9 September ~ Brazil's celebrated 1994 World Cup double act of Bebeto and Romário are hoping to convert success on the pitch into political capital this October when the nation votes at federal, state and city level. Both players will stand for the same party – the Partido Socialista Brasileiro (PSB) – but they will be ploughing separate furrows. Indeed their last contact saw Romário fire Bebeto as coach of Rio side America earlier this year. Cynics suggest that Romário's interest in politics suddenly surged in the wake of having to sell off his penthouse apartment in Rio's nouveau riche Barra de Tijuca to pay off debts.
Yet Romário does have a record of involvement with social projects. He has been particularly involved in the deprived district of Vila da Penha – an area of Rio wearily accustomed to confrontations between police and drug gangs. He has bagged his own personalised candidate number, appearing as "4011" in an effort to become elected to the national Congress. The 40 is the PSB electoral code, while 11 is the number that Romário was most identified with while playing for Vasco and Brazil. His political career started in inauspicious fashion, however. At the press conference to unveil his candidacy he got in a muddle, confusing the PSB and the centrist Partido da Social Democracia Brasileira.
Meanwhile, two of the idols from São Paulo's most popular club Corinthians – Marcelinho Carioca and Vampeta – will be out pressing the flesh for their respective parties in the coming weeks and no doubt hoping to trade on the club's centenary celebrations. Sceptics suggest that for footballers the attraction of party politics is continuing where they left off – staying in the limelight, while being highly rewarded for short working hours. In reality few of the candidates take a strong ideological stand, preferring the traditional mode of beauty contest hopefuls claiming to be keen on work with old people or animals. A profound grasp of the issues is also not expected from ex-footballer candidates who in many cases did not extend their classroom education beyond 16.
But it is not just players who have been out of the game for some time who are putting themselves forward. Marques, a striker with Atlético MG, opted to run as a state deputy for the PSB in Minas Gerais shortly after he scored in this year's Mineiro final – when it became clear that the club would not be renewing his contract. Even when footballers are not candidates, politicians often seek an association with the game by using team colours or seeking the endorsement of football celebrities. Outside the Maracanã last Sunday one candidate's poster had him receiving a hug from Flamengo legend Zico.
Some football figures have made longer term careers in politics. Vasco president, and former centre-forward, Roberto Dinamite has been a fixture as a deputy for the Partido do Movimento Democratico Brasileiro in the Rio de Janeiro state legislature for longer than he has held the reins of power at the club. His controversial predecessor at Vasco, Eurico Miranda, was censured for political advertising inside the club's stadium. He now includes the caption "ficha limpa" ("clean slate" – a provision aimed at stopping candidates with a crooked past or present entering politics) on his posters for the centre-right Partido Progressista – a claim that would stretch credibility for most voters.
Elections in Brazil remain one of the few happenings capable of bringing the country's football to a halt. Série A fixtures have been moved away from election Sunday in October. The late midweek games have also been shifted even later by political TV advertising in the weeks leading up to the elections. As a result some games kick off as late as 10pm. But when Brazilians go to the polls next month many in the compulsory system of voting may still feel compelled to "vote football", as they do on any other Sunday. Robert Shaw