Racial Discrimination against Afro-Brazilian Players in the Soccer Field

Racial Discrimination against Afro-Brazilian Players in the Soccer Field

Brazil is one of the most diverse nations in the world. This is primarily attributable to the cultural integration that occurred during the colonial era that saw the merger of peoples from various places in the world into one nation; Brazil. It is arguably the most diverse Latin American country. To add to the beauty of this diversity, the country has a great appreciation for sports. Sports occupy a high pedestal in the Brazilian culture. There has been a considerably overwhelming diffusion of modern sports in Brazil from diverse methodological and theoretical approaches (Pope & Nauright 562). It is for this reason that soccer is by far the most celebrated sports activity in Brazil. The country even hosted the most recent FIFA World Cup competition and has prided itself in having some of the most decorated soccer players in the world including Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Neymar, among others. This factor is important for understanding the character of the nation. It essentially explains why Brazil is primarily western. However in the midst of this diversity, it is notable that there are some inherent racial stereotyping and biasness in the nation. This is especially visible in the sporting sphere because therein the diversity in terms of culture and race becomes louder and the stereotyping more visible. The focus of this paper will be on racism specifically in the soccer fields towards Afro-Brazilian sportsmen and women.

In a country where there is exclusionism that strategically displaces and marginalizes Afro-Brazilians in many arenas in the nation’s life, it is not surprising that the same level of biasness is exercised with regard to the country’s personalities that participate in sporting activities (Afolabi 1). It is apparent that this racism has also become apparent with regard to “the beautiful game.” It is manifest through discrimination and exclusion from participating for instance in the Brazilian national team. There has essentially been institutionalization of Brazilian soccer traceable back to the exclusive private sports clubs that were founded at the turn of the century wherein soccer sprouted its first fruits (Ballvé & Daflon 1). Admission to these clubs was largely based on socio-economic standing and not necessarily race (Ballvé & Daflon 1). However it’s a known fact that racial differences (discrimination) went hand in hand with class discrepancies. This therefore directly or indirectly meant that Afro-Brazilian athletes were from the very onset denied access to actively participate in “the beautiful game.”

However despite all the road blocks placed on the way, there are some Afro-Brazilian sportsmen who managed to brave the tides and leave their footprints on the football field.  However it as still hard for this group of individuals. This is notably seen in the story of one Arthur Friedenreich. Arthur Friedenreich also known as Tiger is considered the first outstanding Afro-Brazilian footballer. His career trajectory was intertwined with racial discrimination that was practiced in contemporary Brazil (Curi 23). Incidentally, the most important occasion “arising from this discrimination was his exclusion from the Brazilian national team in the South American championship in Buenos Aires in 1921 apparently because the Brazilian president Epitacio Pessoa’s personal intervention” (Curi 23). Indeed as a colored man he was considered a symbol of poverty and had to take some “whitening” measures such as “straightening his hair with hot towels or gel” and proving that he is rightfully part of the upper class economically speaking (Curi 23). Arguably today, most Brazilian sports journalists have little recognition for the tremendous role played by Arthur Friedenreich. Exclusionism and racial discrimination in the sports arena has still continued for a long time. This is primarily because of the well ingrained national culture of being ashamed of its Afro-Brazilian citizens and making efforts towards “whitening” the face of the nation in the sports arena.

Today it is apparent that racism towards Afro-Brazilian players in the soccer fields still continues. This is despite the fact that there has been a long history of intermarriage and intermingling between the different cultures and races in Brazil. For instance the 2014 FIFA World Cup Competition that was hosted by Brazil unearthed the level of racial stereotypes and racial discrimination that have pervaded the Brazilian society. The World Cup which began with a multi-cultural celebration culminated into one of the worst forms of mass racial discrimination witnessed in modern times in the sports arena. The fans referred to the Afro-Brazilians as “monkeys” and made chants to that effect. They also threw bananas into the football pitch. This incident was a clear indication of the racial discrimination and biasness that continues to pervade the Brazilian society especially in the sports arena.

Because of its economic footprint and its appreciation of sports activities, Brazil has been the destination country with regard to the hosting of international sports activities. As aforementioned, Brazil hosted the most recent FIFA World Cup Competition in 2014 as well as the most recent Olympic games in 2016. It is the tradition in every hosting country, during the launching of the large sports events; the hosting country colorfully showcases its culture and traditions. What is ironical is that for both events, Brazil showcased its appreciation for the diverse cultures therein. According to an article dubbed BRAZIL TAKES PRIDE IN SPECTACULAR RIO 2016 OPENING, written by the Olympics News Team, it was apparent that Brazilians had a lot of appreciation for Afro-Brazilian sportsmen and women and that the country appreciated the profound influence of African culture on the Brazilian nation (Olympics News Team 2). It was apparently indicated therein that in the Olympics world, there is one universal law for everybody and that therein all persons are equal and that the values of our shared humanity therein are stronger that the dividing forces (Olympics News Team 2). Numerous Afro-Brazilians made performances during this grand opening and there was a beacon of hope for the breaking of the bondage of racism in the sports arena. First forward to the epitome of the Olympics competition when Brazil was playing against Germany, the mask was removed in an ugly way as blatant racism was witnessed in this emotionally charged competition. It is increasingly misleading to showcase to the whole world the amount of composure and tolerance that the Brazilians have towards their eminent diverse cultures during the grand opening only for the ugly truth to rear its face eventually. The historical and culturally ingrained racial bias towards Afro-Brazilian sports personalities should be dealt with conclusively.


Afolabi, N. Afro-Brazilians: Cultural Production in a Racial Democracy. University Rochester Press, 2009.

Ballvé, T., & Daflon, R. The Beautiful Game? Race and Class in Brazilian Soccer. Nacla Magazine, 2014. Retrieved from


Curi, M. Soccer in Brazil. Routledge, 2016.

Olympics News Team. BRAZIL TAKES PRIDE IN SPECTACULAR RIO 2016 OPENING. Olympics Games News, 2016. Retrieved from


Pope, S., W., & Nauright, J. Routledge Companion to Sports History. Routledge, 2009.