Saturday, 12 April 2014

Children's Stories Trump On-Field Results at Street Child World Cup

From the old timers in the Brazilian boteco reminiscing about when Pele and Garrincha ruled the world, to the kid in the Bronx telling his buddies about the wonder goal he saw Cristiano Ronaldo score on cable the night before, soccer is a game of stories.

And nowhere are there as many stories as at the Street Child World Cup, an event which brings together teams of former street kids from all over the world to play in a tournament aimed at raising awareness of the plight of homeless children. This year’s competition, held in Rio de Janeiro, ended on Sunday, with Tanzania beating Burundi 3-1 in the boys’ final, and the Brazil girls’ team thrilling the home crowd with a 1-0 victory over the Philippines.

There is the story of the Burundi boys’ team, which features both Hutu and Tutsi players and is becoming a symbol of reconciliation in a country still recovering from the devastation wreaked by a bloody 12 year civil war that left an estimated 300,000 dead.

“When we get back we’re going to tour Burundi,” says coach Teddy Bright. “The boys will go around the country and play soccer, and after each game they will deliver a message of reconciliation. They will tell people look at us, we’re Hutu and Tutsi, but we can live together and play soccer together.”

Then there is Crystal, the girl from the Philippines who spent the early years of her life living in a cemetery in Manila. “Street children live here in the cemetery because otherwise they don’t have shelter,” she says...

You can read the rest of this article on the Sports Illustrated website here. The artwork is "Morro da Favela" (1945) by Tarsila do Amaral.   

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Taking It To The Street

While Brazil and FIFA continue to fret over late stadiums and spiralling World Cup costs, another kind of football tournament, far removed from the sleekly corporate world of Sepp Blatter and co, kicks off in Rio de Janeiro this Sunday.

The Street Child World Cup will bring together teams of young people from a variety of countries, ranging from the desperately poor (Burundi and Liberia) to the comparatively wealthy (the UK and USA), to raise awareness of the plight of the millions of children across the world who are forced to sleep rough every night. All of the players have spent at least some of their lives on the streets.

The aim of the event, which features a girls’ and a boys’ tournament and is supported by footballing greats such as Pele, David Beckham and Gary Lineker, is encapsulated by its slogan “I Am Somebody.” The idea behind the project is to give the children a voice and allow them to speak for themselves about the issues that affect their lives...

This article about the Street Child World Cup in Rio de Janeiro was published in The Independent on March 28th. You can read the rest here. The painting is "O Abaporu" by Tarsila do Amaral, the work which sparked the Movimento Antropofagico, or the "Cannibalist Movement", a modernist school led by Oswaldo de Andrade. 

Friday, 14 March 2014

No Place Like Home As Brazilian Clubs Reject World Cup Venues

When the Frank Sinatra of Brazil comes to town, it’s time to roll out the red carpet. What better venue, then, to host a Recife gig by legendary crooner Roberto Carlos than the spanking new Arena Pernambuco, built especially for the World Cup?

At least one, it seems. For rather than the new stadium, the singer’s concert in the city next month will be held amidst the more decidedly more spartan terraces of Arruda, the aging concrete bowl that is home to Santa Cruz FC.

“I don’t know why he decided to perform at the Santa stadium,” moaned Ricardo Leitão, World Cup organising director in Pernambuco. “The Arena was planned as a multi-use venue, and was designed and built to host football matches and musical events.”

“We wanted to put on the biggest show we could,” said Cicão Chies, the show’s producer, who expects to sell 50,000 tickets for the gig. “Because of the location we decided that Arruda was the best venue.”

While there has been much talk of the possibility of white elephant stadiums in “non-footballing” cities, such as Manaus, Brasilia and Cuiaba, where local teams have few fans, there is another, more subtle threat to the long-term viability of a number of the new World Cup stadiums... 

You can read the rest of this piece on the ESPN site here. The painting is "Paisagem Brasileira" ("Brazilian Landscape") by Lasar Segall (1925).

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Tostao Interview - Independent On Sunday

While Romario howls in protest at overspending and Ronaldo grins cheesily from the pulpit of Fifa officialdom, another of Brazil's former greats is in two minds about what the World Cup might mean for his country. 

Could hosting this summer's finals lead to the same outcome for Brazil as occurred in Britain when the patriotism generated by Margaret Thatcher's pursuit of the Falklands War served to distract people from their grievances with her, to such an extent that she was re-elected off the back of that eventual triumph? 

