Football and politics

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What are the reasons that made possible the emergence of the connection between moralism and politics with football almost a century ago?


The game suddenly no longer had just the pitch as its stage and only those present in the stadium as spectators: in the 1930s, the broadcasting of football brought the crowd that began to be reached by radio to the center of reactions about the sport. If social and cultural disputes were evident from the first sporting practices in the urbanization process of Brazilian cities, the emergence of these new and enthusiastic participants would make everything more intense and uncontrollable.

The first sketches of large-scale sports communication, still on amateur radio in the 1920s and 1930s, bring together traits that would cross any genealogy of the intersections between football and politics. From Rio de Janeiro, the Red-Black Hour, with presenters Lauro Borges and Flavio Costa. The first would be responsible, in the future, for consolidating a popular expression of humor in broadcasting with Balança, Mas Não Cai na National Radio. And comedy would accompany sports communication.

The second was a coach of professional teams and led the Brazilian team in the national campaign until the defeat to the Uruguayan team, in 1950, at Maracanã. It is not just clubbing that should be highlighted from this still amateur experience – although taking sides in the sport, since the first initiatives on radio, is still a central factor. It is political participation, among those involved in communication, that cannot be neglected: the coach's candidacy during the campaign was a reality.

The harassment of the Brazilian delegation's concentration on the eve of the decision against the Uruguay team and the champion atmosphere before the result could have been impulses to lead Flavio Costa to a seat in Parliament. The party chosen was the Brazilian Labor Party (PTB), historically linked to Getúlio Vargas. But frustration with the Uruguayan title contributed to the campaign not being leveraged by the fans. The claim to represent sportspeople in institutional politics collapsed.

The choice of acronym can be misleading. Although the PTB had a strong connection with the unions, it would be a mistake to attribute to the coach any inclination to the left: in his memoirs, Flavio Costa comments, without avoiding the epic tone of the memories, the persecution of Coluna Prestes throughout Brazil while he was a soldier. Practical in the hunt against the future communist leader, he claimed to have defended Brazil in several of his remembrances. In the 1960s, the technician would be selected for the Grande Resenha Facit.


The program brought together commentators in a scenario to bring into play different, sometimes antagonistic, perspectives on football. Live broadcasts brought hysterical or restrained expressions to televisions using technology to radiate images: television was beginning to become popular in the country. Alongside the future coach of the national team, João Saldanha; one of the main television news directors of the 20th century, Armando Nogueira; and the playwright and columnist, Nelson Rodrigues, was José Maria Scassa.

With experience in radio and newspapers, José Maria Scassa sought a position in the Chamber of Councilors of the then Federal District in the 1950s. In the electoral race for the National Democratic Union (UDN), he spoke out against corruption, the old class of politicians and defended the hopes of future generations through sport. Despite moving comfortably through the city's intellectual and cultural circles, he also failed to secure the position at the end of the campaign. The candidacy, however, rekindled some signs of Udenism.

The party fluctuated greatly during its time in action, but the rigid delineation of the division between good and evil was a permanent line. From this derives the defense of the family, good customs, the need to purify the arts and cultural manifestations against different types of depravity – and finally the support of the civil-military coup against the left. In 1964, the possibility of bringing together representatives of different political tendencies, present in the 1940s, had been left behind. The strict defense of morality stood out.

The most brilliant parliamentarian to reconcile football and Udenism was Ary Barroso. A historical companion of José Maria Scassa, the councilor achieved the necessary votes in the 1940s, also before the Rio electorate, and sustained a mandate in which he oscillated between popular and sophistication. He defended the creation of the Maracanã stadium, with great appeal and access to the city's population. On the other hand, he made inflammatory speeches against those who walked through the city in bathing suits after diving at the shore.

The duo of Udenist friends maintained a good sense of humor in their appearances on the radio and perhaps this facilitated the popularization of their comments on football. Ary Barroso did not witness the fall of President João Goulart: he died during the carnival before the military onslaught, with civilian support, towards power. Despite speculation, José Maria Scassa would not run again and would continue covering sports. He was unable to resist the brain surgery that, in 1980, ended his life.


The relationship between Udenism and sport would not be a particularity of Rio de Janeiro. Popular radio host Nicolau Tuma would reach the Legislature as the party's candidate. A brief history of the parliamentarian highlights connections with moralism: he was the voice of São Paulo's indignation against Getúlio Vargas in 1932, through the Radio Record, and became recognized as speaker-machine gun – which concerns both the perfect pronunciation of words at the speed and the aggressiveness with which he expressed himself in public.

Like Ary Barroso, Nicolau Tuma graduated in law: the fascination that UDN graduates exerted on considerable segments of the urban middle classes is well known. Relationships with university groups were not uncommon during the party's existence. The idea of ​​purity, symbolized by the white scarves of the party's campaigns, also captivated media companies. The support of media conglomerates for Udenist candidates was constant. Economic issues were decisive for the alliance.

There are indications that the narrator was responsible for broadcasting the first match held in the newly created city of Brasília. The influence in the National Congress would quickly spread to the field of communication: Nicolau Tuma was the rapporteur of the Brazilian Communication Code in 1962. In comparison with the other football supporters, the deputy was the one who most closely followed the political, cultural and of the 1964 anti-democratic offensive.

With the imposition of bipartisanship by the regime, he began to represent the National Renewal Alliance (Arena). The acronym brought together supporters of the dictatorship and intensified the moral platforms that attracted the middle fractions of the population to the coup. Other parliamentarians linked to the sport also joined the party, such as Veiga Brito and Wadih Helu, presidents of Flamengo and Corinthians respectively. The narrator's family also entered institutional politics: delegate Romeu Tuma even became a senator.


The impressions of this trajectory make it easier, at least, to understand the factors that lead to the current legislature: in the Senate, Jorge Kajuru's presence echoes some of these traits. With successive changes of subtitles, the parliamentarian supported himself in defending morality in football to, initially, build a reputation as a sports commentator; and, later, to reach Congress in a period of profound denial to traditional parties. Romário's adherence to Bolsonarism is also less mysterious.

The lineage of candidacies that cross politics and sports and communication does not exclude the existence of more democratic and subversive manifestations around football. It is possible to identify movements and even candidates that have launched themselves in disputes against conservatism since the 20th century. It is necessary, however, to assess whether these anti-authoritarian expressions do not also collide with moralism – the genealogical reading only presents figures leaning to the right. It is, it is worth highlighting, just a sketch.

Tracing a fragile history of this biased and rigid morality does not offer automatic answers about the reasons that made the emergence of the connection with football possible almost a century ago. The most instinctive reaction is to point to Christianity as a factor that directs this political horizon – it is not enough. Neither Catholicism nor the recent neo-Pentecostal explosion would mechanically justify the popularity of commentators and, subsequently, the votes won at the polls.

Economic relations, social conflicts and cultural transformations meet popular traditions in the circulation of sports commentators. The crowds involved in sport, since the consolidation of broadcasting in Brazil, provide attempts at control and insubordination. Apparently, moralism can be a way of simultaneously establishing far-reaching exclusionary standards and taking advantage of them for electoral purposes.

*Helcio Herbert Neto is a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Cultural and Media Studies at UFF. Book author Words at play. []

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