Brian Homewood explains why the Brazilian authorities continue to be world leaders when it comes to bizarre decision making

During the FIFA International Board’s jaunt down to Rio de Janeiro for their annual meeting (it had originally been scheduled for Belfast but was moved to Rio “as a tribute to Dr João Havelange”), general secretary Sepp Blatter launched into a spiel in which he described his determination to stamp out violence on the field. He could not have chosen a more inappropriate venue for his speech.

Brazil does more to encourage violence on the pitch than possibly any other of FIFA’s members, thanks to a chaotic disciplinary system which appears to be geared exclusively to letting thugs get off the hook. The tribunal that recently imposed yet another minimum ban on Corinthians forward Edmundo is the latest example of the farcical depths to which the system can plummet.

Edmundo – readers may remember his goal at Wembley in the Umbro Cup – was sent off for the first time in a Corinthians shirt (but the umpteenth time during his career) in a Sao Paulo championship match against Santos. Along he went to the Sao Paulo federation tribunal (each Brazilian state has its own federation with its own tribunal) with a representative from his club, who took a video of the incident which he believed would prove that Edmundohad not really meant to whack Santos defender Sandro in the face.

When the video was put on, however, the tribunal was treated to an excerpt from Scooby Doo as the Corinthians rep had bought one of his sons’ tapes by mistake. Brazilian newspapers were left to speculate on which video the tribunal would watch at its next meeting —Tom and Jerry and Wacky Races (which still gets shown on TV in Brazil) were early favourites. Meanwhile, by a spectacular coincidence, Edmundo was freed to play in the following Sunday’s derby game against Palmeiras. His absence would, of course, have detracted form the game and many felt this was why he had treated with kid gloves once again.

When a bad foul is committed, it is quite normal for the referee to hesitate before reaching for his pocket and the television commentator to say: “He’s looking to see if the player has been booked already.” If the player has been booked already, the yellow card remains where it was. If the player is actually dismissed, there is a more reasonable chance that someone from the other team will go shortly to ‘compensate’.

The result of all this is bloodshed. Fifty to sixty fouls in a game is common in Brazil and the ball is rarely in play for more than 45 minutes. Edmundo has been one of the chief beneficiaries. He was sent off five times in 1993 (when he was playing for Palmeiras) and showed his displeasure at one red card by shoving his hand into the referee’s face. Of his five punishments, only one – a four month ban – was significant, but it was quickly overturned.

In 1994, he sparked a brawl in a Sao Paulo v Palmeiras derby which ended with six players sent off and a 15-minute delay as police were forced to intervene. He was initially suspended for 40 days, but Palmeiras responded by bringing in their first ‘suspensive effect’, a masterpiece of Brazilian footballing legislation which allows any player who is banned for two games or more to appeal against his punishment and carry on playing until the appeal is heard. If the appeal hearing re-imposes the ban, he can re-appeal and continue playing until the re-appeal hearing takes place.

The hearing took place after a six-week delay, but actually increased the penalty. This was a pretty pointless exercise as Palmeiras merely had to bring in the second suspensive effect. While he was waiting for his second hearing, Edmundo was able to play in the final of the Brazilian championship and played a decisive role as Palmeiras won the title.

Last year, Edmundo was finally given an exemplary 40-day suspension by the CBF (this was for an obscene gesture with his genitals at Vasco de Gama supporters during a game), but it was largely irrelevant as he had broken his toe only a few days earlier. The obvious conclusion: the CBF wanted to be seen to be tough without having to do anything.

The one saving grace is that Edmundo is a player of talent who is usually sent off for retaliation. More worrying is that many of the beneficiaries are hatchet men who threaten the integrity of the real players.

Gremio could not possibly have won last year’s Copa Libertadores if FIFA had managed to enforce the new laws about which they like to brag. Gremio, from southern Brazil, are a throw back to the darkest days of Argentine and Uruguayan football and their midfielder Dinho, who earned four red cards last year, is one of the most unsavoury characters in the game.

Eric Cantona’s karate kick was nothing compared to the one Dinho aimed at an opponent Vagner during Gremio’s quarter-final at home to Palmeiras. The incident instigated a brawl which held up play for ten minutes and in which Palmeiras manager Carlos Alberto Silva accused Gremio players of encouraging local police to hit his players.

There has long been a suspicion that Gremio deliberately try to cause fights in home games to get local police involved. Two years ago, there was a free-for-all in a South American Supercup tie (a competition for past Libertadores winners) at home to Penarol of Uruguay. At the first sight of trouble, the Gremio fans started chanting “bring on the riot police.” The riot police came on, and although the Penarol players put up a good rearguard action, they had to make a serious dash for the dressing-room to avoid a good beating.

Gremio have been accused of employing the ‘kicking rota’ system. This involves defenders taking it in turns to foul the opposition’s best player instead of employing a man-to-man marker to do it. This way they can reduce the risk of a player being sent off for repeatedly fouling the opposition’s top men.

Ferroviaria defenders deployed the tactic so effectively last year that their victim – Guarani’s Amoroso – was stretchered off after 20 minutes. Amoroso was one of Brazil’s top players at the time, on a par with Tulio and Romario, but the battering caused a recurrence of a knee injury which needed an operation. Amoroso, 21, only returned to first team football this year, on loan to Flamengo, but has yet to recover his form.

At least Sao Paulo can boast minimum bans. Until last year, the Rio de Janeiro federation did not impose any automatic suspension at all on red card offenders. Players sent off on Sunday matches were usually judged by a tribunal held on Thursday nights and routinely let off to play the following Sunday. (The Rio de Janeiro federation has the odd opening hours of 2pm to 10pm. Jorge Luis Rodrigues, a reporter from O Globo newspaper, explains that this was to allow its most stupid decisions to be made “in the middle of the night”).

Automatic bans were imposed, however, for accumulating three yellow cards. This led to several cases of players, such as Fluminense midfielder Claudio, deliberately getting themselves sent off. Claudio was given his third yellow late in a game against Flamengo: within two minutes he committed a blatant foul and a delberate handball before finally earning the red for not retreating ten yards at a free kick. That meant a visit to the Thursday night tribunal which duly let him play in the next game.

Red cards get an automatic suspension in the Rio championship this year, but when a player accumulates three yellows, clubs can buy their way out of the suspension by paying the measly sum of $500 to the federation. “This will just encourage violence and it will be the clubs who start whingeing when one of the star players gets hurt,” said Gerson, the 1970 World Cup midfielder, now a television commentator.

Referees are more likely to be punished than rewarded for upholding the law. Clubs are able to veto officials they do not like through skilful backroom manoeuvering and if a referee correctly sends a player off for, say, timewasting, he can quickly find himself out of favour. The punishment will be undeclared: instead of being told that he is banned, the ref will be, to use the local term, “put in the fridge” (ie he will not get any more big games).

From WSC 113 July 1996. What was happening this month

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