June 11th, 2014

World Cup host Brazil tackles issue of racism in soccer


The entire world is gearing up for the FIFA World Cup, which is set to kick off in Brazil this week. The championship pits 32 countries against each other, with the winner taking home a whopping $35 million in prize money.

The host nation's fans expect nothing less than a World Cup championship. Photo by Flickr user Ronnie Macdonald

The host nation’s fans expect nothing less than a World Cup championship. Photo by Flickr user Ronnie Macdonald

FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, is the international governing body for soccer, the world’s most popular sport. Other countries call it “football” and refer to the sport played in the Super Bowl as “American football.”

But while many fans prepare to watch the games, a major concern that officials and event coordinators are preparing to deal with is racism. Over the last four months, several racist incidents that took place on and off the soccer field have sparked controversies across Brazil.

In March, Brazilian referee Marcio Chagas da Silva left the stadium and found his car vandalized with banana peels on the windshield. Spanish-speaking fans often shout “macaco,” which means monkey, to insult players of African descent.

“I felt like a victim of violence. It was a cowardly act because I couldn’t defend myself. The jeering is normal. This kind of action was new for me,” he told Bloomberg News.

Last month, a fan threw a banana at Brazilian defender Daniel Alves in Barcelona, Spain. Alves picked it up and defiantly took a bite before taking a corner kick in a video that quickly went viral. The opposing team was fined more than $12,000 for the behavior of its fans.

Fans and fellow sports personalities expressed shock on social media over the incident. Alves’s teammates kicked off an anti-racism campaign that collected 60,000 tweets over three days, in which they took selfies while eating bananas, claiming, “We are all monkeys.”

As the tournament begins, Brazilian and FIFA authorities hope an anti-racism campaign will prevent any further incidents.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said she wants to turn the World Cup into “a global marker against racism.”

“I invite all Brazilian and foreign nationals to be our partners in the staging of a World Cup with no racism, for peace and with no prejudice. A World Cup where football once more, shows to be an extraordinary instrument to help us disseminate understanding, dialogue, peace and respect among us,” President Rousseff said.

A player from the Brazilian national team will read an anti-racism message before the first game against Croatia on June 12, 2014, and the words “somos iguais,” which means “we are equal,” will cover the walls across major cities in the country.

— Compiled by Srinidhi Rajagopal

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