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Brazilian Athletes Go on Offensive for a ‘Better Football’

[All links lead to Portuguese-language webpages except when otherwise noted.]

Since the beginning of October, the same scene has repeated itself at the beginning of football matches played in stadiums from the north to the south of Brazil: before the referee signals the start of the match, the players from both teams huddle at midfield together in protest, demonstrating their support for the so-called Common Sense Football Club (Bom Senso Futebol Clube, in Portuguese). For the first time, a group of professional Brazilian football players are challenging the Brazilian Federation of Football (CBF) on players’ rights without intermediaries. 

Foto: Bom Senso FC / Facebook

Photo: Bom Senso FC / Facebook

Under the slogan “in support of a better football for players, fans, broadcasters and supporters”, the club sprang from an informal conversation between the players Alexsandro de Souza, known as Alex, the Curitiba's midfielder, and Juan Silveira dos Santos, the International of Porto Alegre's defender. After a 0-0 draw between both teams, these two exhausted players vented about time pressures and how it was affecting the quality of the sport on the field. And thus began the Bom Senso Football Club.

The massive protests that started in June around the country, which became known as the Vinegar Revolt [en], motivated the players to start collecting signatures from other players in support of the movement in defense of a broad restructuring of Brazilian football. During their first meeting, which took place on September 30 after they had already gathered 300 signatures in support, the players introduced the first manifesto of Bom Senso F.C. defending five main points: the national football calendar, players’ vacations, pre-season, fairer compensation for players and their participation in the technical council of the federations.

Going on the offensive

The reason players organized was the announcement of the special schedule to be complied by football clubs next year because of World Cup in 2014. Due to the mega-event, which will take place in Brazil, the CBF “tightened the schedule of the matches and reduced the vacation time and pre-season”. 

The short set-up times were already an issue for the players. Football University, an online institution that published content about the sport, released a web series explaining how the Brazilian football schedule works and why it is detrimental to players as well as their teams. The experts explain in the first video that with matches twice a week and championships occurring at the same time, the time available for training sessions and physical fitness is becoming less and less. As a result, players become more susceptible to poor physical performance and injury. The average pre-season time for Brazilian football clubs is just 16 days. That's half of European football clubs’ pre-season time. 

Before the creation of the Common Sense club, the Brazilian professional players were represented by the Athletes Union, which they accused of taking little action to address their concerns. During an interview with sports network ESPN, Alex compared the union to Pontius Pilate, the man who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus, according to the Bible: 

Eles nos procuraram apresentando a proposta da CBF, nós pedimos um tempo para responder. A CBF lançou o calendário e logo em seguida veio uma nota do sindicato meio Pôncio Pilatos. Lavou as mãos e entregou para depois. Foi a única relação que eu tive com eles e eu não gostei.

The Union submitted to us the CBF's proposal and we asked them for some time to make a decision about it. The CBF announced the schedule and right after a message from the union reacting like Pontius Pilate. They washed their hands of it and put the matter off. This was the only interaction that I had with them, and I didn't like it.

Now, with more than 800 athletes represented by the Common Sense club, the group aims to improve the conditions for players from the countryside who play on smaller teams belonging to the B and C leagues. The club explains on its website:

Sabendo que mais de 75% dos jogadores profissionais no país ganham menos de 3 salários mínimos e que grande parte desses atletas não tem calendário de jogos e emprego durante todo o ano, o Bom Senso F.C., que representa até o momento 807 atletas das series A e B do Campeonato Brasileiro, acredita que a questão central do atual calendário do futebol brasileiro é que as equipes que disputam as principais competições têm jogos em demasia para as datas disponíveis à sua realização enquanto os clubes de menor porte enfrentam grandes períodos de ociosidade.

Knowing that more than 75 percent of professional players earn less than three minimum wages and most of them don't have a schedule of matches or a job throughout the year, Common Sense FC, which now represents 807 players from A and B leagues of the Brazilian Championship, believes that the fundamental issue of the Brazilian football schedule is that the teams maintain that the main competitions have too many games for the dates available for scheduling, while the smaller teams face long periods of idleness.

During the matches of the second week of November, the banner of Common Sense requesting “a better football for everyone” (see image below) came with a new gesture. The players remained in silence with their arms folded for 30 seconds during the first minute of the game, a move they they had announced on their Facebook page beforehand. The main purpose was showing preoccupation with CBF'S “detachment” in order to organize “a more balanced and reasonable schedule”

Jogadores cruzam os braços em protesto contra CBF. Foto: Bom Senso FC / Facebook

Players with their arms folded in order to protest against CBF. Photo: Bom Senso FC / Facebook

Avoiding the defense

Last week, throughout the match between São Paulo and Flamengo, the group faced a strong reaction for the first time. Problems with refereeing almost stopped the players from expressing themselves: 

Lamentamos a tentativa de CENSURA ocorrida no confronto entre São Paulo e Flamengo. Demonstramos nossa preocupação com os jogos restantes desta rodada, esperando que nenhum profissional ou clube seja prejudicado ou punido. Que todos tenham BOM SENSO. Caso haja a tentativa de evitar que os jogadores se expressem de forma pacífica, providencias drásticas serão tomadas. Esperamos uma posição oficial, seguida de ATITUDES benéficas para o futebol brasileiro.

We lament the attempted CENSORSHIP that occurred at the match between São Paulo and Flamengo. We worry about the remaining matches in this round, and hope that any professional player or club is not affected or even punished. Let us all have COMMON SENSE. If there is any attempt to prevent players from expressing themselves in a peaceful way, drastic steps will be taken. We wait for an official position, followed by a beneficial ATTITUDE toward Brazilian football.  

The group's members drafted for the Brazilian national team also had their demonstrations blocked throughout the friendly match between Brazil and Honduras on November 16. 

If there is an exposed apathy on the one hand, in the other hand a motion has already started inspiring action out of the sidelines. In October, Minister of Sport Aldo Rebelo announced his support for the players for having started the negotiations with the CBF. During a basketball game between Bauru and Franca on November 14, players brought game play to a momentary pause in protest against the national basketball calendar.

Common Sense club just clarified its aim looking for a “balanced schedule” with “less matches for the elite teams and more matches for teams from minor or state leagues”. Though nothing has been changed, the team announced that protests might continue during the next championship round.  

Thiana Biondo colaborated on editing the original version of this post, in Portuguese.

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