Top of Brazilian football’s governing body tainted by association with nation’s murky past

Calls mount for José Maria Marin, now head of the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF), to stand down

Jose Maria Marin, President of the Brazilian Football Confederation, delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 65th FIFA Congress in Sao Paulo earllier this month.  Photo: Aaulo Whitaker/Reuters

Jose Maria Marin, President of the Brazilian Football Confederation, delivers a speech during the opening ceremony of the 65th FIFA Congress in Sao Paulo earllier this month. Photo: Aaulo Whitaker/Reuters

Fri, Jun 27, 2014, 11:00

The picturesque Praca Liberdade in the centre of Belo Horizonte is lapped by joggers and traffic morning noon and night. Flanked on two sides by museums and surrounded by restaurants, it is known as the city’s cultural and, to a lesser extent, social centre.

However the poverty that never seems to be very far away in Brazil is evident too with a small encampment of homeless people located beside one of its most impressive buildings.

At the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, an exhibition pays tribute to the bravery of journalists who fought, through their day to day work, for democracy and everything that was extinguished with it here between 1964 and 1985, the years of the military dictatorship. Across the square, at the Memorial Minas Gerais, there is an exhibition of photographs of Brazilian club football from the 1960s.

The respective collections convey a sense of two starkly different worlds in the country back then but inevitably they were intertwined.

When the World Cup was staged in Argentina in 1978 I remember being acutely aware, even at 10 years old, that the country was run by the military. Chile too. But somehow Brazil escaped my attention.

In my world view of the time, Brazilians played wonderful football (and music too) but not much else. I’m not sure whether the comparatively low number of people murdered and “disappeared” by the regime (measured in hundreds here as opposed to perhaps 3,000 in Chile and anything up to 10 times that number in Argentina) meant that its neighbours hogged the negative headlines internationally. The repression, though, was very real for those who lived here and quite a few journalists, along with students, trade unionists and others who sought to make a stand for freedom were either exiled or paid with their lives.

Large wall

Many different strands of the media played their part and one large wall is taken up with covers of publications that range from Journal da Tarde, a mainstream daily that refused to accept censorship of its coverage, to the more overtly political likes of Jornal Novas Rumos, Mulherio and Lampião da Esquina, periodicals produced by communist, feminist and gay groupings respectively.

Happily the football commentator Osmar Santos gets an honourable mention in another part of the exhibition in connection with the Direct Elections Now movement, one that emerged in the dying days of the regime.

On the cover of one magazine, O Pasquim, from a more dangerous time, January 1971, eight reporters just released from military detention are pictured standing defiantly together on the front cover. It is impressive stuff given that simply to be involved behind the scenes was to risk torture or death.

One who suffered both in 1975 was Vladimir Herzog, a Croatian-born documentary maker, journalist, playwright and academic, whose Jewish family had fled the Nazis in the 1940s and who had returned to Brazil much later after a few years in London working for the BBC.

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