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August 4, 2010

Hey guys! Here we go, my first post at this brand spanking new blog dedicated entirely to the art of futebol, or soccer, or football, or calcio….whatever you’d like to call it!

And to celebrate, I shall kick things off with a few articles I wrote last month (I know, not exactly a new post; bear with me!); one for Winnipeg’s Urban coolio newspaper The Uniter, and the others for myself… just ‘cuz!


June 29th 2010

Why the beautiful game is so beautiful

A ranty love letter to the sport that unifies the world

by Rod Beilfuss

Whether you call it “football,” “futbol,” “futebol,” “calcio” or “soccer” (yuck!), frankly, it doesn’t matter – the game is far more important than the semantics. You should indeed pay attention and respect to “the beautiful game.”

After all, soccer (see, I will even be diplomatic and use your redneck nickname for the sport) is the world’s most popular game.

Currently, the world has been focusing its attention on South Africa, where the 19th FIFA World Cup Finals are being held. The tournament has been a tremendous success so far, and the games keep getting more and more exciting. Certainly, this World Cup has proven that soccer is a global phenomenon that transcends the game itself (a bold statement, I know!).

But, before we get into the World Cup, let’s analyze soccer itself. “What makes it so special?” you, the fashionable Bombers fan holding the 7/11 Big Gulp cup, might ask.

Well, take that expression “the beautiful game,” for instance. Why “beautiful”? Personally, I see beauty as something magical. There is something captivating, almost delightfully absurd, about trying to do with your feet what you can only do with your hands.

Think about it! Doesn’t that sound utterly stupid? No hands: feet! And that is why soccer is such a brilliant game. It’s unique. It requires very little to be played, but it does require a lot of brain and muscle for it to be played well. And, when it is played well, it is magical and truly beautiful.

Soccer is also a rebel sport. The referees don’t use video replays, and the game clock never stops. Incidentally, that is one of the arguments as to why soccer “never made it” in North America: without a stop-start system, networks can’t break for commercials.

The game flows like jazz, and what will happen is unpredictable. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, soccer isn’t a “sissy game,” but a game with a pair of raging big cojones. Players must finish what they started, and they must also deal with the grey morality of the game.

FIFA, soccer’s governing body, gives more international voice to countries than global politics does. Undoubtedly, the World Cup is about that beautiful idea of a harmonious global village.

After all, when you have one human being making all the calls without the use of video replay, he is bound to make mistakes. Ah, shush, Bombers fan! It’s not about “being fair.” This is not a morality lesson. You cannot tame magic.

And, pardon my cliché, it’s all part of the game.

However, more importantly, soccer has become the best sportive reflection of a globalized world. Therefore – and you will have to pardon the cliché once again – soccer is about a lot more than just soccer.

Which brings me to the World Cup, the largest event in the world. Yes, larger than the Olympics; even larger than the entire collection of drunken Lindsay Lohan photographs floating around the Web.

Just to put things in perspective, 204 nations (Canada included) played over a period of four years and tried to qualify for the 32 spots in the finals. That is 12 more nations than the whole of the United Nations (192).

That means that FIFA, soccer’s governing body, gives more international voice to countries than global politics!

Undoubtedly, the World Cup is about that beautiful idea of a harmonious global village. It began as a small event in Uruguay in 1930 and it has now become the largest cultural gathering on the planet.

Furthermore, the political elements of the tournament are fascinating. It was in a 1986 World Cup match against England that Maradona’s Argentina
finally avenged their defeat in the Falklands War. Also through a World Cup, Germany learned the power of unity when they became victorious in 1990 as one nation, just months after the fall of that infamous Berlin Wall.

Moreover, I have always been fond of the 1998 match between the USA and Iran. The game was irrelevant in terms of points – both teams had already been eliminated – but this wasn’t about numbers; it was about two “enemy” cultures coming together in peace. Instead of exchanging animosity, the players exchanged flowers; they shook hands, took pictures, and played some footy. Iran won the match, 2-1.

As I mentioned, it was irrelevant for the tournament, but the streets of Tehran still exploded with joy. It is even said that many women removed their headscarves and partied as if Iran had suddenly become a free and democratic country.

