Joshua Law –
“Ooooooooohhhh, ZIKA!” If you were following the Olympics you may have noticed these shouts from the Brazilian crowds every time Hope Solo, the US women’s team goalkeeper, kicked a ball in anger. It was fairly amusing, at least at first, the country getting its own back on someone who had rather idiotically and offensively posted photos of herself on social media before the tournament posing with a variety mosquito-repelling equipment.
However, mixed in with these screams in the matches not involving the US women’s team was something far more sinister and far from funny. It is something heard in Brazilian stadiums across the country every weekend, screamed by thousands of fans, every time a goalkeeper runs up to take a goal-kick.
“Oooooooooohhhh, BICHA!” ‘Bicha’ is a homophobic slur common in Brazil, bicha being the feminine version of the term bicho which is used to refer to small animals and insects. Shouting this word at the top of their lungs perhaps seems relatively harmless to a great many who join in but it is a deeply unpleasant insult.
Comparing the insult to the dehumanising language historically used towards black and Jewish people, the respected Brazilian journalist Leandro Beguoci said in an article for the sports site Trivela; “We might not realise it, but we are saying that another person is a bicho. An animal. It might seem like a joke, it might seem inoffensive, but it was this, historically, that justified slavery and the deaths of millions of people.”
After the recent World Cup qualifying game against Colombia, in which these shouts were clearly heard emanating from the terraces throughout, FIFA fined the CBF, Brazil’s football federation, 20 thousand Swiss Francs. It is a derisory sum given the severity of the crime and it will not make a dent in the CBF’s budget but it at least shows something is being done and raises the question in the Brazilian media. FIFA also fined several other South American nations for similar offences.
Disgracefully Conmebol, South America’s version of UEFA, has seen fit to protest against FIFA’s decision, arguing that these sorts of outbursts from the crowd “are part of the culture of South American football”. This protest is probably as a result of pressure from the national federations, most of which are run by extremely conservative, reactionary, old, straight, white men.
It perhaps comes as no surprise then that the CBF never take any punitive action against clubs whose fans shout homophobic taunts. There is nothing about homophobia in the ‘Statute for the Defence of the Supporter’, the federal law which the CBF and Supreme Court for Justice in Sport follow for taking action against discrimination.
Article 13A of the statute says that clubs will be punished for “discriminatory, contemptuous or outrageous acts, related to prejudice on the basis of ethnic origin, race, sex, colour, age, agedness or disability.” Nothing about sexuality is included at any point in the document.
Despite the lack of protection in this particular decree Brazil generally has fairly progressive laws relating to discrimination on account of sexual orientation, especially when compared with other Latin American countries, and is home to the world’s largest gay pride march; São Paulo’s Parada Gay.
Homophobia in Brazilian football reflects wider society
Homophobia in wider Brazilian society is, however, still a huge problem, as homophobic attacks are disturbingly commonplace. According to the activist group Grupo Gay da Bahia, 1,600 murders of homosexual and transgender people motivated by their sexual identity have occurred over the past four-an-a-half years in Brazil, a rate of almost one per day.
There is a strand of society, led by the Evangelical Christian right, which is vituperatively homophobic (as well as misogynistic and racist).
One of their leaders, the congressman Jair Bolsonaro, said in an interview for a Stephen Fry documentary on the subject, “There is no homophobia in Brazil. 90% of homosexuals who die, die in places of drug consumption or of prostitution, or are killed by their own partner. I entered into this battle with the gays because the government proposed anti-homophobia classes for primary school children, in reality this would stimulate homosexualism (sic) in children. This is not normal.”
A July poll from DataFolha, Brazil most esteemed polling institution, suggested that seven to eight percent of people in Brazil intend to vote for Bolsonaro in the presidential election in 2018, depending on the other candidates in the race, showing that these views have the support of a significant minority.
Football, inevitably a reflection of the society in which it exists, is no different. It is not just the cries of ‘bicha’ that demonstrate the vile prejudice which is present inside Brazilian football stadiums.
