21st century, it is difficult to find black coaches on Series A teams

The brilliant play of stars of the 1958 team such as Djalma Santos, Pelé and Garrincha, eventually won over critics who looked at black players with a crooked eye, but racism in Brazilian futebol continues to make headlines even in 2019. With this history in mind and the place of the black Brazilian futebol player, a recent book delved into the reasons that that magical 1958 team was so important in changing the image of the black athlete. 

Djalma Santos, Pelé e Garrincha na Copa da Suécia
Djalma Santos, Pelé and Garrincha during the 1958 World Cup victory in Sweden. The victory of 1958 began a shift in the manner that black players were seen in Brazil

Homeland of futebol cleats: book that reports on the overcoming of racism for the triumph of the Brazilian National Team in 1958 competes to Amazon award

By Cipriano Jr

The final of the World Cup in Sweden. At four minutes of play, Brazil suffers 1 x 0 of the owners of the house. Eight years after the defeat by Uruguay in Rio’s own Maracanã stadium, the Brazilian team seems doomed again to failure in a decision in futebol. That’s when, Didi, the “Ethiopian prince”, puts the ball under his arm and walks serenely from his goal to midfield – the rest is history. The gesture symbolizes the paradigm shift that that team provoked in the sport in the country, as analyzed by the journalist Fábio Mendes in the book Campeões da raça: os heróis negros da Copa de 1958 (Champions of the race: the black heroes of the 1958 World Cup), one of the four finalists of the Amazon Book-report award to be announced between February 01 and 15).

Until then, black and mestiço (mixed race) players were considered emotionally and psychologically inferior. One of the most notorious examples of national prejudice was the blame placed on goalkeeper Barbosa for the Maracanaço (see note 1) throughout his life. On the staff of the Canarinho team and, more openly, in the press these athletes were attacked. As a reaction, in general, resilience. The problem, which still persists in the world, is a consequence of its existence in the general population. Therefore, the combat must be broad and institutional.

“I see the conquest as a milestone because it overturned the greatest racist myth in Brazilian futebol at the time: that blacks and mestiços were more unstable psychologically. Until 1958, it was widely believed that black athletes “turned yellow” in decisive games and that this was one reason why Brazil did not succeed in international tournaments. That changed then because those who proved more psychologically prepared were precisely the blacks,” says Fábio Mendes.

The work of the journalist tells us how the assembly of what was considered our best national team of all time, rivaling that of the 1970 team, occurred and how much racism affected this process. Pelé and Garrincha, for example, were not starters from the beginning. The Rei do Futebol (King of Futebol), by the way, is a main character in the debate about the positioning of athletes on the subject.

“The difference in position between Brazilian and French players, for example, is striking. There, they are militants of the anti-racist cause and always speak, in the interviews, of the difficulties that they face for being black, immigrants or descendants. Something similar is happening in Belgium. In Brazil, you can count on your fingers those that do this and many don’t even classify themselves as black. Unfortunately, here is still the fallacy of “vitimismo”, ‘playing the victim’, the writer analyzes.

The recent victory of France in the World Cup in Russia in 2018 further highlighted the issue. With a cast consisting mostly of blacks, the conquest was celebrated by Afro-descendants as a triumph of Africa, which generated a reaction of nationalists that they are French, period. In contrast, in previous world defeats, athletes who were not white were attacked. The parallel with Brazil is inevitable.

“Just as the 1958 achievement served to throw light on the situation of the jogador negro (black player) in Brazil, the 2018 title was important to unite the different social groups of French society. Because most of the players of the French team were born in the country, they have as their mother tongue the French language and their anthem is the “Marseillaise”. Although many are children or grandchildren of immigrants, they are much more linked to France than to the countries of their parents and grandparents,” analyzes Fábio Mendes.

CHECK OUT THE FULL INTERVIEW BELOW

What was the history of black participation in national futebol in general until the World Cup in Sweden? Was the participation and protagonism (or not) on the clubs reflected in the invites?

The black player began to gain space in Brazilian soccer especially from the 1920s. Until then, this was an exclusively white sport, because it was disputed only by the aristocracy of São Paulo and Rio. But the people soon fell in love with futebol and started playing matches on the streets and vacant lots. With this, great talents were emerging among the poorer population. As a result, many blacks and mestiços emerged in football. With the professionalization, in the early 1930s, the black man became the protagonist of Brazilian futebol. The greatest stars of the time (Leônidas da Silva, Domingos da Guia and Fausto dos Santos) were black.