That is why the World Cup matters. The planet’s largest Folklorama has become an international common language through soccer. In South Africa, 64 games will be played between countries from all corners of the Earth.

Teams will not compete through oppressive means, but with humility. They will share a common piece of land: the soccer pitch, where nations coexist in peace despite their differences. They come together for one common purpose: to entertain.

It is a beautiful idea. Utopian, one might say. You can call me a dreamer, but hey – I’m not the only one.

Born in Brazil, Rod Beilfuss is a local actor and playwright. When he’s not on stage or watching the beautiful game, he works as the office administrator for the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association. The FIFA World Cup is scheduled to conclude on Sunday, July 11.



“Boo-hoo, I want video technology!” (quit soccer then)

by Rod Beilfuss on Sunday, June 27, 2010 at 8:51pm

The day FIFA introduces video technology and playback of moments during the game, in order for refs to make up their minds about a call, will be the day that I quit being a soccer fan.

So Tevez was offside?! boo hoo!

So Lampard scored a pretty goal that the ref didn’t see?! Boo hoo!

That is what soccer is. Deal with it. It is a metaphor for life. The day refs stop making mistakes, and the game becomes clear-cut, predictable and infallible, it will stop being fun. It will stop being a game.

The obsession with “being fair” and seeking “justice” is far too American for my taste. Personally.

These are athletes, not preachers.

And that’s that!

I will repeat what I’ve once said: soccer is like Jazz. It is “flawed”, improvized, and continuous. The past does not matter, and the future is always a surprise.

Look at how whiney soccer players already are!! Do you think that introducing video replay will help?? No, they would demand to see a replay of EVERYTHING on the pitch: shirt grabs, high kicks, use of bad language…etc.
The match would last 6 hours, and in between segments: commercials! Great. NFL conquers the world of soccer. Awesome.
Talk about American Imperialism.

Mexico was unable to find their rhythm in the game after that bad call with Tevez being offside. Well, that’s Mexico’s fault. Get it together. Stop the whining.
England got their asses whipped, 4 x 1. All because of ONE bad call?? Really? Really England fans?

2 more assistant refs by each net in 2014 Brazil: ok.
Video replays: never.

Clean, goody-goody heroes belong in American films.
Soccer heroes are “street smart”. They are sneaky. They are unpredictable. They bend physics and the rules. They are Gods. They have never claimed to be teaching good morals through the sport. Most of them barely have an education.
This is not Sunday school. This is a game.

I support diving, I support handballs, I support shirt grabbing, I support EVERYTHING….so long as the officials support it all.
If they blow the whistle and say “hey, that’s wrong, yellow card”, awesome. I will support the ref then too.
If they don’t see anything, I don’t see anything.

There, there’s your morality. Simple.

That doesn’t mean I don’t get mad because of a bad call. Of course I do. Like in life, when bad stuff happens, I rant. I disagree. I fight to defend my opinion. But, ultimately, a game of soccer belongs to the ref. And that’s that.

The debates are always the same, every 4 years: “this new ball SUCKS”, “screw you ref”, “stadiums won’t be ready in time”, “offside, that was an offside, godDAMN it”‘….ya know why they are always the same? Because, like I said: soccer is like real life. And in real life, our memories are short. Very short.
We re-elect politicians we used to hate, we forgive criminals, we think “this time England will WIN”…

Short memories.

Such is life.

Such is soccer.

Moralists, if y’all want “justice”, come up with a religion. This is real life. It is unfair.

Man…I love soccer.



Foul Move: How the international trading of Brazilian footballers has become a system of slavery

by Rod Beilfuss on Friday, April 23, 2010 at 1:28am

Slavery is a social practice in which the basic human rights of the individual are not respected. Fundamentally, the slave does not hold any rights whatsoever, and he/she is considered to be merely merchandise that can be donated, sold or traded for other goods. Brazil is a country whose history is still tainted by its long relationship with a slavery system that came to an end only in 1888 – making it the last country in the New World to adopt abolition. It was also during that time that capitalism became the new norm for means of production.

