It is easy to become negative when one spends a great deal of time around Brazilian football. Over the weekend we saw the latest in a long line of football-related violent incidents as a Botafogo fan was shot dead outside the stadium before their game with Flamengo. There are recurrent episodes of racism, sexism and homophobia. The governing bodies, at both the national and state levels, are rotten to their very cores and there are numerous clubs in deep financial trouble who fail to pay their staff.
From time to time, though, something happens that gives you hope that a slightly brighter future lies ahead, that makes us believe that football is not entirely devoid of empathy, acceptance and humanity.
On the 7th of February, Rio Claro FC, a smallish club from the interior of São Paulo State, became the first in Brazil to openly invite people from the LGBT community to come to watch their games and say that it will do everything it can to stamp out the homophobic abuse that is so common in stadiums across the country.
A few months ago I wrote an article for Futebol Cidade about the extent of the problem of homophobia in Brazilian football and the cries of; “Oooooohh, BICHA”, that often accompany the taking of a goal kick. Bicha is a homophobic slur and Rio Claro, in a post on their official Facebook page, have promised that the word will not be heard inside their ground.
In the post they wrote, “Here we are all equal, we are all brothers. We are against, and will repress when practiced in our stadium, any type of discrimination, be it: social, racial, sexual, ethnic, religious or any other.”
It is the first time that any club in the country has taken a stand on this matter and sets an example for others to follow. Because of the size of Rio Claro FC the repercussions of this radical act will not be felt as widely as they might have been but it may encourage one of the bigger clubs to follow suit.
A member of the Rio Claro supporters group that came up with this initiative told the site UOL Esporte that they wanted to set themselves out as pioneers in the ultra-conservative world of football: “That is what motivated us, to be the first club to position itself against homophobia, against the most latent prejudice in football.”
They continued, “Football supporters have closed minds. But Rio Claro fans are more open, welcoming, and engage in social causes. There are a few fans complaining but a lot have got behind the campaign in a way that we hadn’t expected.”
Two organisations that have already been working to tackle the problem are Respeito FC and Observatório da Discriminação Racial no Futebol. The former was set up early last 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 over two years ago, originally to combat racial discrimination, and now works to stamp out homophobia as well.
Some incremental steps are starting to be taken along the road to ending this insidious prejudice and a club officially taking a stand is another small accomplishment. There is a mighty long way to go but the good fight has begun.