Sunday 16 August ~
With Brazilian clubs continuing to lose players in the transfer window the perennial calls are being made to bring the country's football calendar into line with Europe’s. There is near-unanimous support for restructuring from clubs who would free to play in tournaments in the European close season, as well as not losing players mid-championship. But the powerful Globo media network and, less openly, the Brazilian federation (CBF) are opposed to the change.
A political meeting in Brasilia on August 7 came to a consensus that the football calendar needs an overhaul. President Lula demanded that CBF president Ricardo Teixeira present him with a plan for reform within a month, announcing: “Either there's a law blocking the sale of players in the middle of the championship or you change the Brazilian calendar to be compatible with the opening of the transfer window internationally. We have to do something.”
The urgency of Lula's interest appears prompted by the recent exodus of players from his beloved Corinthians as much as a longer-term interest in the general welfare of the Brazilian game – he was after all elected back in 2002. Corinthians have lost Andre Santos, Cristiano and Douglas from the side that won the Copa do Brasil last month.
Sports daily Lance! reported last week that a survey of the country's 20 leading clubs showed 15 in favour of reform – an increase of five since 2008. Exhibit A is the disfigured national championship, bisected by the July/August sales which inevitably prompt an exodus of players from cash-strapped clubs. The January to December programme also prevents Brazilian clubs sending teams to participate in lucrative friendlies overseas. During this same July/August period Brazil crams in 13 of its 38 rounds of the championship in a frenetic two games per week schedule.
The lack of rationality was highlighted this week when a table-topping championship game between Atletico MG and Palmeiras was rescheduled to coincide with Brazil's international friendly in Estonia. Atleticanos' delight at Diego Tardelli's international debut was tempered by the absence of their leading scorer in the 1-1 league draw. The fixture pile-up also extends to international competitions with Conmebol scheduling a Copa Sudamericana fixture between Fluminense and Flamengo on the same day.
Teixeira is reportedly sympathetic to change, but he is far more interested in Brazil's 2014 World Cup bid than the country's clubs. A reformed season would mean paring back the archaic state championships that straddle the period from January to May. The CBF has been wont to pass this hot potato to the Globo network that holds broadcasting rights over the domestic league until 2011. Globo in turn likes to defer to commercial interests, arguing that contracts already signed make change impossible before 2012.
Even pro-reform elements such as Lance! worry about “the tradition of not having games in the Brazilian summer when many people are on holiday. This could undermine the sale of loyalty schemes such as season tickets and membership programmes”.
Others recognise that a co-ordinated approach is needed. The South American confederation, Conmebol, urgently needs to revise its schedule for the Copa Libertadores and the UEFA Cup-like Copa Sudamericana. Currently Brazil's jam-packed fixture list means that teams in the Libertadores are unable to compete in Brazil's principal national cup competition the Copa do Brasil.
Nonsensically, since the cup winners qualify for the Libertadores the following year, fixture overlap between the two competitions means the Copa do Brasil champions are never able to defend their title. Brazil's football calendar is crying out for reform but it's likely that the start date won't be circled for a while yet. Robert Shaw