Wednesday, 26 March 2014

FIFA magazine article goes down like a lead balloon in Brazil as World Cup stadium issues linger

Earlier this month, FIFA felt compelled to withdraw an article about Brazil from its website. The piece, a series of tips for World Cup tourists published in the organisation’s weekly magazine, drew scorn from many in Brazil after being picked up on by the local press.

The criticisms were largely aimed at a passage on Brazil’s attitude to timekeeping (“When arranging to meet someone, nobody will expect you to be there at the exact time”) and the final epithet: “A Brazilian’s attitude to life can be summarised like this: relaxa e aproveita – relax and enjoy.”

You can understand why Brazilians – particularly those keen on portraying the country as a place of business rather than some 24-hour beach party venue – would take slight umbrage at that last point, laden as it is with easy stereotype. But really, there was very little to be offended by in the text. In fact, to the critical eye, most of its admonishments were gentle to the point of glibness.

Perhaps it should not be surprising that Brazil is feeling a little touchy about the way it is being portrayed. With the maelstrom of scrutiny over World Cup preparations showing no sign of abating, the country’s shortcomings have become global news as never before. And they might have assumed that FIFA, of all people, would refrain from sticking the toy knife in.

Read the rest of this blog on the Yahoo! Eurosport website.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Corinthians cry foul after embarrassing state championship elimination

With the four big sides of the São Paulo region arbitrarily kept apart in separate groups in the new-fangled state championship (don’t ask), progress to the next round was expected to be a formality. After all, even under the old system – which admittedly only lasted four years – not once had any of the big guns failed to make the knockout stages.

But Corinthians have never been a team to shy away from an early-season crisis. They went into the weekend in danger of becoming the first high-profile side to come unstuck in this year’s truncated estaduais, sitting third in their section behind Botafogo-SP and Ituano.

Qualification was not out of reach, but it was out of their hands. To stay in contention heading into the final round of the group stage, the Timão needed to avoid defeat against Penapolense on Sunday and then hope for a favour from bitter rivals São Paulo, 3-2 winners in the clássico a week earlier.

Read the rest of this piece on Yahoo! Eurosport's Rio Report blog.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Racism rears its ugly head in Brazilian football

Brazil often presents itself – or is presented from without – as a bastion of racial harmony, the rainbow nation made flesh. In some ways, this view holds sway: few countries have diversity written into their DNA in the way that Brazil does. This land is African, indigenous, European and a million other things all at once, and celebrates its melting-pot identity with some verve. Frictions have flared through the ages, but assimilation has been the norm.

Yet things are not as rosy as they can seem. It has struck many that Brazil’s great social division – the staggering wealth gap that consigns millions of people to slum life with others swan about in gross opulence – is demarcated along racial lines. Poverty in Brazil is largely, although not exclusively, black (and 'Indian') poverty. With income bleeding into education, there is at the very least a notable inequality of opportunity.

In my latest Yahoo! Eurosport column, I offer a few thoughts on race and racism in Brazil in the wake of two notable incidents last week. Click here to read it.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari battling to maintain momentum as World Cup approaches

Sometimes, the stars align and everything just goes right. So it was for Brazil last summer. When the Seleção entered the Confederations Cup, expectations were relatively low, with recent (non-) performances in the Copa America and friendlies having failed to provide much cause for optimism. Friendlies against Italy, Russia and England had yielded little excitement, with Luiz Felipe grappling with the questions that his predecessor, Mano Menezes, proved unable to answer.

But when the tournament rolled around, things suddenly clicked into place. Brazil emerged from their decade-long slumber on the back of blossoming team spirit, riding the tidal wave of embattled patriotism that was emanating from the country's streets. Neymar and Paulinho truly arrived on the international stage, helping the Seleção to a heartening victory over Spain in the final.

The worry for Scolari must be that his side peaked too soon. The staccato rhythm of international football is such that maintaining momentum for 12 months is nigh-on impossible, and it is indeed hard to imagine things clicking into place quite so perfectly come June.

Read the rest of this piece on the Mirror website here, and read more entries in the fine WC100 series here.