Once excluded from Brazil’s soccer fields, black players are now regularly the majority on the country’s World Cup team

Note from BBT: A few months back, it hit me that the year we’re in, 2022, was a World Cup year. After another disappointing showing for Brazil in 2018 and my being back in the United States after having lived nine years in Brazil, I didn’t even notice that the months in which the tournament is usually played, June and July, had come and gone with no games. When I finally realized that, I wondered why the games hadn’t been played.

Looking into the situation, I soon discovered that as the games would be held this month in Qatar and the month of November was chosen because it is the time of year when the weather won’t put anyone’s health at risk. You see, in Qatar, in June and July, temperatures easily and regularly surpass the 100 degree mark, not the type of weather for running up and down a socccer field for 90 minutes.

Speaking on this topic, I must admit that it was only due to my interest in Brazil that I even began to follow news out of the soccer world. Soccer, or futebol, as brazilians call it, was never one of my favorite sports. As a child, teenager and into my adult years, I watched the top three sports in terms of popularity in the United States – baseball, football and basketball. The only time I had played soccer in my life was in my middle school and high school years when I was forced to play the game during gym classes and even then, as today, I still didnt understand the rules. 

A few years ago, at a resort in which i stayed in the city of Serra Negra in São Paulo state, I got to know a number of Brazilian families who were on vacation at the same resort. One day, the men of the families decided to have a pickup game of soccer with one of the team captains choosing me as a goalie. ‘Goalie? Me?’, I thought to myself. As I had rarely played soccer, I had also never played the position in my life.

From what I knew, soccer goalies tended to be tall as the width of the net is wide, so as people generally consider me to be a tall guy, the Brasileiros thought it was good idea to get the gringo, me, to guard the net. In the beginning, it seemed to be a good idea as I was able to block a few shots that came my way. But then the other team scored a goal….then another, yet another and then three more. Never having played goalie in my life and not realizing how fast a kicked soccer ball travels, I was clearly not ready to assume this position. I think my team lost something like 12-7, with about eight of the goals scored against us being scored while I was the goalie.

Considering the stigma against black Brazilian goalies in World Cup tournaments, my showing in that game definitely didn’t make a case for black goalies. To put this into context, as I delved into the history of Afro-Brazilians, I came to learn that, for at least sixty years, there has been a type of hesitation against black goalies starting for Brazil’s national teams in World Cup competition.

This stigma apparently started during the 1950 World Cup which was played in Brazil. Brazil’s starting goalie for that tournament was a black man named Moacyr Barbosa. In the World Cup of 1950, Barbosa was in his prime and considered the best goalie in all of South America but this didn’t shield him from being blamed and persecuted for allegedly having allowed a winning goal scored by Uruguay with 11 minutes remaining in the game.

Although soccer experts who have reviewed the play hundreds of times have argued that the goal scored wasn’t Barbosa’s fault, the belief in the supposed ‘bad luck’ of having a black man at one of the game’s most important positions stuck. Not having been a soccer fan for most of my life, that story stuck with me as the intent of the blog was to analyze Brazil from the racial perspective. Since 1950, there have been only two more black goalies who started for Brazil’s World Cup teams.

You add this to the fact that, initially, when the sport arrived in Brazil, black players weren’t allowed to participate on top level teams, and you once again see how the country’s racist origins reared its ugly head. Today and for decades now, a large percentage of the country’s top players have been black, but, unfortunately, this wasn’t always the case. The piece below explores this further.

Today piece is courtesy of the Alma Preta website, Alma Preta meaning ‘black soul’.

From excluded to majority: the history of black Brazilian players in the World Cup

Since the 1994 World Cup in the United States, black players hve been the majority on the Brazilian National Team

By Elias Santana Malê

The World Cup 2022, to be held in Qatar, will be the 22nd edition with the participation of the Brazilian National Team, the only one to take part in every World Cup. The current edition of the tournament will be the eighth in a row with a black majority on the squad, the last one without black majority was the 1990 World Cup, held in Italy.

