Friday 16 November 2018

Why Brazil is nuts about footie, not The Simpsons

Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

When the mighty Brazilian team kick off against us tonight, it will be a night of fond memories for many former internationals.

When Liam Brady scored that famous 1987 winner against the Samba boys, it was perhaps the greatest result in Irish football history - not for any competitive points, but simply for the realisation that every now and then we could beat the big boys.

Since then, plenty has changed. Ireland has gone through a major economic revival, a minor economic downturn, numerous governments and several referenda.

Brazil, on the other hand, are still the same old natural footballers from the land where every day is Mardi Gras, all the women look like something from your dreams and the poverty we have come to expect in South America is simply something they shrug off as they dance the night away, right?

Well, not quite.

In much the same way that the Irish become justifiably irate when we're characterised abroad as a bunch of happy-go-lucky, charming alcoholics, Brazilian sensitivity towards how they are perceived has also increased. As, indeed have crime, poverty and social unrest.

The left-leaning Brazilian government recently showed its teeth when it responded to draconian new proposals by American immigration officials to photograph and fingerprint new arrivals from certain countries - including Brazil - by photographing every American who landed in the country, including pilots and cabin crew.

It caused a moderate diplomatic storm but was quietly solved when the Brazilians were informed that they would be made exempt.

That degree of independence certainly hasn't endeared President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's government to the Americans but, following covert American intelligence involvement in the attempted Chavez coup in Venezuela, South American countries have been looking for one of their own to give the Bush administration a bloody nose. Da Silva's decision to step up to the plate has positioned Brazil as the leader of the South American confederation of nations.

It's a far cry from the bout of international laughter which greeted one the country's tourist board's decision to try and sue the Fox network two years ago, following an episode of The Simpsons.

In the episode Blame It On Lisa, the Simpson brood visited Rio, only to see Homer kidnapped, Bart swallowed by a boa constrictor and the family's luggage stolen by monkeys.

Riotours sued the makers for $18m, claiming that was how much they had spent promoting Brazil in America and it took an apology from Fox to drop the suit.

Interestingly, one of the main problems local Brazilians had with the programme's depiction of them was the fact that it portrayed them as Spanish speakers, and not Portuguese.

But some local journalists claimed the reaction was typical of an increasingly litigious society, which earlier that year had seen the mayor of Rio sue the local weather forecaster for predicting storms on New Year's Eve, the night of a large festival.

Interest in tonight's game is typically huge in Brazil but it's not the only attraction.

The Brazilian FA tried to get the FAI to bring the kick-off forward from 7.30pm to 7pm as it clashed with the Brazilian equivalent of Coronation Street but, due to the tickets already having been printed, they were forced to put the game on pay-per-view.

Any distraction for da Silva's Government at the moment will be welcomed, however, as they lurch into their first, virtually inevitable corruption crisis.

The 'Waldomiro Affair' has caused panic with investors and brought calls for the dismissal of Jose Dirceu, chief of staff in President da Silva's government.

In a country which has been riddled with financial corruption almost since independence from Portugal was declared on September 7, 1822, Da Silva had offered an alternative to the largely venal administrations which had gone before him. Many supporters are blaming the current crisis on a right-wing smear campaign.

Perhaps the one perception of Brazil that still stands up is the country's love affair with football.

While hardly a unique phenomenon in South America, the simple fact of the matter is that the international image of young boys displaying breathtaking skills on the beach is far more appealing than, say, Diego Maradona kicking a punctured ball against the wall of a Buenos Aires barrio.

But regardless of the current state of play of Brazilian society, their arrival brings a shiver of excitement for every football fan and while the air of expectancy has undeniably been slightly punctured by the enforced absence of Damien Duff (the one player we all wanted to see out-Brazilian the Brazilians) you could still fill Lansdowne Road twice over.

Just don't mention The Simpsons.

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