National Soccer Team As Indicator For State of Country’s Cultural Harmony, Inclusion & Diversity

By Wale Ajibade (African Views Organization)

Thanks to Soc­cer, Africans are at Home in the World

A Soc­cer world cup in Brazil changes every­thing. All par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries have had to qual­ify for the tour­na­ment and each one is anx­ious and very deter­mined to make a valu­able air­time oppor­tu­nity count while the whole world watches. Every team has been well pre­pared, and each player is at the peak of their per­for­mance and the whole atmos­phere is filled with host of unbri­dled pas­sion­ate audi­ence. This state­ment sim­ply describes the per­ma­nent sen­ti­ment about soc­cer in Brazil where the national inter­est in soc­cer is unri­valed and serves as bench­mark for the soc­cer enthu­si­asts around the world. Brazil has won the tour­na­ment 5 times since the offi­cial incep­tion of the world cup on July 13, 1930, and is cur­rently the most suc­cess­ful nation in the world cup tour­na­ments espe­cially for hav­ing being the only team to have played in every tournament.

But these may not be the only rea­son why hav­ing the World Cup tour­na­ment in Brazil in 2014 changes every­thing. Brazil has hosted the tour­na­ment before in 1950 but this par­tic­u­lar tour­na­ment will go down in his­tory as a spe­cial world event that changes the par­a­digm of diver­sity and inclu­sion in national rep­re­sen­ta­tion as well as sets a vision of brand­ing a new world image. There are many sports in the world today that are cross­ing national bound­aries, but there is none like soc­cer in terms of busi­ness, social influ­ence, sol­i­dar­ity and global impact, that makes Soc­cer the most pop­u­lar sport in the world, and Brazil — the most favorite Soc­cer nation.
Foot­ball is taken very seri­ously in Brazil and the world respects that. Dur­ing the World Cup, work­ers pause from their duties to watch their team in action, and banks shut down three hours before matches to allow their work­ers to pre­pare for the game. Soc­cer reflects a nation’s cul­ture, espe­cially in South Amer­ica and Africa because it per­me­ates all lev­els of a soci­ety. Credit of this Brazil­ian devel­op­ment can­not fully be under­stood with­out Nel­son Rodrigues and Edson Arantes do Nasci­mento bet­ter known as Pelé, the King of Soccer.

The jour­nal­ist, writer, and play­wright Nel­son Rodrigues wrote an edi­to­r­ial to encour­age the Brazil­ian national soc­cer team in his col­umn for the mag­a­zine Manchete Esportiva at the advent of the World cup sched­uled to take place in Swe­den in 1958. He reflected on the so-​called Mara­canazo, which trans­lates from Por­tuguese to the ‘Mara­cana Sta­dium blow’ in Eng­lish. This term helps to truly appre­ci­ate the sig­nif­i­cance of the World Cup of 1950 and its influ­ence on the Brazil­ian psy­che. The unex­pected loss to Uruguay had such an emo­tional and psy­cho­log­i­cal impact on the Brazil­ian soci­ety in gen­eral that it is con­sid­ered to be a national tragedy. Aldo Rebelo, the Brazil­ian min­is­ter of sport, sug­gests that “Los­ing to Uruguay in 1950 not only impacted on Brazil­ian foot­ball. It impacted on the country’s self-​esteem. Moacir Bar­bosa, the goal­keeper of the Brazil­ian team, suf­fered the most as a result of the tragic defeat. As goal­keeper, he suf­fered end­less crit­i­cism from Brazil­ians who blamed him for the defeat. Since Bar­bosa was of African descent, racism often per­vaded the crit­i­cism, mak­ing it all the more painful.

At the begin­ning of the 20th cen­tury, Afro Brazil­ians were scape­goats, and it was com­mon to blame them for society’s var­i­ous prob­lems. How­ever, dur­ing the 1930s, a group of par­tic­u­larly gifted Afro Brazil­ian foot­ball play­ers became national heroes and, as a result, they encour­aged their com­pa­tri­ots to appre­ci­ate the diver­sity of their coun­try. Since the 1930s, foot­ball has served to unify Brazil. Although many of the foot­ball play­ers admired in Brazil in the 1950s were black, such as Didi and Léonidas da Silva, Barbosa’s plight demon­strates that the Brazil­ian soci­ety of the era was still marked by prej­u­dice and racism. To shake this par­a­digm, Nel­son Rodrigues used the term “mon­grel com­plex” to describe the lack of self-​confidence among the Brazil­ian peo­ple and to pro­voke the contrary.

“When the Brazil­ian foot­baller shakes off his inhi­bi­tions and reaches a state of grace there is no other player in the world that can match him in terms of fan­tasy, impro­vi­sa­tion and inven­tion,” wrote Rodrigues. “We have, in short, an excess of tal­ent. The national team’s prob­lem isn’t about foot­ball any more, or tech­nique or tac­tics. Its prob­lem is self-​belief. Brazil­ians must con­vince them­selves that they are not mon­grels and that they have more than enough abil­ity to go to Swe­den and suc­ceed. To be or not to be a mon­grel: that is the ques­tion for the national team.”

