SWM 2014: Countering racism in South American football

Case study by Antonio Cicioni and Natalia Torres

It is well known how enthusiastic South Americans are when it comes to football. However, while the region has attracted positive attention for the passion and commitment it invests in the game, this image has also been tarnished by incidents of racism. As in other regions, South American stadiums are places where hate speech and xenophobia have become all too apparent. In many ways, this development is an unwelcome consequence of two positive phenomena – the increasing importance of regional rather than national tournaments, and more frequent migration of players within the region. With Brazil set to host the World Cup in June and July 2014, the pressure to transform negative attitudes within the game towards minorities has become even more acute.

The Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) took action to reduce hate speech in stadiums in 2013 with its ‘Resolution to Fight against Racism and Discrimination’, released in May. The document calls for football organizations around the globe to adopt a range of measures, including: the design of an action plan to fight racism; the appointment of a national Officer against Racism to assist referees and public authorities; and the implementation of a severe and strict framework of sanctions to prevent discriminatory actions. Nevertheless, FIFA itself attracted criticism after it announced that a pair of white actors would be hosting the ceremonial Final Draw of the Cup – a move that was seen by some as a snub to the two black actors originally suggested by a Brazilian TV network.

Nevertheless, Brazil and FIFA have agreed that the 19th World Cup will be ‘the Cup against Racism’. The tournament is an unmatched opportunity in terms of global reach, and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil has made it clear that it is her goal to use it to spread a message of fraternity, promoting peace and countering racism. The Brazilian Football Association determined, among other measures, that during the 2014 Championship all referees would wear a badge on their shirts with the message ‘We are all equals’.

Some initiatives have emerged from local clubs. Brazil’s Gremio, for example, has launched large campaigns based on FIFA’s plan. In Gremio’s case, a key element was the participation of Ze Roberto – a hero of the club and the national team – telling audiences about his own story of discrimination because of his skin colour. However, as an incident in March 2014 illustrated, the process of transformation among fans is still a slow one. The club was fined US$35,000 after supporters subjected a defender playing for Internacional to racist abuse.

Brazil is hardly the only country where racism is evident among football supporters. The Peruvian Football Association established a set of preventive measures and sanctions in 2013. For example, at the beginning of every match the audience will be informed about the preventive measures. In case of any racist incidents, the referee will warn the public. If the incidents continue, matches will be stopped. Nevertheless, problems have persisted, as demonstrated in early 2014 when an Afro-Brazilian player for Belo Horizonte’s Cruzeiro was insulted by Cusco’s Real Garcilaso supporters: every time he touched the ball, monkey-like shouts would come from the benches. The South American Football Association opened an investigation and announced sanctions for the Peruvian team.

Uruguay has also developed a set of responses to address hate speech relating to football. After supporters of Danubio, from Montevideo, shouted out racist songs against an Afro-Colombian player of rival River Plate, the former received a fine – the first sanction against a club for racism in the history of Uruguayan football. In another case relating to Uruguay, it was a referee who insulted an Afro-descendant player who refused to leave the field after having been sent off. The match was suspended, and the referee is being prosecuted. Cases like these demonstrate how entrenched racism is among certain sections of the football world – but also a growing commitment among players, fans and officials to root these attitudes out from the game.

This article appears in MRG’s annual flagship report State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014. View the full report.

Photo: Atlético v. Gremio in September 2012. Credit: Clube Atlético Mineiro


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Date: 19/06/2014


State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2014
Racism/Discrimination/Hate speech

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