"Exactly!" agrees Tostao, a key figure in the legendary 1970 World Cup side of Pele, Jairzinho, Rivelino and more, but now an influential newspaper columnist. "If Brazil win, we'll have to put up with Jose Maria Marin [the unpopular head of the Brazilian FA] and the politicians saying how the World Cup was a huge success and that Brazil is the country of football, where everything is perfect."

This interview with the great Tostao appeared in The Independent on Sunday this week. The painting is "O Goleiro" or "The Goalkeeper", by Vicente Do Rego Monteiro. 

Saturday, 8 March 2014

In Brazil, We All Watch The World Cup

Cazá, cazá, cazá cazá cazá!” the man shouts in my face. It is the Sport battle cry, and in some places this would be considered poor manners. In Recife, it is normal enough behavior. Soon most of the bar has joined in (even if it is normal enough behavior, it is still very annoying, especially if, like me, you support Santa Cruz, Sport’s local rivals). 

Even in football hotbeds, the Seleção often takes second place to the tribalism and club rivalries that are the lifeblood of the Brazilian game, and the religion of gozação, or mickey-taking. Among many Brazilian football fans there is the feeling that the Seleção is other-worldly and remote – its players ply their trade for the European super clubs, and the team has sold its soul to Nike and big business, becoming not much more than a money making tool for the CBF and its noxious president Jose Maria Marin (according to the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper the entity will earn more than U$128 million in sponsorship money during World Cup year).

In the world of Brazilian football the Seleção is the plush gated community and the local clubs are the favela or the periferia (the scruffy outer suburbs). And a lot more Brazilians live in favelas and the periferia than live in gated communities....

This piece of World Cup blarney is available in full on the A Football Report site. The fantastic painting, which shows Jesus (in a Santa Cruz shirt) being sold out by Judas (in a Náutico top) is by Recife artist Wellington Virgolino, and is a pretty good example of the importance of local rivalries in Brazilian football. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Futebol = Life

Life imitates art far more than art imitates life, wrote Oscar Wilde, who may not have spent much time in Brazil. For here it is not art that life imitates but football. There is arguably nowhere in the world where the game is so gloriously and tragically tied to the feats and failures of the society that surrounds it. And it is hard to think of another country whose history is so symbiotically linked to the sport, or that looks so pleadingly to the success of its national team for self-validation.

“Football reflects society,” wrote Tostão, the great midfielder from Brazil’s 1970 World Cup winning side and now a columnist for the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper. “Sport in Brazil is changing, just like the country. Slowly, but it’s changing.” That was back in 2000, but it applies just as well today.

Futebol = life

If Brazilian football reflects Brazilian society, or vice versa, it is not always a pretty reflection. 
40,000 or more murders a year translate to 234 (and counting) football related deaths since 1988. The regional disparity between the relatively prosperous sul and sudeste and the desperately poor norte and nordeste is recreated on the country’s football pitches, where no team from north of the state of Minas Gerais has won the league in the last 25 years.

The sloth and moral decrepitude of much of the nation’s governing class gazes dully back at its mirror image, the sloth and moral decrepitude of the CBF (the Brazilian FA) and the state federations that run the game. Brazil’s social and racial inequality is played out on the terraces, where fans are most often black or brown skinned where tickets are cheap, becoming visibly paler when the stadium is swisher or the occasion grander....

You can read the rest of this piece on Brazilian football and society on the ESPN website here. The painting is "Quadro os Operarios" ("Portrait of the Workers") by Tarsila do Amaral (1933).

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

How Ready Is Brazil?

It is easy to forget that before last year’s Confederations Cup Brazil were a side in serious decline, ranked number 19 in the FIFA world rankings in April 2013. Most of the senior playing staff had been culled following the galling defeat against Holland at the 2010 World Cup, and Brazil were in need of serious rebuilding.

That process finally bore fruit last June, after Mano Menezes’ groundwork with a young team had been hewn into shape by the battle-hardened Luiz Felipe Scolari, and Brazil harnessed the energy of the often violent street protests that raged outside the stadiums to sweep Italy, Uruguay and Spain aside on their way to the title...

You can read more about Brazil's fraught World Cup preparations, including stadium, infrastructure and security issues, on The Independent website here.