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Brazzil - Soccer Diplomacy- August 2004

A Note to Lula: Haiti Is in Brazil

If the Brazilian President really thought football would bring peace
he should have arranged for the match to be staged closer to home.
The favelas in Brazil can easily be as wretched as the shantytowns
in Haiti. Furthermore, Brazilian soldiers are available to maintain
order in Haiti, none are around to do likewise in Brazil's favelas.

John Fitzpatrick


Picture The English writer George Orwell once expressed doubts about the wisdom of sports contests as a way of bringing nations together. He was writing during the Cold War when the sports arena became a substitute battlefield between the West and East.

Communist countries lavished huge amounts of money on sporting tests of strength and ideology sports to show that the capitalists could be beaten, even though they often stooped to unsporting methods to win.

Fifty years later, one wonders what Orwell would have thought had he watched the football match between Brazil and Haiti. No hate, no ideology—just peace and love, a lousy football game and a lot of political cynicism.

Not only did this game pitch the world champions against the poorest state in the Americas, whose football team is ranked 92 by FIFA, but its purpose was to bring peace to that troubled nation.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is said to have come up with the idea and since Lula's approach to foreign affairs has been eccentric to say the least, this may well be true.

Lula does not like hard challenges abroad so instead of trying to get Brazil's stars to play in Baghdad he chose a nice soft alternative like Port-Au-Prince. Even then the Brazilian team did not stay in Haiti but in the neighboring Dominican Republic and only spent a few hours in Haiti.

If Lula really thought football would bring peace he should have arranged for the match to be staged closer to home. The favelas in some of Brazil's bigger cities are easily as violent and wretched as the shantytowns in Haiti.

Furthermore, while almost 1,000 Brazilian soldiers are available to help maintain order in Haiti, none are around to do likewise in the favelas in Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo.

Whether the game, which Brazil won 6-0, will bring peace to Haiti is doubtful, but at least it brought some cheer to the unfortunate people of Haiti. No doubt Lula will imagine he has achieved something as he claims to have done during his pointless visits to places like Gabon, São Tomé e Principe and Libya.

As to the game, it had some odd features such as a Brazilian referee, the first time I have ever seen an international game in which one of the teams provided a referee. The security was in the hands of blue-helmeted United Nations troops drawn from Brazil.

The fact that a large part of the Haitian supporters were waving Brazilian flags and cheering on Brazil was also rather bizarre. Some of the Haitian defenders, including the goalkeeper, gave the ball away so often that, for all we know, they might also have been Brazil supporters.

At times Haiti was almost as bad as Portugal in the recent European championships when the Portuguese team lost the final to lowly Greece in front of their home supporters.

(Incidentally, hope Portuguese readers and correspondents will accept my condolences at their team's recent flop in the Olympic football against Iraq. I recommend a few hours of therapy listening to a fado singer.)

About 15 minutes from the end, Brazil looked as though it was trying to let Haiti score but the home team was so bad that Brazil ended up netting another two goals instead.

So Brazil won a nice, easy victory, but by agreeing to this meaningless game the team and the Brazilian football authorities played into Lula's hands. Sic transit gloria.

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações—www.celt.com.br—which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at jf@celt.com.br.
© John Fitzpatrick 2004

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