When you mention football to someone here in Iceland, you will receive one of two reactions. The first is of the “HÚ! I love football, let’s go smite some non-viking ass! Skál!” variety. The second reaction is: “Football sucks.”
I honestly completely understand both reactions, but being from Brazil, I have a different perspective.
The first reaction comes from fans of the hypermasculine sport, and here in Iceland, it is mostly just one big excuse to drink a lot and get rowdy. The second reaction comes from those who’ve maybe never cared about sports, or have issues with the fact that while the men’s team is glorified, the women’s team is neglected and forgotten. And that’s not to mention the horrific pay gap.
The beating heart of Brazil
Whatever the reaction—I get it. However, where I come from, football is arguably one of the most influential facets of our national identity, and is ultimately the beating heart of our country—all 200 million of us.
Yes, like many of you reading this, I hate how masculinist the institution of football has become. I hate how it’s just another excuse to pile on the Tuborgs. I hate how FIFA continues to capitalise on modern-day slave labour and people of colour, and through its accumulation of wealth and capital by dispossession. It’s no secret that FIFA has evicted some of the most vulnerable people in the world just to build a football stadium that will host maybe four or five games during the entire World Cup.
Unlike Iceland, though, Brazil is one of the most racially diverse countries in the world. With that comes great socio-economic disparities between the wealthy and powerful and the most vulnerable and marginalised people in our country. Football is one of the few uniting forces in our nation. It brings people together from all walks of life, from the favelas to the penthouses of Ipanema. Most importantly, it has created a place of acceptance for the people of colour in our country, where they are admired and revered. Football has helped raise people out of the cycle of poverty.
The purest democracy
This week, Brazilian news giant Globo posted an article by Roberto Damatta, a famous Brazilian anthropologist, entitled “Football and Brazil.” In it, he makes an extremely important point: that the game of football is the place where Brazilians experience democracy in its pure state, free of corruption, and is a place where all players are equal. It is the true sweet escape.
When football is mixed with capitalism, however, we can lose sight of the true value of the game. Brazil has a reputation for having some of the most corrupt politicians in the world, resulting in the abandonment, oppression, and neglect of many people in my country. Having come out of our decades-long military dictatorship, and everything else that happens daily in our country, the football arena is a sacred space where nothing else matters. It allows people to escape the brutal daily reality that many in Brazil face. It’s easy to lose hope in times like these, but football keeps us full of hope. It allows people to dream at night.
Pelé, grapefruits, and hope
Pelé, undeniably the best football player in the history of football, used to practice his juggling skills with grapefruits. His first football team was named “The Shoeless Ones,” because neither Pelé nor his teammates could afford shoes. Pelé had big dreams, but, most importantly, he had hope for his people, and his nation. He wanted to make them proud. Thus, football keeps our nation dreaming, despite all of our problems and despair. I’m sorry, but it’s true: this is something that most Icelanders will never grasp or understand.
It’s more than just muscular men running around, and it’s more than huddling around a TV set to shout at the top of your lungs every time someone misses or scores a goal. It’s way more than that to me. If you hate football—like I said, I get it. But you can’t deny how important it is to the people of Brazil, and how it helps to keep our dreams alive.