28 December 2013

Trigger Finger

For those not following Brazilian football, you might want to keep it that way. Here is the inglorious tale from the end of the 2013 Brazilian championship. Portuguesa, a small team from São Paulo, used the substitute Heverton with thirteen minutes remaining in the last game of the year. Heverton had not completed a two game suspension but the CBF (Brazilian football confederation) had not made this explicit to Portuguesa. Earlier in the year, the CBF had signed a huge sponsorship deal with Unimed, one of Brazil´s biggest private health insurance providers.

The rules of the CBF state that the use of an ineligible player in a game will result in the loss of points won in that game in addition to another three point deduction. Portuguesa´s case (as well as that of Flamengo which had shown their usual alacrity in management and fielded an ineligible player), went before a special sports tribunal which operates outside of any other Brazilian legal framework. In the first vote, Portuguesa lost their bid to keep their four points, arguing that according to FIFA rules the point deduction could be taken next year, that the player in question wasn´t good enough to alter the outcome of the game, and that it was the last thirteen minutes of the last game of the year so the letter of the law shouldn´t apply. The rub here is that the loss of four points relegates Portuguesa to the second division and implies the loss of millions in television revenues. This is no joke for a small club. The second rub is that with the loss of four points, Fluminense will not be relegated and will stay in the first division. It was sad to see the Fluminense fans celebrating in their legal victory what they couldn´t get on the somewhat more level field of play.

The Portuguesa case was then taken to a second round of voting in an appeals tribunal that few had ever heard of. The CBF, as the organizing institution of the charade, was able to nominate multiple members of the tribunal.  In this second round, Portuguesa lost 15-0 (as did Flamengo). The unanimous ruling by a body internal to the organizers of the competition have determined that Fluminense, 2012 champions, will be saved from relegation by a parallel sporting justice system that has nothing to do with justice and everything about keeping the big fish in small ponds. The CBF pays the salaries of those on the tribunal. Fluminense is paid by Unimed as are their lawyers. Unimed pays the CBF. See any conflicts of interest?

In the country that is about to host the World Cup, football continues to be the operated by the Wizards of Leblon. The violence of the 1% of torcidas organizadas dominates public policy for everyone. The violence of the small minority of torcidas is matched by the violence (or absence, or incompetence) of the police, the indifference of the teams and the aloof, uncompromising arrogance of the CBF. As a whole, the best talents continue to be exported like so many pieces of hardwood to European, Middle Eastern and Asian collectors who send them back to Brazil at thrice the price and half the utility. Thus, the quality of football in Brazil is abominably low, the rules confusing, the fans treated like cattle with ATM cards, and the national team is run by a Qatari marketing firm. Yes, that´s right. The CBF doesn´t decide where its own national team will play but under Ricardo Texeira sold the rights to International Sports Events of Qatar until 2022 for the price of US$1 million per game. You might want to think twice about wearing a shirt with CBF on the breast.

The good news coming out of Brazilian football is that a few of the old pieces of wood that have washed up on Brazilian shores have formed a political movement to contest the Wizards at the CBF. Good Sense F.C. (Bom Senso F.C.) staged a number of protests during matches in which players have not moved after the initial whistle, or knocked the ball back and forth to each other in protest of the insane calendar that the CBF has put together for 2014. Brazil is the only country in the world that plays in every month of the year. Top flight teams in Brazil will frequently play more than 80 games a year, with no more than two to three weeks break between seasons. Not that you would know this from looking at the CBF website. The most recent information in English is from 2012.

Unfortunately there is not much to look forward to in the local scene this year. Vasco, relegated. Fluminense, relegated but somehow stayed up. Flamengo, one point off relegation but will be in the Libertadores because they won the Copa do Brasil. Botafogo, squeaked into the Libertadores and have the amazing Seedorf to keep us entertained at R$40 per hour.  The best games, by far, will be those of the Rio State Championship where we can look forward to seeing Bangu x Friburgense. If only the Rio State Football Federation had any practical information about the tournament they run, we could find out when and where the game is going to be played. Sigh. 

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