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The Problem of Racism in Brazilian Football Research Paper

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It goes without saying that different people have different characters. The treats of character can be individual, as well as be so called “national”. In other words, people of one race and with the same cultural backgrounds have some common treats of character which are general for all people of the same race. Race relations have always been one the of the most discussed topics in the field of sociology, psychology and other sciences which deal with human behavior.

Race relations are often described as the behavior differences that occur mainly during contacts and communication between people with different physical and cultural characteristics. Skidmore describes it as the relationships that could result into conflict and consciousness and determination of the people’s status in a community or a particular group. Race relations mainly differ in ecological, economic, social and political relationships that vary in both physical and genetic ways.

Race relations mainly involve such issues, as for example, some of the aspects such as change in technology, the social structure, political parties or even religious practices, beliefs and values of the people. Race relations are formed under certain conditions, for example, when people share some physical characteristics that are socially important. Some of the characteristics include skin color; hair texture, facial features and many more including body shape and size.

One of the issues that are widely discussed when talking about relations between different races is the issue of racism. Obviously, there are many examples of racism in the history of many countries. In different times and in different countries, there were different grounds for racism development. However, racism is mainly the belief that differences exist between races, religions or even groups with similar ethnicity. It involves the act of expressing favors, insults or anything that causes discomfort and disadvantages to others. Racism can even occur internationally or through ignorance and misunderstanding among the people.

There are different spheres of social life where racism in race relations can be clearly seen. One of such spheres is sport. For example, in football, it occurs among the players themselves, fans and even coaches who perpetuate racial discrimination in the football clubs and in the fields. Racism mainly involves direct abuse, harassment and utterances that are discriminatory. It can also emerge when there is inequality in the representation of the minorities in the game.

Racism is mainly dealt with in a straightforward way. However, it is extremely hard to deal with it in a large population especially in football where majority of the insults come from the crowds in the stands. Discrimination also appears in the game through sexism and homophobia which is the irrational fear and non-tolerance to homosexuality.

Discrimination can seem systematic and not personal and it is often hard to understand or even find it. A social attitude usually brings about racial prejudice and victims of racism experience feelings of offence. They feel humiliated, shame and pain in themselves. In football, racism damages pride of the players and lowers their self-esteem. Racist remarks are usually used by fans mainly to try to demoralize the players so that they can lose the game.

Football in Brazil

Football has always been an important game to people since ancient times and is always seen as a passionate game for people involved in it. These may include the football players, fans and the many employees that the game has provided employment to. It is mainly considered as a game that one doesn’t require any skills to play or learn it. It is a cheap and economical game that one can always afford to play.

Football in Brazil is the strongest symbol of the Brazilian identity. There was no other game that was popular other than football which was then referred to as “futebol.”

Football came into Brazil and especially into Sao Paolo in the 19th century through an English pioneer who was known as Charles Miller. Its first club arose in 1884 and named São Paulo Athletic Club. In 1914, Brazilian football confederation foundation began and some of the first teams to compete in the game included Rio and São Paulo and the Brazilian players emerged the winners. Brazilian team was then seen as the world’s greatest football teams.

Football in Brazil is basically associated with class, status or wealth. Football initially belonged to the rich clubs of the city and in the country. After the Introduction of Football in Brazil it became popular with Christian missionaries in élite schools for example Mackenzie College which mainly hosted children from rich families. As a result, football became a game for the rich. When coming to watch a game, men would wear suits and women wore dresses to symbolize wealth and affluence in the society. Players on the other hand wore sport coats and hatband bought from England.

At the time when football came into Brazil, the country was still under great influence from the colonial and slavery eras. As a result, football acquired a racist character that still exists even up to today1.

Football in Brazil was a sport that was exclusive to the rich. However, the sport was also popular among the poor masses as the game provided a means through which they could express themselves. Overtime it began to offer a means through which these poor masses could get out of poverty. In Brazil, a black person had slim chances for success and for them life was very hard. As a result, most Afro Brazilian wanted to do everything to gain the social status of the white people. They lacked resources that would help them to advance in their education career and as a result many of them were illiterate and they occupy a large population in the north-eastern part of Brazil.

Quality education was mainly associated with the white elites as the Afro-Brazilians were poor and hence were unable to acquire enough education. In Brazilian politics, racism manifests itself through the way political leaders get into office. Political leadership went hand in hand with education qualification and since the afro-Brazilians could not go to school they were not knowledgeable and could not get represented.

