22 April 2012

Tchau Vasco

I became Vasco when researching Temples of the Earthbound Gods. In the 1910s and 1920s, Vasco fought the elite clubs of Rio so that the working class, illiterate and sub-altern could play football and receive something for their labors. The all-white clubs of Botafogo, Flamengo, America and Fluminense did not have to pay their players because they were daddy’s boys exercising their right to exercise vigorously. They had sponsors but instead of wearing the names of companies on their shirts, they carried their wealth in their names and residential addresses. The smaller teams from the suburbs paid their players a bicho, an animal, sometimes a leg of a cow, or a chicken, or some eggs – something to pay them back for the energy and time expended on the field of play. This was unacceptable to the nascent Rio football federation which disguised its racism and classism behind statutes of amateurism.

When Vasco won the second division in 1922, the big four of the time decided that they wouldn’t play against the blacks, mulattos, Portuguese and poor whites from São Cristóvão, forming a separate league that lasted for TEN YEARS. This apartheid system was only resolved with full professionalization in 1933, six years after Vasco had built a monument to its project of social inclusion, the São Januário. Vasco’s role in opening football to all social classes, the beauty and symbolic power of the stadium and a wealth of other non-rational reasons made me Vasco. That’s over.

I have long argued that if there is going to be any meaningful change to and in the world of football, we have to start understanding the acts of fandom as political. Putting on a team jersey is never neutral but rather an incorporation of one’s self into a larger community, a larger historical trajectory, a complex of actors and agents that are invariably connected to political economies and urban spaces that make one sleepy imagining their extent and intricacy. Nonetheless, they exist.  I would never, ever pull on a shirt that had the letters CBF (the Brazilian football confederation) on it because of all of the reasons I have explained ad nauseam in these pages. If there are to be political consequences that result from our individual actions, football is a fine place to start thinking more deeply.
São Januário loses his head. It appears not much has changed.

The report that Vasco has maintained a secret training ground where its young, poor, semi-literate players are kept in conditions of slavery, with the full knowledge and consent of the board of directors, after a year of negotiation with public prosecutors after a 14-year old boy from Minas Gerais died because there was no medical staff on site…it makes me sick. 

Vasco has turned away from everything that it stood for while at the same time using the words “inclusion” and “democracy” to promote their brand on a uniform. In short, Vasco is selling its history as a hollow commodity while at the same time exploiting the very people this history pretends to connect with. I repeat: Vasco was trying to hide their “slave-like” training camp for more than a year after one of their youth players died from the conditions at a different site. The board of directors smiles and struts around repeating the old mantras while marching to the drum of maximum exploitation.

We know that Vasco is not the only Brazilian team that engages in these kinds of practices. Brazilian teams make 28% of their profits from the sale of players, most of them never play a full professional season in their native land. The global political economy of football begins with the pipe-dream of becoming Dani Alves or Ronaldinho Gaucho, passes hopefully through concentration camps where swarms of piranha-like agents and coaches break and bend Brazilian adolescents to be fit for export while neglecting human rights and individual dignity. When those unpaid, ill-treated adolescents do actually break, or don’t bend enough, they are discarded on the scrapheap where tens of thousands just like them squirm and cry, their young lives already wrecked by the impossibility of their own dream that may not have even been theirs to begin with. 

We prop up these dreams every time we pull on that shirt.

I am saddened, horrified and angered.

I am not this Vasco.

I reject this club.


Anonymous said...

Deixa de ser chorão.
Você não é e nem nunca foi vascaíno de verdade.
O Vasco não precisa de 'vascaínos' como você.

Christopher Gaffney said...

pelo menos você deveria ter a coragem botar seu nome no comentário. deixa de sera apologista para crimes contra adolescentes.

Anonymous said...

Voce dizer que não é mais Vasco, como se um americano tivesse legitimidade pra dizer que torce pro Vasco,que ridículo. Vascaíno de verdade NASCE Vasco , não se torna Vasco pq "descobriu" o Brasil.

JM said...

Caro amigo,
no Brasil vc pode mudar de mulher, emprego, estado etc, menos de clube. Amar um clube e defendê-lo até a morte. Acho que vc tem tempo para reconsiderar esta sua posição.
Saudações Vascaínas

Antonio Oswaldo Cruz said...

Genial essa lógica, só pode ser vascaíno quem nasceu no Brasil e quem morre (e talvez mate) pelo Vasco. Com torcedores desse nível, é melhor você abandonar esse time mesmo, Chris.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article, Chris.

dikranovich said...

is it possible to translate the comments into english? it looks like this is what elite youth development is all about.

JM said...

Olá Chris, o Sr. Antonio deturpou minhas palavras. O hino do America ( omais bonito de todos) diz: "Hei de torcer até morrer".... eis o sentido de até a morte. Converse com amigos torcedores e pergente se eles deixariam de torcer pelo seu time pelo motivo que vc alegou e veja que praticamente todos dirão NÃO. Um grande Abraço Jorge Medeiros

Manu said...

Hacete de Independiente, que está luchando contra los barra bravas...

Anonymous said...

I think you are not very familiarized with brazilian football. The player who died (unfortunately), and the youth players in general, don't have contracts with the clubs, until certain age, usually 18. So, this boy was not exactly a Vasco's player. That explains why there is no such thing as slavery in that case.
And this story about Vasco's training ground is a little bit suspicious, the press group responsible for that is largely know for being against Dinamite's administration.
So get, your facts straight before saying anything.
And I don't mean to offend, I'm just presenting a few arguments.

Christopher Gaffney said...

I am really quite familiar with Brazilian football and am fairly tired of people disqualifying my writing because of my passport, but no offense taken.

The word "slavery" is not used lightly in Brazil and when it comes from a Brazilian judge, I am inclined to believe that that ruling. While players do not formal contracts, are they not in fact laboring to get one? If they had a contract, Vasco would be required to provide decent services, but as their lives are typically banked by parents who are hoping for future returns, and the players are typically very far from home with no resources of their own to leave the training camp, are you suggesting this is a conditoin of liberty for which Vasco should be lauded?

You don't have to use the word slavery if you don't want to. How about serfdom?

If you want to continue this discussion, please use your name so we can put people to the arguments that are being made. I appreciate your contributoin, but it seems as if you are looking to make excuses for Vasco when we should be demanding explainations. Perhaps you are SO familiarized with Brazilian football that you can no longer see what is going on.


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