The first Brazilian product of mass exportation was sugar, and by the 1600s the country was the world’s largest producer of that commodity. Indeed, during those colonial days, sugar was what Brazil was famous for, and the greedy Senhores de Engenho (sugar planters) were at the top of the structure of the society. Currently, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, Brazil has fixed itself as a rising superpower, and much attention will be paid to the country as it hosts both the 2014 FIFA World Cup as well as the 2016 Olympics – the two biggest events in sports on the planet.

However, albeit industrialized and politically stable, Brazil remains haunted by its past with slavery. The mass importation of African slaves during Brazil’s colonial period has produced a complex society that is inexplicably both multicoloured and racist, as the men at the top of the pyramid continue to be part of the white business elite. And with a diversified economy, Brazil is obviously no longer associated with sugar alone. Nevertheless, the globalized and capitalistic system of trade that runs the world economy today has tagged a new product as being specifically truly Brazilian; and the product is the worker himself: the Brazilian footballer. Brazil is currently the world’s largest producer and exporter of footballers. And, sadly enough, these players (mostly mulattoes and blacks) are virtually treated like slaves: they are bought, sold and traded, and they are not allowed to voice their opinions without the consent of either the clubs they play for, or the private business agents that run their lives. Thus, the question emerges: could football clubs and agents be considered “21st century Senhores de Engenho”, and their athletes the slaves that produce millions of dollars by doing tricks on the pitch?

A symbol of not only big business and marketing, but also of cultural identity and passion, football for most Brazilians is what truly defines their national culture. Since the introduction of the sport in the country by an Anglo-Brazilian called Charles Miller in 1894, “the violent British sport did unexpectedly well…more than that, Brazilians invented a flamboyant, thrilling and graceful style that has set an unattainable benchmark for the rest of the world” (Bellos 2002, 1). Indeed, with credentials like that, it is easy to understand why the rest of the world would like to taste a bit of Brazil’s glory in the sport by having Brazilians play for their teams. According to journalist Alex Bellos and the Brazilian Football Confederation, there are about 5,000 Brazilian footballers playing professionally in foreign lands – “…about four times the number of the country’s diplomats. In many ways the footballing diaspora is a parallel diplomatic service” (Bellos 2002, 10). Indeed, for Brazilians, no country is too small or too remote. The dream of becoming the next Pele is worth any sacrifices.

Until 1998, before the creation of the so-called Pelé Law, Brazilian footballers were essentially considered to be true slaves of the sport. According to Brazilian journalist Roberto Torero, before that law was implemented a football club could “hold on to a player for his entire life…and then came the Pelé Law, its adaptations and new interpretations, the insurance policies and benefits it allowed the players to gain, and things changed; but not really” (Torero 2009). Torero argues that even though footballers now have more control over their destiny and image, they still belong to someone: “besides clubs, we now have entrepreneurs, investment groups, greedy relatives, stockbrokers, etc…all trying to use the players in order to bank on the big business that Brazilian football has become” (Torero 2009). Moreover, given the absurd nature of 21st century capitalism, one would not be surprised if banks suddenly decided to offer quotas on Brazilian athletes – that way we could all perhaps “own a piece” of Ronaldinho, similarly to the way we can purchase stocks from Petrobrás, for instance. However, aside from Torero’s analysis, the really astonishing fact is that players in Brazil acquired some of the basic rights that are granted to any worker only in 1998. That is, until fairly recently, there were barely any unions capable of protecting the rights of the players, and footballers were not even allowed to voice criticism against the management of their teams. Nevertheless, the creation of such positive laws and rights back-fired in one instance: by taking away such omnipotence from the clubs, the true management and decision-making power in a player’s life fell into the hands of a greedy businessman known as the agent.

The figure of the entrepreneur/agent in Brazilian football has been rather successful due mainly to the lack of education and poor intellect of the average Brazilian footballer. In his book “Soccer in Sun & Shadow”, Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano points out that “a recent survey in Brazil showed that two out of three professional footballers never finished primary school. Many of these – half – have black or brown skin…Brazilian football today is not much different from the days when Pele was a child and used to steal peanuts in the train station” (Galeano 2003, 217). Indeed, somewhat ‘inspired’ by the tales of Pele and Ronaldo, most Brazilian kids think that the only way out of poverty is through football, instead of an education. In a way, the youth in Brazil is enslaved to this utopian notion of success in football; and it is this romanticized idea of the sport that agents use to lure young footballers into signing contracts that will eventually cost their freedom.

