15 May 2012

The Vasco Fiasco

The Vasco Fiasco has gained more attention though this blog than it did in the Brazilian media. Last week, I talked with the BBC World Fooball Report about it and comments continue to flow in from all corners. Brazilians are horrified that I would consider leaving my team, expressing concern that I’m not staying with Vasco. In Brazil (as in other parts of the world) rejecting a team is a radical thing to do and those who think that this is not tormenting me deeply are very much mistaken.

To reiterate what happened: Vasco were found by an investigator to have maintained their youth trainees in slave-like conditions. I found this revolting, horrifying and immoral and in my disgust wrote, “I am not this Vasco, I reject this club.” This is a point that needs some clarification and along the way I hope to plumb the depths of footballing identities in Brazil.

I am not, as some have suggested, choosing to leave Vasco for another club, pick up another mantle, or start watching the NBA playoffs. I understand and am deeply impacted by what I write about. There is no need to justify myself, the depth of my knowledge of Brazilian football, or the relative profundity of my Vasco-identidade.

My rejection of this Vasco suggests that there is another Vasco. I believe this to be true. While the realities of Vasco’s project of social inclusion and racial democracy were probably never as pure and altruistic as we would like to believe, within the well-documented history of the club as a place where Rio’s most disenfranchised were able to use football and the Vasco club as a vehicle for social inclusion, there are elements of truth. What is perhaps more important is that we believe that this possibility exists and that we act to ensure its realization. Leaving Vasco makes this impossible, but it is also impossible to “cheer” (está impossível torcer) for a team whose labor pool is re-supplied with slaves, or indentured servants, or voluntary serfs. Leaving is torture, staying is moral turpitude, doing nothing is impossible, so I write. Mas que adianta marcar gol de letra em posição de impedimento? But what good does it do to score in an offside position? [losing all lyric sensibility in English, btw]

That Vasco physically and psychologically abuses its youth trainees in the name of economic expediency kills the club’s claim to its own history and shoves in our faces the cruel mechanisms of football’s political economy. We are all happy to ignore these realities while watching games, stressing out about results, arguing about the merits of our clubs. Yet critical reflection upon our own identities as football fans surely must lead us to the point where we take some responsibility for the Darwinian cesspool into which tens of thousands of young Brazilian lives are thrown in order to produce the nucleus around which our identities cluster.

This is my major point of contention. I am Vasco but I do not, cannot and will not torcer for this team until I know that the institution has been reformed and that youth players compensated, educated, and cared for to the highest possible standard. Ignoring the current practices legitimates them. If installing world class facilities requires a few years in the second or third division, tudo bem! I prefer to lose with well-fed, well-educated, and well-cared for players than to have a championship trophy hoisted onto the tombstones of teenagers. Rejecting Vasco is radical, but not nearly as radical as SLAVERY!

The commentaries on the original post are clearly not random but reflect more general ideas that legitimate slavery in Brazilian football. The “love it or leave it” attitude is easy enough to ignore. The earnest apologists are a bit more difficult. One recent comment said that there is “a media bias against Vasco’s president” therefore the findings of the public prosecutor’s office “need to be questioned”. Or that the trainees “don’t have contracts” so they can’t be considered slaves. WTF? Slaves have contracts? Is Vasco only football? Are Vascainos so ready to trade results for human dignity? Emotions are so tightly wound around Brazilian football that it makes conversations about identity and reality nearly impossible, prompting knee-jerk reactions that allow the club directors to hijack identities for profit and power.

The way forward is difficult. If Vasco is to have any claim to its own history it must again make decisions based in values that are not associated with the market, that are not aligned with the interests of the “elite clubs”, that are founded in conceptions of human dignity and social justice. It is the responsibility of all Vascainos to reshape the club so that these values will be represented on the field, in the boardroom and in the bodies and minds of our youth. 


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