From that time on, every good team included on their teams many black and mulatto players. After all, these were the most talented athletes available and the clubs could not give up this advantage. This role was also reflected in the Brazilian National Team. Racism, at this time, was reflected in other ways. For example, black players suffered a much higher penalty after negative results. And, not infrequently, they were placed as scapegoats in the most resounding defeats. A classic case was the defeat in the final of the 1950 World Cup: Brazil lost the competition because of the disorganization of the leaders and the empathy of the team itself, who only needed a tie and thought it was going to beat Uruguay. But all the blame fell on the black players (Barbosa, Bigode and Juvenal). The goalkeeper Barbosa, incidentally, became an icon of that defeat and spent the rest of his life being blamed (and even insulted) because of the result. The impact was so strong that until today it persists the idea that the black goalkeeper is not reliable.

The home defeat in 1950, with Barbosa and others pointed to as guilty, was a step back from the success of Leonidas and others up there, was it not?

Without a doubt. Brazil set up great teams in the 1930s and 1940s, with black players as great highlights. In 1938, Brazil came very close to being champion, but lacked experience. Therefore, it was expected that in 1950, playing at home and with a team as strong or stronger, we could consecrate ourselves as a futebol power. But the defeat undermined our self-esteem and fueled the racists to make all kind of biased commentary against the “craques ‘de cor'” (top “colored” stars), as was said at the time. That only changed with the title in Sweden.

You often point out that the attacks and offenses were made openly in the press. Can you point us to an example that shows how this worked?

What struck me most, when researching the press of the time, were the “analyzes” of some commentators and journalists, who spoke openly that the race had weight in the psychological aspect of the team. This was written naturally in the press and motivated an opposite movement, of those who didn’t believe in these racist theses. An absurd subject such as this has gained space in the press in a tone of debate. I was astonished to see that.

Did members of the Confederation (of futebol) in their reports on the performance of the National Team in 1950 and 1954 point to blackness as a problem?

The first time that this type of comment gained force in reports was in 1956, soon after the participation of the Brazilian National Team in a long excursion through Europe. The coach was Flávio Costa (the same as in the 1950 World Cup). He even talked about the “banzo” (the homesickness that affected the slaves taken from Africa) as a factor to psychologically shake up the team. Before that, everything was more veiled on the part of the coaches and leaders, only the journalists addressed it directly.

How do you understand that the black players, at the time, dealt with it? Did you talk to some from that era?

I didn’t manage to talk any of them. Most have died and some are sick or out of touch with the public. But in old interviews I could see an interesting fact: most black players denied or minimized the facts publicly but made it clear between the lines that racism existed in reproducing phrases and comments addressed to them in the past. This shows that many players suffered from racism, but they understood that the best way to overcome this obstacle was to ignore it rather than fight it.

You point to the victory of the Brazilian team in 1958 as a milestone for the integration of blacks in Brazilian futebol. Why?

I see the conquest as a milestone because it overturned the greatest racist myth in Brazilian futebol at the time: that blacks and mestiços were more unstable psychologically. Until 1958, it was widely believed that black athletes “turned yellow” in decisive games and that this was one reason why Brazil didn’t succeed in international tournaments. That changed with the title in Sweden, because the athletes who proved more psychologically prepared were precisely the blacks. In the most serious moments, like the first minutes of the final against the home team, they were the ones who held up in the situation.

In your view, nowadays, has racism in futebol increased, decreased or remained at the same level as in the 1950s?

Racism never ceased to exist in Brazilian futebol. The great change brought about by the conquest in Sweden was the end of the old thesis that black player “turned yellowed” in decisions. But the prejudice against the black goalkeepers continued. So much so that from 1950 onwards, only once did we have a black goalkeeper as a starter of a World Cup: Dida in 2006.

Otherwise, nothing has changed. Pelé continued being called “macaco” (monkey) by the fans throughout his whole career. They were even more hostile with other less famous players. In recent years, there has been greater visibility in cases of racism and this has meant that the problem is no longer pushed under the rug as before. But it will take a lot of political will to solve a problem that is, in fact, structural and has nothing to do with futebol alone, but with the whole of Brazilian society.