Brazil is a country which has always been associated with soccer. According to Bello, Brazilian football is a game of spontaneity and discernment, luxury and freedom and is part of their culture2. The country has managed to produce some of the best players in the world. It also possesses the most brilliant, harmonious and most supportive fans in the world. Brazilians have managed to create a sport that show flamboyance, beauty and grace and they refer to it as ‘futebol-arte’ or art football.

The Brazilian style of playing football is unique and the game characterized by prodigious skills and dribbles. The Brazilians describe these body movements in musical terms and in particular they compare it with samba, which is a form of song and dance3. Historians have argued that the culture of dribbling among Brazilian players was as a result of the racial segregation that blacks went through. Because of this, they had to devise ways in which they could defend themselves against the white men. Since they were weaker, they had to find ways to avoid contact with the white man as this could lead to one being punished. This saw the birth of dribbling which has come to signify Brazilian football.

Football in Brazil however is known to have a dark side; that of racism both in football clubs and in the fields. Brazilian football is also associated with violence as players attack their own players of different races especially when they lose the game. The Brazilian players are well-known for harassing the native players as well as spying on them. For Brazilian players, football possesses a great significance to them as it represents their lives and their culture.

Bello explains that the selling of players to other countries is common like the slavery trade. This is mainly because most of the Brazilian players are black. There has been a scandal that the selling of Brazilian black players to play in European clubs is mainly to get rid of them.

In Brazil, soccer to the poor masses and particularly to Afro-Brazilians was as a way of improving their poor lifestyles and getting out of the ghettos. The whites on the other hand saw it as a way of controlling the team energy of the poor blacks4.

The game however continued to develop and gained popularity and gradually players from lower classes started to join the clubs. People of all classes and race could now play the game. Many clubs at that time however did not want to enlist back people into their teams but as time went by, they could not help noticing the great talents that these people possessed and slowly but gradually they began to accept them in.

One of Brazil’s best soccer players was a black man known as Arthur Friedenreich. He was one of the first black superstars in the history of Brazilian soccer. His mother was an African Brazilian washer woman and the daughter of a freed slave and he fell into the bracket of the Mullatoes. Despite the fact that he was one of the greatest footballers in the history of Brazil, he experienced racial segregation and was even denied access to some social events like swimming.

Racism in Brazilian football

Brazilian football is closely linked with the history of the social struggle in South America and as a result it has a sociological meaning. Football in Brazil is mainly considered as not just a game but as a metaphor of the country’s social life and its culture. Brazilian football provide fun and was a form of entertainment for the masses and became the most powerful expression about the culture of the country. It represented the culture of the Brazilians and the effects it had on the lives of the people there.

Racism in Brazil’s football has existed for many years. In 1912, the most prominent clubs of that time Flamenco and Fuminese only allowed teams to join the league as long as there were no blacks in their team. Even after that rule became irrelevant, other big teams did not want to hire blacks though they could not help noticing the great talents among the black people.

In 1920, the Fuminese club agreed to hire black people but even then the players had to use make-up known as “po de arroz”or “rice powder.” In 1936, Flamenco, another famous club hired its first black player who was known as Leonidas da Silva aka black diamond. He was so talented that clubs fought for him and Flamenco managed to win him. Overtime, this club came to have the most number of black players and it became known as ‘Urubu’ which ironically meant American black vulture. Other teams and their supporters used this name ironically to undermine the team but instead the name motivated them by boosting their morale and it became the icon and a symbol of luck for the team.

It is quite difficult to believe that racism exists in Brazil as it is one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world. Despite this fact though, the racism in this country is one of the worst kinds as people do not even realize that it exists.

In this country, people openly discuss racism and ethnicity even on the media without any guilt or opposition. The irony of it all is the claim by Brazilians that there is racial democracy in their country but this does not exist. During football matches, commentators would discuss and openly debate on the matters that are racial without any guilt and opposition from the public as they see no problem in that. When it comes to the choosing of a team, picking of players is only on merit and initially, the captain and the goalkeeper picked had to appear “good looking”. Here “good-looking” meant white since black or mixed races were crude and ugly.

Despite all these, many black players have managed to put Brazilian government’s racist restrictions to rest through their talents and skills. Examples include players like Pele, a black Brazilian together with Gamincha a Mestizo who managed to make Brazil proud out of their exemplary performances in 1958.Thanks to them Brazil who had an almost entirely white team won the first world championship ever5.

Since Pele was an Afro-Brazilian, he experienced racism and faced criticism from a society where racism was still prevalent even though he was the greatest player of all times.