Furthermore, in the article “Coffee, Slaves & Football”, journalist Roberto Torero points out that some small teams in Brazil use agents as the actual managers of the club’s youth squads. That is, the only way for a player to leave the youth base and join the professional team is for him to sign an official contract with the agent. Thus, the entrepreneur-agent in Brazilian football has become successful not only because most players are uneducated and unable to manage their own lives, but also due to the sheer incompetence in management of most of the teams in Brazil. Some clubs will not even sign a player if an agent does not officially represent the athlete. Undoubtedly, footballers in Brazil have given up the freedom they had gained through the Pele Law: they have ceased to be slaves of the clubs in order to become slaves of the financial interests of entrepreneurs and agents.

Surely, the agent intervention in the world of football usually generates corruption and issues that could end a player’s career – and the true loser is football itself. When clubs used to solely administer the lives of their players, they at least had the ultimate interest of becoming champions. That is not the case with the agent; his interest lies in selling the player – and if possible, multiple times. According to Torero, it is as if the player was no longer a common slave, but a “slave of shared gains” (Torero 2009). Similarly to prostitutes, footballers in Brazil have become workers that are essentially free, but whose income must be shared with their true “owners”. Certainly, with the presence of the agent who invests in the youth divisions, many young players that begin to shine find themselves stuck, and eventually forced to leave Brazil by being sold to the big, corporate-run teams in Europe. In that transaction alone, the agent will indeed pocket thousand of dollars, and Brazil will have lost yet another of its native sons. Football clubs that are poorly managed lose their best players, and without their best players, Brazil essentially loses its best football.

Moreover, journalist Alex Bellos describes this trading system specifically as “modern day slavery – a scramble to sign up the ‘rights’ to promising youngsters and then make money by selling them to the highest bidder. While a few agents are becoming very rich, most (Brazilian) clubs are left destitute, most players impoverished, and the ‘beautiful game’ lies on the operating table” (Bellos 2002, 337). The following tale by Bellos is even more revealing – and shocking:

“I use the term ‘slavery’ with reason. Once in Florianopolis, I met with Vidomar Porto, who used to be the night watchman at local club Avai. Vidomar, aged forty-five, was not paid his wages so he sued his employer. The court ordered Avai to pay up. Only the club was broke. Its only liquid asset was its striker, Claudiomir. So the judge ordered that Claudiomir become Vidomar’s property. But what could a night watchman do with a striker? Vidomar wanted money. So he decided to sell him to another team: ‘I telephoned Claudiomir’, Vidomar told me. ‘He accepted it well. He knew I didn’t have anything against him. We were friends just like we were before’. The pair, accompanied by Vidomar’s lawyer, Waldermar Justino, drove up the coast to sell him to Joinville, a rival club”.

(Bellos 2002, 337)

Indeed, it is as though the football clubs were the Brazilian coffee plantations of the 19th century, the players the slaves, and the coffee football itself. As Torero points out, in this “productive system, the entrepreneur, or agent, does not contribute to anything; he would not be missed at all” (Torero 2009). According to the independent blog on Brazilian economy Straightening out the Bill, in 2006 alone Brazil exported about 851 players to 86 different countries – including Libya, Uzbekistan, Faroe Islands, Cyprus, Vietnam and Thailand; the Central Bank of Brazil profited about US$ 131 million with those transactions. Furthermore, one quick glance at that list of destination countries would be enough for one to realize the very nature of these types of transfers. Indeed, they are not necessarily motivated by the player’s desire to improve the quality of his skills and life, as most of those 86 countries have little (if any) tradition in football. Those transactions are purely business-focused; after all, why would a Brazilian footballer want to play in places such as the Faroe Islands?

Nevertheless, despite all issues, there are possible solutions that, in the long run, could end the exploitation of Brazilian footballers. Certainly, if the Brazilian football league is the world’s largest producer of stars, why not properly advertise its games to the entire planet? Why not pitch it as a true football “talent display window”, and sell that as the ‘coffee’, instead of the players? As Torero points out, “the Brazilian league should be watched by the whole world, and our clubs should profit from that. But the reality is the opposite. We are the ones that buy ‘coffee’ from abroad – coffee that was planted and that is played by Brazilians” (Torero 2009). Unfortunately, many football supporters in Brazil now choose to stay home and watch Barcelona play Real Madrid on television, instead of flooding the local stadiums that once hosted legendary names such as Domingos da Guia, Garrincha and Pelé.