Kanté, símbolo da 'França negra' e descendente de imigrantes
Kanté, a symbol of “França negra” (Black France) and descendant of immigrants (Credit: Franck Fife/AFP)

Should players such as Pelé, our greatest icon, or even Romário and Neymar, take a stand on the subject to help fight it? And why don’t they?

Yes, without a doubt. “The difference in position between Brazilian and French players, for example, is striking. France is experiencing today a picture very similar to what Brazil experienced in the 1950s. The team is strongly mixed, with a large presence of blacks and mestiços on the team. When the team is champion, they are all French, but when they lose, the athletes saw “immigrants” or “descendants of Africans”, these classifications being placed pejoratively. In 2010 and 2014, when the French team was defeated, the extreme right-wing leaders openly blamed black players for the poor results. Obviously, these voices fell silent in 2018.

The difference with Brazil is that black players are militants of the anti-racist cause. They always talk in the interviews about the extra difficulties they face because they are black, immigrant or descendant. They also denounce when they receive a racial insult and support black and indigenous defense organizations. Something similar occurs in Belgium, which has set up an excellent team formed also by descendants of immigrants. In Brazil, you can count on your fingers those that do this and many don’t even classify themselves as black. Unfortunately, the fallacy of “vitimismo” (playing the victim) is still evoked here.

What lessons can we draw from the construction of the victory of the 1958 National Team to strengthen the fight against prejudice – in society and in futebol?

The main lesson to be drawn from the 1958 National Team is that a person’s qualities and faults are the result of a combination of his personality and his training as a citizen (by family and society), not skin color. The Brazilian national team woke up to this fact in time to correct a huge injustice: leaving the world’s greatest players on the bench because of unfounded theses. As futebol has a strong influence on the gears of Brazilian society, this victory against racism had a considerable impact on the country. It opened the eyes of the Brazilians to the prejudice suffered by the blacks in various fields and that, until then, was not perceived by many.

Another lesson that emerged from this episode was the importance of the fight against prejudice (and this is not just for the racial issue). In 1958, it was much more difficult to take a stand against racism, and so the players had to act more subtly. But they never stopped fighting and were finally rewarded for their determination. Today, there are a number of defenses against racism and xenophobia, which should be used wherever necessary. The fight cannot stop and that was the great lesson that the black heroes of 1958 gave us.

Looking at the behavior of the press in the coverage of sport and racism in futebol, is there an improvement in the perception of the size of the problem or are we stagnant?

There was an improvement, albeit discreet. The media is much more open to receiving this kind of complaint and publicizing it than it was 40 or even 20 years ago. This theme has also become frequent in the news from 2014, when there were several serious cases involving famous players and even referees.

The big problem is that the subject is still dealt with superficially. An example of this is the “fulanização” of racism. That is to say: it avoids approaching the problem as something structural, and that collectively affects the society, in order to speak of a few individuals, as if they were the exception and not the rule. A classic example occurred in Rio Grande do Sul, when Grêmio fans committed racial slurs against goalkeeper Aranha, then with the Santos team. The TV cameras caught some fans calling him “macaco.” They were punished by the law, as should be done, but the news coverage was overly focused on these people in particular, when in fact a whole fan base was involved in the case.

Do you think it is possible to make a parallel in the impact of the triumph of that selection with the conquest of France in 2018 for both the issue of racism and that of immigration?

Yes, the comparison is entirely pertinent. “Just as the 1958 achievement served to throw light on the situation of the jogador negro (black player) in Brazil, the 2018 title was important to unite the different social groups of French society. Because most of the players of the French team were born in the country, they have as their mother tongue the French language and their anthem is the “Marseillaise”. Although many are children or grandchildren of immigrants, they are much more linked to France than to the countries of their parents and grandparents. The 2018 title (as well as that of 1998) can make that clearer to anyone who did not realize it.

Source: Notícia Preta 

Note

  1. Maracanaço is the term used in reference to the match that decided the 1950 Futebol World Cup in favor of the Uruguayan National Team, leaving the Brazilians desolate. The match took place at the Maracanã stadium, and is considered one of the biggest setbacks in the history of futebol.
About Marques Travae 3224 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.