In 2013 veteran striker Emerson Sheik, then playing for São Paulo giants Corinthians, posted a photo on Instagram of him kissing a male friend on lips. The following day a group of Corinthians fans went to the training ground to protest against the photo, demanding an apology from the player and holding up homemade banners that read ‘no faggots’ and ‘fuck off and kiss elsewhere, this is a place for men’.
The club’s second biggest torcida organizada, or organised fan club, Camisa 12 was fined 20 thousand reals for the incident by the São Paulo state government, but no action was taken by the footballing authorities to combat the behaviour.
This is not the only time one of Corinthians’ organizadas has been involved in a controversial incident of this nature. Last year a high-ranking member of Corinthians main torcida organizada, Gaviões da Fiel, was revealed by his girlfriend to be having a sexual relationship with a man. He was immediately expelled from the firm but some other members feel that he should be punished further with a severe beating or death as he has apparently made them the laughing stock of other clubs’ fans.
In an article for Vice Sports Brazil Flávio de Campos, a professor specialising in the social importance of sport at the University of São Paulo, said that, “football is an element of the construction of a violent, aggressive, chauvinistic, truculent and heteronormative masculinity. The importance that football has within Brazilian society helps to define societal roles, amongst men and women, based on this heteronormative logic.”
Football is a reflection of society
Previously I commented that football is a reflection of society. This is not, however, to say that it is a passive reflection that cannot move until society does—as de Campos suggests it is also plays a significant role in shaping our society and how we think. Football could lead the way in the wider societal battle against discrimination, and perhaps should lead the way in a country where it is so important.
In the battle against racism in football the powers that be take a much more active role. To this end the CBF runs a campaign called Somos Iguais (We are Equal) and there is absolutely no reason, apart from their own conservatism, that they could not do something similar with regards to homophobia.
Against the backdrop of the authorities’ current lack of action other groups have had to fill the void. Torcidas for homosexual fans have been set up for several of Brazil’s biggest clubs, they include the groups Corinthians Livre, Galo Queer, Flamengo Livre and Grêmio Queer.
Owing to the viciously homophobic atmospheres inside the grounds, however, they are mostly restricted to online activity. They were created with the intention of openly attending matches under their respective banners but were threatened by other ‘supporters’ of their own clubs. The clubs’ directors also want nothing to do with them.
Other movements that have started making some steps to rid football of this affliction are Respeito FC and Observatório da Discriminação Racial no Futebol. The former was set up earlier this year by a group of journalists sick of all the discriminatory language inside football stadiums and the hypocrisy of the authorities that punish supporters who criticise the CBF and the state federations for corruption yet turn a blind eye to blatant prejudice.
The latter group was founded two years ago, originally to combat racial discrimination, and now works to stamp out homophobia as well. Marcelo Carvalho is one of the leaders of the group and has been a vocal supporter of the inclusion of sexual orientation in the ‘Statute for the Defence of the Supporter’, mentioned previously. He rightly argues that its inclusion would force authorities to act and to punish clubs for the behaviour of their fans.
In recent days the organisation has started to achieve some coverage in the mainstream media and with this comes increasing pressure for the authorities to act, one can only hope that this sort of exposure will continue.
With the work of these visionaries a tiny chink of light has appeared at the end of the tunnel. There is an unfathomably long way to go, however, until football can even begin to say it is taking the appropriate measures to tackle this insidious issue.
The CBF, the state football federations and the Supreme Court for Justice in Sport must take the lead, but owing to the makeup of their leaderships they will be reluctant to. The pressure must come from below; from the media, grassroots groups and fans who are sick of this prejudice that pervades the game. Only like this can we truly make football what it purports to be; a game of the people, all of the people.
Joshua Law (@JoshuaMLaw) is a Londoner residing in São Paulo who makes ends meet as a freelance journalist. He specialises in Brazilian and South American football but also writes about social and political issues. He loves looking at numbers and graphs, whether to do with politics or the beautiful game, and has a special penchant for overweight footballers. You can follow his Brazilian football website on Twitter @FootyCanarinho.