Players and referees abused

icon racism15 March ~ Recent racist incidents have caused further embarrassment for Brazilian football in the build up to the 2014 World Cup. The verbal abuse from the crowd suffered by Santos midfielder Arouca against Mogi Mirim in São Paulo on March 6, along with similar treatment of referee Márcio Chagas da Silva in another match in Rio Grande do Sul the previous evening, have prompted widespread condemnation. Brazil tends to see itself as immune to racism in football, suggesting it is an exclusively European phenomenon and something their country has largely managed to avoid through racial intermixing and history of immigration.

A few weeks ago a Brazilian player, Tinga of Cruzeiro, was verbally abused by fans at a Copa Libertadores game with Peruvian side Real Garcilaso.

The lack of action to date from Conmebol towards Real Garcilaso is perhaps unsurprising given the South American confederation's high tolerance threshold of the vale tudo (anything goes) atmosphere at Libertadores matches and indulgence of Andean nations on other issues such as playing at altitude. But the reaction to the incidents in Brazil also gives cause for concern.

Mogi Mirim's player-president Rivaldo pledged to act against the perpetrators if identified, but added: "I just don't agree with punishing the club as we can't control the mouths of our fans." National coach Luiz Felipe Scolari told the O Globo newspaper: "These people are just imbeciles. You journalists should not give these people the chance to become bigger than they are. Don't give them anything and they will end up sleeping in a corner quietly."

In the case of black referee Chagas da Silva, who had bananas thrown into his car and was urged to "return to the jungle", the state's sports justice tribunal will consider a range of penalties that could even include relegation for the club whose fans were involved, Esportivo de Bento Goncalves.

Observers have noted the lack of intervention from the players' movement, Bom Senso FC, which emerged last year to campaign on players' conditions. The decision to restrict its activities to reform of the calendar and related matters looks like a wasted opportunity.

It is unlikely that Brazilian fans will replicate this behaviour at the World Cup, but one important fallout from such incidents could be a greater willingness to take practical steps to address racism in football and sport more generally. There are very few black faces in Brazilian football's dugouts and directors' boxes and in the TV studios that report on the game. It is not just racial abuse that the country has to deal with, but equality of opportunity. Robert Shaw

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