Brazil breaks down racial barriers with diversity of football stars

World Today

Football was plagued by racism when it was first brought to Brazil from England. That was more than 120 years ago. Now, most of Brazil’s best football players are black or mixed-race.

As CGTN’s Lucrecia Franco explains, there’s a reason for that.
Follow Lucrecia C. Franco on Twitter @LucreciaFranco

Some people in Brazil say football is a religion, not a sport. Brazil is a five-time, World Cup champion nation, and when a football game starts, the country stops.

Brazil’s most famous footballers come from humble backgrounds, which are usually poor, predominantly black and mixed race neighborhoods. Seeing their heroes sign lucrative contracts gives strong incentive for young Brazilians to train hard and practice. Some people, however, believe this inspiration can be more realistically directed.

The Bola Pra Frente Institute is making a big investment in football to promote social change for hundreds of poor children.

“Most of them think the only way to get out of poverty is through football, but we tell them that very few, or none, will make it, but sports can give them the discipline to become whatever they want to be,” said Michelle Araujo, a project manager for the Institute.

In 1894, football was introduced in Brazil by Charles Miller, a Brazilian-Scott who formed the country’s first all-white team. Slavery had been abolished just six years earlier. No one could have imagined Pele would become one of the greatest footballers of all time, or that there would be a player like Neymar. 

It was the football club, Vasco da Gama, that first broke the racial barrier. The club won the Rio state championship in 1923 with an interracial squad made up of whites, blacks and mulattos. It was the birth of Brazil’s “jogo bonito,” or “the beautiful game”.

There was a reaction to Vasco’s victory. A breakaway league was formed, but lasted only ten years. The Vasco fan base surged ticket sales, that resulted in the construction of South America’s biggest football stadium.