In the five-time champion history of the Canarinho, as the team is known, black players have always stood out, but the path was never easy. Until names like Pelé achieved international prominence, black players even had to deal with a law that prohibited their performances.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the great name in Brazilian soccer was a black player: Arthur Friedenreich. He was the son of a black Brazilian washerwoman and a white German merchant, from whom he inherited his last name. El Tigre, as he was also known, made history in São Paulo soccer, but ended his career on a Rio de Janeiro club: Flamengo, his favorite team. Unofficially, he is the player with the most goals in soccer history, with 1,329 goals, 46 more than Pelé‘s 1283. However, considering only official matches, Friedenreich has less than 400 goals scored.

Despite these great numbers, Friedenreich’s career was marked by two obstacles. The first one, the result of a racist act, was the prohibition of black athletes playing for the Brazilian National Team. Through a Federal Law, President Epitácio Pessoa prohibited “black and mulattoes” from representing the country with the Canarinho (Little Canary) between 1919 and 1922. The striker had just finished as the top scorer in the 1919 South American Championship, held in Brazil.

Black players were only allowed to play for the national team in 1922, after being disgraced in the 1920 and 1921 South American Championships. In other words, the authorization was again given only for technical needs, since several of the great national standouts were black.

Friedenreich (center), between Leônidas da Silva (left) and Pelé (right). The three black athletes were the first great Brazilian soccer stars

Leonidas, Friedenreich and Pelé

The other problem that Arthur Friedenreich faced occurred on the eve of the 1930 World Cup. When Elpídio de Paiva Azevedo, president of the São Paulo State League, noticed that no member of the national team was from São Paulo, he prevented all the athletes who played in the state from going to the World Cup.

Rivaldo, Neymar and Ronaldinho Gaúcho are just a few of Brazils stars who have worn the famous number 10

Nowadays, black athletes continue to the standouts in the national team. In the last six World Cups, including the 2022 World Cup, Brazil has had three black players wearing the number 10 jersey in five editions: Rivaldo (2002), Ronaldinho (2006), and Neymar (2014, 2018, and 2022). The exception was Kaká, in the only World Cup held on the African continent, in South Africa in 2010. The player wearing the number 10 jersey is considered the team’s playmaker and is recognized as being the one who scores or sets up scoring opportunities for the green, blue and yellow team.

The 2002 World Cup winning team had a black majority

The 2002 World Cup winning team had black majority

Since the 1994 World Cup, held in the United States, the Seleção has had more than half of its players made up of black athletes. In the last edition where blacks were a minority, in 1990, they made up 41% of the squad.

In this period, black athletes account for 57% of those called to the Brazilian National Team for the World Cup. Among these eight editions, the 2010 team was the most black. Of the 23 players selected, 16 were black, which corresponded to almost 70% of the team.

Almost 70% of the 2010 World Cup squad was made up of black players

The 2022 tournament in Qatar will be the eighth in a row with a black majority. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, FIFA has expanded the roster limit to 26 players, an increase of three names from the 23 possible in the last five World Cups.

Among the 26 names, coach Tite called up 15 black players: Daniel Alves (LAT, Pumas UNAM-MEX), Danilo (LAT, Juventus-ITA), Alex Sandro (LAT, Juventus-ITA), Bremer (ZAG, Juventus-ITA), Éder Militão (ZAG, Real Madrid-ESP), Thiago Silva (ZAG, Chelsea-ING), Casemiro (MEI, Manchester United-ING), Fabinho (MEI, Liverpool-ING), Fred (MEI, Manchester United-ING), Gabriel Jesus (ATA, Arsenal-ING), Neymar (ATA, Paris Saint-Germain-FRA), Raphinha (ATA, Barcelona-ESP), Richarlison (ATA, Tottenham-ING), Rodrygo (ATA, Real Madrid-ESP) and Vinícius Júnior (ATA, Real Madrid-ESP).

Of the 15, eight will make their debuts at the World Cup: defenders Alex Sandro, Bremer, and Éder Militão; midfielder Fabinho; and forwards Raphinha, Richarlison, Rodrygo, and Vinícius Júnior.

Brazil, which is in Group G, opens the World Cup against Serbia on November 24 at Lusail Stadium.

Source: Alma Preta

About Marques Travae 3746 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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