However, the most effective way to put an end to this “export industry” – as author Galeano describes Latin American football – would be to truly educate the athletes. By making it mandatory that the players have at least a secondary education in order to become professional footballers (as in the case of Basketball League rules in the United States), Brazilians would cease to be slaves of the idea that football is a ‘legitimate’ option to avoid getting an education – and thus, the country would put an end to the mass exportation of its talented youth. In the book Bola Fora: the history of the exodus in Brazilian Football, sports journalist Paulo Vinicius Coelho states that Brazil has, over the years, produced a generation of footballers that “think the only way out of their problematic lives is the airport” (Coelho 2009, 145). Lamentably, Brazil finds itself in a situation where its ‘slaves’ are sliced up and shared between businessmen; the ‘coffee farms’ are going bankrupt; and the ‘coffee’ is barely drinkable.

The extraordinarily high number of footballers that leave Brazil every year has turned the Brazilian Dream into anything but Brazilian. Additionally, the modern day player has become a slave of the absurd idea of becoming the ‘next Pelé’. Similarly to Brazil’s economy and social programs during the years that immediately followed the abolition of slavery, the country’s current football clubs have been unable to deliver proper services, and are incapable of competing against the seductive offers from international teams. With such a lack of infrastructure, Brazil’s clubs cannot attract proper investments, and they lack accountability. Indeed, a football agent does not need much artistry in order to convince a poorly educated athlete to sign a contract that will take him away from such deplorable conditions.

Nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel. A solution would be to strengthen Brazilian clubs, in order for them to hold on to their talented players for a longer period of time. Additionally, new legislations must be put in place so that players who are still under 18 years of age are forbidden to sign big contracts with international corporation-clubs. These are kids after all, and their image and public persona should be protected and belong to them alone.

Finally, Brazilian football is part of the country’s cultural heritage. Therefore, it must be preserved as such. And in order for it to be preserved, it must remain Brazilian – and thus, the incessant exit of its best players from their homeland must be regulated. Recently, the much-publicized homecoming of football superstars Robinho and Adriano has renewed the hopes and dreams of Brazilians, who wish to see their favourite players in top form and on home ground. Doubtlessly, if Brazil would like to prove itself worthy of its status as a rising superpower, it is imperative that the country stops selling its talented youth to foreign powers at “banana prices”. Instead, they should be investing in these youngsters, and not thinking about making profits by getting rid of them. It is time for Brazil to realize how truly good its own coffee tastes.



Brazilian Football, Race & Culture

by Rod Beilfuss on Monday, April 26, 2010 at 9:39pm

My response/review on an article I read regarding race and Brazilian footballers:

The story of the black man overcoming racial prejudices and conquering the world’s most popular game is a fascinating – and somewhat tragic – one. And one could not discuss the themes of race and class division within the world of football without bringing up the name of one of the sport’s most gifted players, Brazilian fullback Domingos da Guia. In the article “Domingos da Guia: a Mestizo Hero on and off the Soccer Field”, historian Leonardo Pereira narrates the achievements and misfortunes of Brazil’s most celebrated defense man with great detail, while still addressing the main issues of those troubled days: Brazil’s quest for a cultural identity, class warfare and racism.

Brazil is a rainbow nation unlike any other, and because a large portion of its citizens are of mixed-race descent, the country – at first glance – seems to function as a harmonious racial democracy. However, the reality is of course far more complex as Brazil’s relationship with racism goes beyond the colour of one’s skin; it is defined by class subdivisions, levels of education, regionalisms, and of course, how good a footballer one is. Author Pereira is successful in describing the cultural-political scenario of Brazil in the 1930s, when Domingos rose to stardom. He pays close attention to names such as sociologist Gilberto Freyre and then President Getulio Vargas, and deservedly so, as they were two of the most influential people in the country at the time. Freyre and Vargas helped in establishing the idea that a multicultural nation was in fact a positive thing worthy of celebration, and that therein lied the key to a “truly Brazilian” identity. Moreover, as Pereira points out, it was within this cultural context that Domingos (a mulatto) appeared and quickly became a national sensation.