The Brazil­ian team went to com­pete in Swe­den in 1958 with a new mind­set. Their objec­tive was to reclaim the glory due them and there was no one else on the team more deter­mined than the Rookie, Pele. Chest­ing down a cross inside the box, Pele flicked the ball over the near­est defender’s head and volleyed home for one of the finest goals ever scored in the finals. Pele’s sec­ond goal of the day was with an injury-​time header. “When I passed to Didi, I made as if I was going to run for­ward but turned back instead. That con­fused the defender a lit­tle and he let the ball come through to me. When I con­trolled it on my chest he thought I was going to shoot. I got my foot on it and flicked it over his head, which was some­thing the Euro­peans weren’t used to. They always tried to close you down because they were used to peo­ple shoot­ing straight­away. I hit the ball before it touched the ground and in it went. It was one of the most beau­ti­ful goals of my career,” Brazil’s Pele relives his side’s third goal.

Pele-BlackWhite“After the fifth goal I didn’t want to mark Pele any more. I just wanted to applaud him,” Swe­den mid­fielder Sigge Parling.

When Brazil defeated the host nation 5 – 2 in the final, they had freed a soci­ety off the mon­grel com­plex and shaped the des­tiny of a nation, reborn with new strength and belief. Brazil would ever be the same again. What Brazil didn’t know is how much of their enthu­si­asm and valiant exhi­bi­tion have impacted the rest of the world. Nel­son had given a peo­ple a tool to shift their par­a­digm and Pele helped the nation to move on from the fail­ures of the past. Pele’s influ­ence as a Brazil­ian of Africans descent has had an unimag­in­able impact around the world. 1958 was a mem­o­rable year in Brazil­ian his­tory and not just because of the achieve­ments of the national team. The country’s pres­i­dent, Juscelino Kubitscheck, insti­gated a period of near-​miraculous eco­nomic growth, giv­ing the green light to the con­struc­tion of the new admin­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal Brasilia and over­see­ing the man­u­fac­ture of the first all-​Brazilian-​built cars.

On the cul­tural front the gui­tarist Joao Gilberto came up with a rev­o­lu­tion­ary sound for the Elizete Car­doso song Chega de Saudade (No More Blues), regarded as the first for­mal exam­ple of bossa nova, a uniquely Brazil­ian style of music that would earn world­wide recog­ni­tion. The writer and jour­nal­ist Joaquim Fer­reira dos San­tos later pen a book enti­tled1958: The Year That Should Never Have Ended.


The soci­ety had found a way to make Brazil a home for Brazil­ians of African descent. It has found a way and a mean for cul­tural har­mony. And with soc­cer, in the face of the world was able to demon­strate the effi­cacy of its diver­sity and inclu­sion in national rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Many nations have all demon­strated their cul­tural diver­sity and inclu­sion of immi­grant pop­u­la­tion in the com­po­si­tion and selec­tion of their national team. An inter­est­ing arti­cle by Jason Over­dorf, titled: Here’s what World Cup teams would look like if immi­grants weren’t allowed to play and another arti­cle on How Does Immi­gra­tion Affect the Teams at the World Cup? Coun­tries that are late in being inclu­sive will take longer to attain cul­tural har­mony. While soc­cer is not the only means to achieve this end, it has become an unde­ni­able most com­pre­hen­sive idea of com­pet­i­tive show­man­ship and cul­tural phe­nom­e­non across the globe. Brazil has already achieved the social goal of soc­cer and it should no longer mat­ter if it wins or loses a soc­cer tour­na­ment. Regard­less of who wins the World Cup, the tour­na­ment will con­tain much pro­found sym­bol­ism of cul­tural har­mony and cul­tural strength, and that is all that it takes for any World tour­na­ment to be fas­ci­nat­ing. The fol­low­ing table is titled ‘Africans at home in the world’: the con­tent is based on sta­tis­ti­cal demon­stra­tion of per­cent­age of per­sons of African her­itage rep­re­sent­ing their var­i­ous coun­tries in dias­pora dur­ing this tournament:

Chart-Africans at home in the world-1


Coun­try Total Team Members Num­ber of per­sons of African her­itage in National Team % of rep­re­sen­ta­tion in National team % of peo­ple of African her­itage in the country’s population
Group A
Brazil 23 11 48% 45%
Croa­tia 23 1 4% 0%
Mex­ico 23 0.5 2% 1%
Cameroon 23 23 100% 98%
Group B
Spain 23 0 0% 1%
Nether­lands 23 8 35% 2%
Chile 23 0 0% 0%
Aus­tralia 23 0 0% 1%
Group C
Colom­bia 23 13 57% 21%
Greece 23 0 0% 0%
Ivory Coast 23 23 100% 86%
Japan 23 0 0% 0%
Group D
Uruguay 23 2 9% 4%
Italy 23 1 4% 1%
Eng­land 23 5 22% 3%
Costa Rica 23 6 26% 3%
Group E
Switzer­land 23 3 13% 0%
France 23 10 43% 9%
Ecuador 23 16 70% 3%
Hon­duras 23 12 52% 2%
Group F
Argentina 23 0 0% 0%
Bosnia-​Herzegovina 23 0 0% 0%
Nige­ria 23 23 100% 98%
Iran 23 0 0% 0%
Group G
Ger­many 23 1 4% 1%
USA 23 7 30% 13%
Por­tu­gal 23 4 17% 2%
Ghana 23 23 100% 91%
Group H
Bel­gium 23 3 13% 1%
Rus­sia 23 0 0% 0%
Alge­ria 23 23 100% 98%
South Korea 23 0 0% 0%



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