Arthur Friedrich was also one of the greatest footballers in Brazilian football. His talents and skills enabled him to become accepted into the society as his talent dominated and overshadowed his racial identity.

In 2005, during a game between São Paulo and the Argentine team called Quilmes in São Paulo’s morumbi stadium, Desabato hurled a graphic slur at a São Paulo player called Grafite. He then shoved him on the face and the referee expelled them both from the game. Since racial insults are forbidden in Brazil, an arrest warrant followed for Desabato because of defamation associated with racial discrimination. Quilmes, Desabato’s club denied that Desabato had not committed any crime. Ironically, Desabato himself said that he did not know that such insults were against the law.

In Brazil, football reflects the culture of the people. It shows the positive and the negative features of the society. It forms part of the Brazilian cultural identity, its origin and the life of poor masses. In fact, most of the Brazilians cultural activities take shape within the ‘four lines’ of the game.

In Brazil, football is very popular, it can be considered to be a medium that brings people together. It features everywhere whether at home, in bars and even in schools. It brings people together and in a way it also tears these people apart and to make sure there is racial democracy and participation in many ethnic groups is important as it helps in reducing problems that arise from racism in football.

In Brazil, racism has led to the death of many people who died due to the violence that emerged from football. This includes the deaths that occurred both in the stadium and outside the stadium during the clashes with other fans. Violence in the field has been the major concern for the country as it prepares for the 2014 World Cup. This is mainly because the Brazilians have failed in the past to enact rules to govern the behavior of people in the field. No punishment has been given to the perpetrators of racism and as a result it has continued to spread6.

Racism, violence and hooligans in the field is not something new in Brazil as it has dominated football for many years now. In other parts of the world, this type of behavior is severely punished unlike in Brazil. In the United Kingdom, fans and players who perpetrate racism face the long arms of the law with by the authorities. In 2007, Germany closed all the stadiums in the country to deal with the problem of racism and violence in football pitches.

In Brazil, racism exists because there are some particular groups that have formed organizations that act as fans of a particular game and often threaten the players or the fans of the opposite teams. These particular groups often plan fights and at the end of the game many people die while others suffer from injuries. The Mancha Verde meaning “Green Stalin” is an example of the most racist football clubs in Brazil.

Brazilian government has not shown any interest in curbing this violence and racism and it is clear from the fact that police forces lack the resources and will to resolve the violence and racism. As a result, Brazil has become one of the leading violent and racist societies in the world with a high number of murder cases that are racist. Football has become a game with both passion and brutality. Wars and loud noises of gun shots characterize the clubs in Brazil and in the pitches, racism is perpetrated through chants, cat calls and racial slurs usually uttered by the fans in the stands.

The messages in these songs usually carry racial messages meant to demoralize the players. This happened recently between Independiente and Boca Juniors clubs in Buenos Aires when the fans from Independiente waved Paraguayan and Bolivian flags written number 12 on them. Traditionally the number symbolizes the fans of Boca Juniors which is a club with large number of immigrant supporters dwelling in Argentina.


Considering the information that has been provided earlier in this paper, in conclusion it should be mentioned that the governing bodies, footballers and football clubs in Brazil should acknowledge that racism indeed exists in their country. This is because continued denial would only lead to the matter becoming more serious. Players should always act as role models to others by showing respect since they are the most important characters in the game.

The coaches and managers from the black race should take part in ensuring that they make to the top of the game. By so doing it will make sure that the government support will bring football peace in our modern societies. Racism is not something that ends just by shaking hands at the end of the game by saying sorry to the affected team but it about enacting some of the rules and laws that is giving enough punishment to the ones who cause it. Banning of the racist from playing the game is important to give a lesson to the rest of the people who are becoming racists too.


Bellos, Alex. Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2002.

Fontaine, Pierre-Michael. Race, Class and Power in Brazil. Los Angeles: University of California Centre for Afro, 1985.

Mason, Tony. Passion of the People: Football in South America. London: Verso, 1996.

Skidmore, Thomas E. Black into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought. Durham: Duke University Press Books, 1974.


  1. Pierre-Michael Fontaine. Race, Class and Power in Brazil. (Los Angeles: University of California Centre for Afro, 1985).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Tony Mason. Passion of the People: Football in South America. (London: Verso, 1996.).
  5. Alex Bellos. Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life. (New York, Bloomsbury USA, 2002).
  6. Thomas E Skidmore. Black into White: Race and Nationality in Brazilian Thought. (Durham: Duke University Press Books, 1974).
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