With ever increasing acts of racism in soccer stadiums, the silence of the great Pelé is deafening

Soccer legend Pelé (right)
Soccer legend Pelé (right); left, current players Tinga (top left) and Arouca, both recent victims of racism in soccer stadiums

Note from BW of Brazil: Start the countdown! Carnaval has ended and the event that millions of Brazilians (and the world) have been waiting on for nearly four years is less than 100 days away. Surely, even if you’re not a soccer fan, you’ve heard that Brazil is the host country for the 2014 World Cup starting in June in stadiums throughout the country. That’s the good news. The bad news is that an ongoing social problem in Brazil continues to show itself even on the soccer field where it is believed that it is only talent that counts. For decades, soccer, or futebol as it’s called in Brazil, along with Carnaval and Samba, has been one of the most unifying symbols of national identity in the country and a source of great pride as Brazil is the only country to have captured the title five times (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002). 

In reality, racism has always been an issue that affects black players in the country’s stadiums. From black players being barred from elite teams, to players being forced to wear white face powder on their faces to mask their racial identity, to an unwritten barring of black goalkeepers on World Cup teams to salary inequality, racism is as much part of Brazilian soccer as its very existence is denied in the society. But with international spotlights soon to shine down upon Brazil, this issue is sure to also attract some media attention although nowhere near the level bestowed upon the sport’s greatest star and also the man who is often pointed to as the very proof of the nonexistence of Brazilian racism: Edson Arantes do Nascimento, better known as the great Pelé.

Edson Arantes do Nascimento: Pelé
Edson Arantes do Nascimento: Pelé

If one were to judge him by his appearances in advertisements over years and still today, one wouldn’t even know that “O Rei”, or “The King”, as he is known, retired from soccer nearly 40 years ago. Idolized as a national treasury of mythical proportions, Pelé remains the standard with whom all soccer superstars will be compared throughout their careers. But with such influence and adoration, some have wondered over the years if “The King” could use his influence a little more to denounce well-publicized bouts with racism experienced by black soccer players in stadiums, if not in Europe, at least in Brazil. Surely it must be a difficult topic to discuss for the man known for the wide grin and the ability to conjure up nostalgic days of Brazilian soccer supremacy. Some question if it is even fair to place such a burden on his shoulders. He is, after all, just an athlete…right? 


Again, the topic of athletes and social responsibility. How do you see the issue? Below is how Kiko Nogueiro sees it…

Monkey!”: The deafening silence of Pelé in scandalous cases of racism in soccer

by Kiko Nogueiro

The genius of Mario Filho, the greatest sportswriter of the country, produced in 1947 a classic called O Negro no Futebol Brasileiro (The Negro in Brazilian Soccer). I mentioned the book here.

O Negro no Futebol Brasileiro by Mario Filho
O Negro no Futebol Brasileiro by Mario Filho

Mario talks about the rise of black athletes, as they transformed the sport, of how the teams, especially those in Rio, gradually had to surrender to the fact that those poor boys were better than the rich boys. In the 1964 edition he added two chapters and one of them made ​​an error of assessment – which can be credited to his romanticism.

A young Pelé (seated) with his mother Celeste (standing) and his father
A young Pelé (seated) with his mother Celeste (standing) and his father Dondinho (right)

Mario writes about Pelé: “Dondinho (his father) was black, the black housewife Celeste, black grandmother Ambrosina, black uncle Jorge, blacks Zoca and Maria Lúcia. How could he feel ashamed of the color of his parents, of the grandmother who taught him to pray, of the good uncle Jorge who took him and handed him over to his sister to familiarize him with household expenses, of the brothers that he had to protect? His color was the same. He had to be black. If he were not black he would not be Pelé.”

Pelé and grandmother Ambrosina
Pelé and grandmother Ambrosina

He continues: “If he was ‘Rei (King)’, what were those admirable blacks who raised him, molded him, who only taught him what was good? For this, he had to be what he was: a black man. The Black man. The Crioulo.” (1)

Fifty years later, the Crioulo nickname was dropped and Pelé is silent, and will probably remain so, when faced with cases of increasingly frequent and absurd racism. Supporters of Mogi Mirim (team) called Arouca of the Santos team, macaco (monkey) and ordered him to look for an “African all-star team to play on.”

Tinga (left) and Arouca were recent victims of racism in soccer stadiums
Tinga (left) and Arouca were recent victims of racism in soccer stadiums

Tinga (2), of the Cruzeiro team, heard the Peruvian fans of Real Garcilaso scream the same offense – something that had occurred to him in a Brasileirão (3) match against Juventude in Caxias do Sul, when he played for the team known as International. The referee Márcio Chagas da Silva (4) was not only insulted, as he found bananas scattered on top of his car as he left a match. The goalkeeper Felipe, when with the Corinthians team, went through the same situation against the Juventude team. As well as Zé Roberto, of the Inter team, also in the Gre-Nal (5) match.

