First it was the students. Incensed not simply by a rise in the cost of public transport, but by the broadening impasse between public and private interests that it signified, they took to meeting rooms and then to the streets. A hundred people became a thousand and the zeroes kept being added.
Soon, it seemed to the outside world, Brazil was aflame. That may have been partly true, but a far more prevalent feeling – at least within the country itself – was that Brazil was alive. What started as a dispute about bus fares became a rainbow tapestry of causes, claims and (for the most part) contained chaos.
Encouraged by the movement’s adopted slogan, “Vem pra rua!” (Come to the street!), the country found its voice for the first time in over 20 years. It was angry and indignant. It was beautiful.
The protests eventually came to an end, as everything does. But something of the spirit of those few weeks (or is it just the tear gas?) has remained in the air. That, at least, is the only real way of parsing what has been a landmark couple of weeks in Brazilian football.
A group of leading players has begun a protest movement all of its own. Going by the name Bom Senso FC (Common Sense FC), they are calling for a number of changes to be instituted by Brazil’s football federation, the CBF – the most significant of which is a proposed overhaul of the country’s football calendar in 2014.
This has been a long time coming. The flaws in the current system are too numerous to fully explain here, but allow me to give you a flavour.
From January until May, clubs play in local state championships – once the cradle of the game in Brazil but increasingly defined by poor attendances due to the lack of appropriate competition for the big clubs. Imagine Chelsea playing part-timers every week for five months with only games against Fulham, Arsenal and Tottenham to alleviate the boredom.
The national league is thus crammed into a six-month stretch, meaning clubs face a Sunday-Wednesday-Sunday slog for much of the year. It is both a marathon and a sprint. Add in two continental competitions (which couldn’t possibly be played simultaneously, oh no), the Brazilian Cup and frequent international dates – for which the Brasileirão doesn’t pause – and you’ll half an idea of the madness of the thing.
This, of course, is conducive neither to good football nor to the physical wellbeing of the players. And next year the World Cup will be added to the mix, meaning even less rest and even more matches. If players take a month off at the end of the current season, the official CBF calendar, released a fortnight ago, dictates that they will have just five days of pre-season training in 2014.
This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Corinthians defender Paulo André, a bastion of eloquence and social thinking in the Brazilian game, began to exchange WhatsApp messages with like-minded colleagues – former Fenerbahçe playmaker Alex; veterans Dida and Gilberto Silva. A union of sorts was born.
70 players initially pledged their support for Common Sense FC – which, brilliantly, already has its own club badge – and more expressed interest. They now have 300 signatures and have demanded an audience with the CBF to talk through the issues concerning them.
“We think this will be good for everyone,” said São Paulo goalkeeper Rogério Ceni following a meeting on Monday. “We can raise the standard of Brazilian football – for the fans, for the sponsors, and for the players. This isn’t just a rebellion; we want to work on long-term solutions that will improve things across the divisions.”
It remains to be seen whether the notoriously intransigent CBF will take the group’s demands seriously, but the mere fact that so many footballers – including some who have hopes of playing for the Seleção in the coming months – have put their heads above the parapet bodes well for the health of the game in Brazil.
Long live the revolution.
Jack Lang writes about Brazilian football for the Guardian, ESPN FC, When Saturday Comes and WhoScored, among others.
Follow him on Twitter: @snap_kaka_pop