Zero tolerance against racism in Brazilian football: points deductions and stadium closures

A new protocol sees tougher punishments for racism in soccer grounds, including points deductions, as debate rages in Spain over abuse aimed at Real Madrid forward Vinícius

A group of demonstrators protest outside the Spanish Consulate in São Paulo (Brazil) over insults towards Vinicius.Anadolu Agency (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Even the great Pelé had to endure the toxic scourge of racism from the time he was a teenager and starting out at Santos. Before he became a global icon, he was derogatorily nicknamed “Gasoline” because of the color of his skin. “If they had stopped every game where someone called me a ‘macaco [monkey],’ they would’ve had to stop every game I played,” he used to say. At the turn of the 20th century, soccer in Brazil was a fledgling elitist practice, forbidden to Black people. It would be some time before “the people suddenly realized that soccer should be for all colors, a classless soccer, all mixed, very Brazilian,” in the words of the distinguished journalist Mario Filho, whose 1947 book, The Black Man in Brazilian Soccer, was a classic of national literature.

Thousands of Black players from different generations found in soccer a means of social ascent, if not of survival, always menaced by the plague of racism. Racial prejudice lingers on in a country where more than half of the population identifies itself as Black or mixed race, with enormous levels of inequality. Brazil has seen its political and ideological polarization hit alarming heights in recent years following the rise to power of the ultra-right-wing leader, Jair Bolsonaro. When Lula Da Silva reclaimed the presidency of Brazil in January, he passed a law equating racial insulting to the crime of racism, which is imprescriptible, non-bailable and is punishable with harsh prison sentences. The Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) was then reviewing its measures against racism and it worked closely with the Observatory on Racial Discrimination in Football. This entity has been tracking all acts of racism, homophobia, misogyny and xenophobia in stadiums since 2014, providing detailed annual reports that demonstrate the enormity of the problem.

Marcelo Carvalho, director and founder of the Observatory, estimated the number of racist incidents in Brazilian football at 90 in 2022 and claims that these increased numbers are the result of more denunciations than in previous years. “The pact of silence has broken. And this is also the result of increased awareness among fans, players and the press.” The number of sanctions against clubs for incidents of racism was minimal until very recently. Only one club, Grêmio of Porto Alegre, had been kicked out of the Brazilian Cup in 2014 following racist abuse directed at Santos goalkeeper Aranha by a large group of supporters.

Ednaldo Rodrigues, the first Black president of the CBF, who has driven the new regulations that came into force in February, stressed that “racial discrimination is a crime.” “Our job is to shed some light on the issue. We sincerely hope to obtain the support of the clubs, of the fans, of all segments of society, of all the press, to ensure that this is not just decorative,” he added. Rodrigues kept an ace up his sleeve: he did not submit the new sanctioning framework to a vote among the professional clubs and directly incorporated it into the new 2023 Competition Regulations, which are valid for all divisions and must be adhered to.

As such, the CBF has implemented a new sanctioning mechanism for racist behavior, whether carried out by members of the public or by any individual at a club. It involves financial sanctions for clubs (whether home or away, and even if only one fan hurls a racist insult) and heavy sporting sanctions for players, coaches, referees, employees or managers involved in an act of racist abuse. In the event of repeated serious offenses (such as a sizeable group of people abusing a player), the stadium will be closed. In addition, a points deduction in the competition is also included, something that is not stipulated in the regulations of any European federation. Punishments will be handed out administratively by the CBF. Cases will be referred to the STJD (Superior Court of Sports Justice), which will rule on the application of a fine, closure of the stadium or a points deduction for the violating club.

Additionally, the game reports of the match referee, the CBF and the clubs will be submitted to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Civil Police to ensure that the process transcends the sporting context. The new protocol is now in force. On May 7, during the match between Athletico Paranaense and Flamengo, a fan from the home club made simian gesticulations towards the visiting fans. The club, which encourages the reporting of racist acts or abuse in its stadium through QR codes visible in all the stands, identified the perpetrator and the STJD Court (based on a report from the CBF) has proposed a monetary sanction for the club and a minimum of a 720-day ban from the stadium for the fan in question. The approach is to expedite all instances and the trial will be held at the end of this month. Sports Minister Ana Moser, who has recently expressed the Brazilian government’s solidarity with Vinícius Jr, publicly commended the CBF for its initiatives to tackle racial discrimination.

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