By Samindra Kunti
February 28 – This weekend Rio de Janeiro giants Flamengo and Fluminense will dispute the final of the Taça Guanabara. It is but a footnote in the drawn-out and archaic state championships, which are increasingly holding back Brazilian football.
Brazil’s football calendar has always been out of sync with Europe and that is no different in 2017. The months between January and early May are devoted to the state championships, 27 across the vast territory that Brazil is. Thereafter the national championship begins.
In the post-World Cup era this nineteenth century calendar has not changed, often harming the progress of Brazil’s biggest clubs. The Primeira Liga, a tournament running until October among clubs from the south of Brazil, has further congested the calendar.
Back in 2015 the Primeira Liga was founded over fears of crippling attendances and low revenues from the state championships. It was an open rebellion against the Brazilian FA (CBF), but so far the pull of the Primeira Liga, without the participation of the Sao Paulo clubs, has remained limited.
The retrograde state federations are the CBF’s powerbase. Together they organise the state championships, and so, anno 2017, the procession of David-vs-Goliath matches with no real beneficiaries, except power-craving football administrators, rolls on.
This season the state championships have been marred by violence. When Flamengo and Botafogo played at the Engenhao stadium, the venue for the athletics at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, a fan was stabbed to death with a barbecue stick. A week later, an 18-year-old Coritiba fan was shot dead by the military police before their game with local rivals Atlético Paranaense.
The game was cancelled, but for a different reason. Coritiba vs Atletico Paranaense was to be the first match ever in Brazil to be streamed live on Youtube as the clubs had not reached an agreement over televising with Brazil’s biggest network TV Globo. In turn, they wanted to offer a free broadcast online, but the FPF, the state football federation for Paraná, blocked that move. The FPF contended that the twelve reporting journalists, hired by Atletico Paranaense, had not been accredited by the federation.
Atletico Paranaense have been one of the few big clubs that have publicly denounced the state championships. They have often fielded reserve teams. The CBF retaliated by announcing that artificial pitches will be banned as of next season. Atletico’s Arena da Baixada has synthetic grass.
The power of the CBF and its president Marco Polo del Nero remains largely unchallenged. Internationally, Del Nero has become marginalised after he famously fled Zurich following FIFAgate, but at home the octogenarian is still the high commander of the domestic game.
The players organization Bom Semso, who rebelled against the CBF, is running out of steam, and the state federations continue to offer Brazil’s governing body their support in return for the maintenance of the farcical state championships.
It is a state of affairs that benefits no one but a few football officials. Unlike their European counterparts, the small clubs have little power of representation. They don’t grow, in a large part due to their inactiveness for much of the season. For the big clubs, the state championships offer a chance of easy silverware, but they do little for their continental and global competitiveness with so many nonsensical fixtures.
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