View From Within
Brazil's Battered Football:
A Star's Outburst.

by Sócrates          Week of June 30 - July 06, 2001

His full name: Sócrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira. Best known as simply Sócrates, he was one of the finest midfielders in Brazilian football, having served the National Team in two World Cups – 1982 and 1986. As a young upstart, he refused to accept invitations to play for more prominent teams until he finished medical school in the city of Ribeirão Preto, where he played for the local club Botafogo. From there he went on to play for three of Brazil's best known sides – Corinthians, Flamengo and Santos, with a brief stint in Italy playing for Fiorentina. Always outspoken and politically active, he led a squad while playing at Corinthians that raised eyebrows as it broke with tradition in Brazilian clubs, demanding more open and respectful relations between players and club management – the group became known as "Democracia Corinthiana", at a time when public, democratic initiatives of any kind were of vital importance in Brazil: the final years of the military regime that ruled the country for 21 years, until 1985. Faced with the declining fortunes of Brazilian football in recent years, Sócrates has intensified his criticism of the backward, exploitive and corrupt manner in which Brazilian football has been managed for decades. The seriousness of the situation has made its way onto the pitch, where Brazil has fared progressively worse since losing the 1998 World Cup final to France. Brazil, the only country to play in all World Cups held since the tournament began in 1930, is currently having a great deal of trouble qualifying for the 2002 edition to be played in Japan and South Korea. Meantime, Brazil's football bosses – many of whom are active in the political arena and hold elected positions - have just faced two parliamentary inquiries which released reams of indicting evidence of the massive wrongdoing that has characterized the sport for decades. There is great anticipation as to what legal measures federal prosecutors will now take, based on the evidence presented. Sócrates, meantime, has emerged as one of the few credible voices condemning the sad state of Brazilian football, which now watches its top stars whisked off to Europe and even Japan, while lesser-known players remain in local clubs. Sócrates has toyed with the idea of running for the presidency of CBF, the Brazilian Football Confederation, a task that would involve something many analysts are comparing to an attempt to displace the Mafia.

Editor's Note: We asked Sócrates to complete this article prior to Sunday, July 01, when Brazil would play its next World Cup qualifying match in Montevideo, which turned out to be yet another defeat – this time to Uruguay, by a score of 1-0;

There's a great deal to consider in recent published reports linking former enemies Pelé and Ricardo Teixeira – the President of CBF, Brazil's Football Confederation – a connection apparently encouraged by President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. As one should expect, there is strong popular pressure for change in our football to take place immediately. But this requires a major overhaul. Philosophical and ethical practices must change dramatically, and the same goes for those who symbolize current practices: football club and federation bosses.

 

The backroom deal between Pelé and Teixeira strangely and suddenly put an end to years of bitterness and even legal action between the two. The agreement has been at the centre of most statements from the CBF President in recent times. If the deal so much as considers some sort of amnesty for the deeds of those who cashed in for so long at the expense of Brazilian football, and are now exposed by parliamentary inquiries and in search of an easy way out of the limelight… it would be best if they remained in place until everything is cleared up, even if this means driving our football even further into the ground.

 

If on the other hand, negotiations lead to short-term modifications to the current power structures within Brazilian football, shoving aside the current "cartel" in charge and introducing renewed management methods that include a complete rupture with the past and a restoration of morality, independence and competence, then let the changes begin now. So long as they do not interfere with the outcome of the two parliamentary commissions that investigated massive wrongdoing in football, and allow for these deeds to be effectively dealt with – especially the shady financial agreements involving football bosses, often concluded in far off lands…

 

How is any of this to be accomplished? We all know that it's not enough to simply change presidents at the CBF. The process will only recover from the mismanagement that has been the rule until now, and find a positive path to follow, if a new order can in fact be installed. It would have to make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for questionable or illegal activities and procedures to proliferate.

 

Our elected officials simply cannot avoid taking on this commitment with society. Beyond the obvious, more visible problems, there are many dubious aspects of ongoing negotiations that involve commercial considerations and deals between the CBF and its business partners – like Traffic, a sports marketing firm, or the payment of a court decision favouring Pelé against the CBF, and eventually, a greater presence on the Brazilian sports scene of Pelé's own sports marketing company, Pelé Sports – a direct competitor of Traffic.

 

As is hopefully becoming more noticeable – and without including other, somewhat "eternal" CBF business partners – this intricate web of interests is the agent responsible for all the ills that have led Brazilian football down such a ragged path. I believe Pelé may have forgotten certain important details when he chose to associate with these people. Anyone who is supposedly determined to help bring change to Brazilian football and sports in general, as he claims to be, cannot so much as consider working along side the everlasting leaders, because these are people without the slightest amount of honour and dignity to show for any of their actions. Also, anyone who says he is searching for the greater good, must steer clear of any possibilities of personal gain – even though the thousands of examples to the contrary that surround us insist on attempting to prove otherwise.  

 

Focusing now on what happens on the football field, and so all can clearly understand why Brazilian football has become a mere shadow of what it once was, we have just witnessed the disclosure of a new annual calendar – a direct result of this "agreement" involving CBF and club bosses, Pelé and the federal government. This self-described so-called solution for all of Brazilian football's problems actually provides a useful sampling of the utter confusion that dominates the sport, as played in this part of the world…

 

Instead of establishing a national championship with various levels, clubs placed in different levels according to their competence, all of it intertwined with regional, national and continental tournaments (as roughly happens in most countries where the game of football is reasonably or better organized), our "leaders" have managed quite the magnificent stunt: they've produced various regional championships, to be played simultaneously with championships in all states, along with some sort of a "supercup" and a Champions Cup – all of this during the first half of the calendar year. The second half of the year is mainly dedicated to our national championship, which this year will accommodate – for now* – 28 teams. All of this without considering the Copa America**, and national team matches still to come in the World Cup Qualifying tournament. Enough conflicting tournaments? Add to it all the fact that respecting pre-established rules and conditions has never been a strength among these people.

 

That, in a stomach-churning nutshell, is what we've got currently in Brazil: football is disorganized and incompetent, ruled by people who lack any ability to manage it accordingly, and engage in experimentalism, mercantilism, and certainly, authoritarianism. What a terrible fate.  

 

Related sites:
Sócrates – official website
(Portuguese only)
http://www.socrates.esp.br