However, if we put the social-political context of 1930s Brazil aside, we will find at the very core of Pereira’s article a simple tale of a lucky man who happened to be in the right place, at the right time. And that is true simply because of the fact that Domingos was not the very first outstanding Brazilian footballer, and yet he is generally considered to be the first great one. Indeed, there had been many other mixed-race players who were just as talented as, or perhaps even more so, than Domingos. As Pereira points out, “Luiz Antonio was widely recognized as one of the best players in Brazil, (but) not one of the wealthy traditional teams even attempted to sign him…because he was Afro-Brazilian “(160).

Unfortunately, the reality is that countless great players had probably fallen into complete anonymity even before Domingos knew how to play football, simply because they were black. Thus, despite the harshness that Domingos had to endure (according to Pereira, he was so fearful and embarrassed of his own race that he wore a cap to hide his curly hair), he was indeed a lucky man for having ultimately succeeded in the sport. And by having succeeded, Domingos inadvertently paved the way to many other future black and mulatto football stars.

Moreover, Domingos inadvertently paved that path because there seems to be no indication that he actually had any personal ambitions to lessen racial segregation in Brazil. In fact, as Pereira suggests, he did not even like to be associated with the colour black. Domingos considered himself “better” than that; he was “at least” a mulatto (a mestizo) and therefore more worthy of gaining the respect of the white elite. Undeniably, such complex contradictions regarding race and class are trademarks of Brazilian culture to this very day.

Furthermore, Domingos could have been considered ‘extra’- lucky because he was from Rio de Janeiro. Pereira fails to mention that only players from the State of Rio de Janeiro were selected to play for Brazil in FIFA’s 1930 World Cup, because of the ‘obscure’ ways in which the leagues of Rio and Sao Paulo were organized. If that had not been the case, the very first professional footballer of black origin, and a compulsive goal scorer, Arthur Friedenreich (the son of a German father and an Afro-Brazilian mother, and a native from Sao Paulo) would have probably become the first true Afro-Brazilian star, and essentially overshadowed Domingos’s futures endeavours, fame and glories. Domingos was a ‘lucky’ man indeed.

Nevertheless, the ultimate great achievement of Pereira’s article is that it tells us the story of not only the struggles and genius of Domingos da Guia, but also of the birth of Brazilian football as it would become known around the globe. The Brazilian style of play is generally associated with an attacking, goal-seeking mentality. Therefore, for the most part, Brazilians will prefer strikers over defenders as their football Gods. Thus, it is interesting that Pereira would choose to use Domingos, a fullback, instead of someone like Leonidas da Silva, a creative striker, as the subject for his article on race and football. Both players were selected for the 1938 World Cup in France, and both charmed the world with their unique dance-like style of play. However, according to journalist Alex Bellos in his book “Futebol: the Brazilian way of Life“, it was Leonidas who firmly established himself as the “most famous man in Brazil…becoming the first footballer to endorse a product”, immediately following Brazil’s success in France in 1938 (39). The product was a chocolate bar called Diamante Negro (“Black Diamond”, the French press nickname for Leonidas). The Diamante Negro is still around – “it is Brazil’s second-bestselling chocolate bar”, and available in ten other countries (39). Nevertheless, given the political situation of the time, a defensive player seemed to have served Pereira best as the centre piece to his study on culture and society in a time of growing dictatorial and militaristic rule.

Ultimately, Domingos da Guia fits Pereira’s analysis of class/race warfare better than Leonidas (a fully Afro-Brazilian) because he was a man of mixed race – the embodiment of the “True Brazilian”. And in that mixture of colours we find the essence of the contradictions within Brazilians. The notion of ‘racial democracy’ seems to belong in a fantasy world almost, instead of a vast and unevenly developed nation such as Brazil. Nonetheless, this dream, this utopian idea of a harmonious and colourful society resulted in a very real and substantial creation; an art-form unlike any other and that has been embraced by the entire world: Brazilian football.


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