When the World Cup comes to your country, the spotlight can raise the temperature significantly. In 2010, South Africa was dogged by frequent reports of poorly organized stadium projects, inadequate transportation infrastructure and even major human rights issues that saw poor residents pushed out of their homes on the outskirts of Johannesburg.
Now, it’s Brazil’s turn to loosen the collar.
At this past summer’s Confederations Cup, Brazilians took the streets by the millions to protest the status quo of corruption and poor spending habits within the government.
The most recent Kroll Global Fraud Report notes that 74 percent of Brazilian companies were impacted by at least one fraud incident in the last 12 months. It also says Brazil has an above average rate of managerial conflicts of interest.
Despite many of the issues that concerned Brazilians relating to non-sporting practices, football officials couldn’t help but note the correlation between Brazilian social constructs and the Brazilian football confederation (CBF). The CBF has a long list of corrupt dealings and questionable practices under its belt.
With the world’s attention squarely on Brazil, CBF officials have been vocal about turning the organization into a more sustainable, transparent body. But what does that exactly mean for the game and the domestic league itself?
Record growth reported
The Financial Times reported that a recent study from Itau BBA – a Brazilian bank – found that Brazil’s top league teams saw revenues jump by an average of 32 percent last year. Although this could highlight a positive trend, it does little to ease skeptics concerns about corruption in the sport when the national economy grew by just 0.9 percent in 2012. For many, that's one worrisome discrepancy.
In defense of domestic clubs, some signs do indicate that they are generating the funds the right way. TV revenues are off the charts according to the study, with some clubs seeing TV income account for as much as 49 percent of their take in. That's the same mark as Italian giants AC Milan and more than Manchester United, who rake in 32 percent from TV.
However, the juxtaposition between a booming football industry and a stagnate overall economy is hard to ignore. Perhaps it’s unfounded to suggest the increase revenues are connected to corruption, but the CBF’s history makes it difficult to think otherwise. Also, it’s unnerving to read these numbers when protestors this summer held signs urging the government to build hospitals and schools, not football stadiums.
Traditional model is the right way
Despite the CBF’s connection to numerous scandals and bribery reports over the years, Brazilian officials are right to fight for the system to remain the same, for the most part.
According to Bloomberg, Toninho Nascimento, Brazil’s national secretary for soccer, the CBF isn’t willing to implement an English Premier League structure, largely considered the most lucrative league in the world. Even with their recent monetary successes, Brazilian clubs take in less than half of what Premier League clubs do.
But there is one thing that Brazil has that England doesn’t: A competitive national team. Nascimento wants to keep it that way.
"It’s a great league, but it’s very bad for the national team,” Nascimento said. “We don’t want this in Brazil.”
Just 6.9 percent of players in Brazil’s top-flight are foreign compared to nearly 70 percent of Premier League players. That discrepancy has hurt English football overall, evidenced by the country’s lackluster performance in international tournaments and lack of defined style or identity. The issue was highlighted when England failed to qualify for Euro 2008.
Officials still skirt reform
Adopting the Premier League model certainly won’t help Brazil progress as a footballing nation. However, Nascimento’s statements miss the point. Brazilian football does not need to be changed on the field, only off it.
Admittedly, aligning the schedule to adhere to international standards and reducing the number of games overworked players have to participate in should be priorities, but so should increased transparency.
It could be that football is a microcosm of Brazil’s current socio-economic standing. Bloomberg noted that former national team legend Romario contends that a handful of powerful clubs that look out for their own fortunes make it impossible to institute any real change.
These clubs may be failing to support the league infrastructure in the same manner the Brazilian government appears to be eschewing investments in schools and health care facilities. Once again, football provides us with an eerily accurate look into social constructs.