Archive for the ‘Futebol’ Category

“Make a Sixth”

June 16, 2010

The madness has begun!  Brazil defeated North Korea yesterday 2-1 in their first game of the World Cup tournament.  The biggest sporting event in the world, every four years 32 national teams spend a month competing for the coveted Jules Rimet trophy and bragging rights for the title of best football nation on Earth.  The Brazilians are the only country to have competed in every World Cup tournament since 1930, and the Brazilians are five time champions.  In fact, they have won five of the last thirteen tournaments (and they were in the championship game in one other, losing to France in Paris in 1998). [See my blog of October 10, 2009 about futebol in Brazil.]  Brazil, win or lose this World Cup, has bragging rights like no other country.  (The Italians have won four times, and they are reigning champions having won in 2006.)  There are posters everywhere here proclaiming, “Win a Sixth” (Faz um hexa).

World Cup fever

The World Cup in Brazil is something like the Super Bowl in the U.S., but stretched out over a month (especially when the Brazilians win).  During yesterday’s afternoon game, the country came to a virtual standstill.  Government offices and many stores closed.  Several hundred thousand (including me) flocked to Copacabana beach to huge television screens and grandstands set up for the tournament.

Watching the game on Copacabana beach

The city yesterday was covered with green and gold.  Street vendors are doing a booming business in funny hats, large eyeglasses, flags, banners, and noisemakers.  Brazilian flags are everywhere.  The World Cup, in fact, is one of the most powerful examples of the formation of national identity—the topic of the book I am writing.  No matter one’s class, color, region, or local football team, when the World Cup begins, everyone is Brazilian.  Everyone is unified and galvanized cheering for their team, their country.

The multitudes watching the game at Copacabana beach

The team itself is an advertisement for the central myth of Brazilian identity—that all Brazilians, regardless of color or class, are forged out of the collision of three peoples, Africans, Portuguese, and Native Americans.  The rainbow of colors on the Brazilian team—from the pale skinned star Kaká to the dark skinned Ramires—reflects the spectrum of skin tones in Brazil as a whole.  No other team in the World Cup has the ethnic and phenotypical range of the Brazilians.  The power of television and the World Cup reinforce visually this central myth of Brazilian identity, and the team provides one of the most potent forces in the reinforcement of national identity.

Even the great poet Carlos Drummond de Andrade was dressed for the game!


The Beautiful Game

October 10, 2009

What a joy to find a great new book!  I went across the street about two hours ago to browse in my favorite local bookstore and then have a cup of coffee.  My lucky day.  I almost immediately came across a recent book on Brazilian soccer (futbol) by José Miguel Wisnik, an incredibly insightful professor of literature and a talented musician/composer who teaches at the Universidade de São Paulo.  Titled Veneno remédio (more or less, Poison Medicine), it is a fascinating rumination of Brazilian futbol and society.  I plan to have a chapter in my own book on how futbol was crucial to the rise of national identity in the twentieth century, so this is perfect!

Kaka & Ronaldinho

Kaka & Ronaldinho

Brazil, as everyone should know, is the great futbol power in the world.  The only country to compete in every World Cup tournament since its inception in 1930, Brazil has won an unprecedented five times.  (Italy has won four times, but two of those were in the 1930s when the tournament was a small club.)  Even more impressive is that Brazil has won five of the last thirteen tournaments (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002).  Wisnik cites one French writer’s wonderful observation that futbol completely inverts the world geopolitical map.  The United States and Asia are peripheral mini-powers.  Europe and South America are superpowers, and Africa is an emerging power.  Contrary to military empires, the empire of futbol was conquered peacefully with the full support of the conquered, and Brazil is the only superpower, far superior to the minor powers:  Germany, Italy, England, France, and Argentina.

Futbol is perhaps the most global of all institutions, played everywhere by nearly everyone.  It is both globalizing and still distinctly nationalist.  Players from all over the world play everywhere, although the best are drawn to the Europe leagues (for the prestige and pay).  Yet, every four years, the greatest players in the world return to their home country teams and become the very essence of national pride and identity.  Much ink has been spent discussing the national styles of different countries.  The famous Italian director, Pier Paolo Pasolini, noted many years ago that the Europeans play in prose while the Brazilians play like poetry.  In the words of the greatest player of all time, Pelé, the Brazilians play the jogo bonito (the beautiful game).  From my untutored outsider perspective, watching the Brazilians play is like jazz put into motion on the playing field—incredible improvisational genius.

2002 World Cup Victory

2002 World Cup Victory

One of my great pleasures in the coming months will be living in Brazil while watching the national team (the seleção) make its way through the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.  Most Americans can little imagine the power and importance of this competition, especially for the Brazilians.  In the United States we have a series of major sports.  As a lifelong baseball fan, it pains me to admit that baseball is no longer the “national pastime”.  American football has probably taken on that role.  Baseball, football, and basketball all compete for our attention, along with hockey, NASCAR racing (and now Major League Soccer and women’s basketball).  Nowhere else in the world do so many major sports compete for national attention.  In most countries there is one sport that reigns supreme, and in Brazil that sport is futbol.  Imagine the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA Championship, and the Olympics combined and you have a feel for the importance of the World Cup.  As the futbol superpower, the Brazilians enter each World Cup tournament expecting to win, and nothing short of the title will do.

I spent an hour sitting in the Livraria da Travessa reading and relishing Wisnik’s penetrating and fascinating introduction to his book.  I am so pleased to find a great book on Brazilian futbol, and I can’t wait to read and learn.  I am also hoping that a sixth World Cup triumph in July 2010 will be a great finish to my year in Brazil.

Note:  Futbol is pronounced in Portuguese something like footchy-bowl.