Returning to his car after having officiated a match, referee Márcio Chagas da Silva found bananas on top of his car
Returning to his car after having officiated a match, referee Márcio Chagas da Silva found bananas on top of his car

In Patos de Minas, in the interior of the state of Minas Gerais, during the game between Mamore and Uberlândia this past last Sunday, a fan of the home team, Carlos Marcelo Fernandes, 45, was arrested after calling the left-wing player Francisco Assis of Uberlândia a “macaco, negro, safado e fedorento”, meaning “monkey, black, bastard and stinking” in a tense moment. After police and witnesses heard the insults, a police report for a racial slur was recorded by the Military Police on the spot at the Bernardo Rubinger de Queiroz stadium.

Francisco Assis was insulted by a fan on Sunday while goalkeeper Felipe  remembers experiencing racism in the 2005 season
Francisco Assis was insulted by a fan on Sunday while goalkeeper Felipe remembers experiencing racism in the 2005 season

These are just the cases that have had repercussion. The punishment, if any, is irrelevant. The club pays a fine, loses two games that were to be played on their field, if at all, and life goes on. Not much is different on the outside, under the guidance of FIFA president Sepp Blatter. The show must go on.

In a note, Arouca lamented: “As if some of the most beautiful pages in the history of our Seleção (selection or All-Star team) had not been written by players like Leônidas, Romário and Rei (King) Pelé also, blacks.”

And Pelé? In the idealization of Mario Filho, he is proud of his color and his example would be sufficient for racism in football to be mitigated. But it’s actually the opposite, the face of accommodation.

He doesn’t position himself, doesn’t defend anyone or any cause other than himself, doesn’t confront anything, doesn’t want to alienate himself with anyone he knows who runs soccer – those who ran it in Mario Filho’s time.

That hasn’t been spared in his career. Pelé has recalled episodes in which members of the Santos team were called “macaquitos (little monkeys)” in Argentina and how he “would go there and smash the opponents” when he heard things that “annoyed him”. Three years ago, however, he stated that cases of racism in soccer were “little things”.

The Brazilian racial democracy is a piece of fiction and Pelé, in a certain way, is too. Mario Filho speaks Robson, of Fluminense (team), who in the ‘50s made a statement that would fit perfectly, today, in the mouth of the King: “I’ve already been black and I know what that is.”

Source: Diário do Centro do Mundo, Globo Esporte, LancenetEstadão


1. In Brazil’s 350 years of slavery, the term “crioulo” referred to the slave who was born in Brazil in comparison to one born in Africa. In modern times, the term is often seen as a pejorative term for black persons.

2. Born Paulo César Fonseca do Nascimento. On February 12th, Tinga was the target of racist abuse from soccer fans in Peru.  Every time he touched the ball, imitations of monkey sounds echoed in the stadium. Tinga didn’t forget: “I try even today, I spent almost the whole night with no sleep, trying to understand the situation. The biggest concern was for my son, after the game I called home and my wife said that he was crying and then the other day, even in Peru, she told me that he would not go to school.”

3. The Campeonato Brasileiro Série A, commonly referred to as the Brasileirão or simply Série A, is a Brazilian professional league for football clubs. At the top of the Brazilian football league system, it is the country’s primary football competition. Contested by 20 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with Série B. Seasons run from May to December. Teams play 38 matches each, totaling 380 matches for the season. Most games are played on Saturday and Sunday afternoons; other games during weekday evenings. It is currently sponsored by Petrobras and thus officially known as the Petrobras Campeonato Brasileiro Série A or simply Brasileirão Petrobras. Source: Wiki

4. Moved to tears after the incident, da Silva said: “I felt really bad, quite disappointed, because we always leave the house to do the best job possible. It’s logical that errors in making calls will take place, and there was no reason for this to happen in this negative way, because if they were to get the images and analyze the match, there no questionable moves that such a negative manifestation could happen as it was that way.”

5. Gre-nal is the nickname for matches between two of Brazil’s leading soccer teams. They are both located in the southern city of Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul state. Gre refers to Grêmio Foot-Ball Porto Alegrense and Nal refers to Sport Club Internacional. Source

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. Why would this surprise anybody, especially Afro-Brazilians? Look at famous Blacks all around the world and how they almost never denounce racism. The silent should be deafening because nothing is being said!

    As I keep saying, turn internally, stop looking for acceptance from outside forces and stop looking for Famous and I might wealthy Blacks for assistance/outreach.

    The exceptions are Belafonte and others, but no mainstream artist since the 1970’s had denounced racism; maybe Danny Glover but that’s pretty much it, yet he’s still looking for funding from Whites for his movie about the Haitian Revolution.

    Start building your own media outlets. With the internet the time is now. FIFA will not let you use the World Cup as a platform either, so you should forget that. Get online and start making videos, short movies and other media IN ENGLISH so people will understand what’s happening in Brazil that most visitors will never see or acknowledge.

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