The World Cup’s green and yellow mark of shame
São Paulo—In the first week of the FIFA World Cup in Russia, in mid-June, a video making the rounds on social media caused a stir around the world. In the clip, a group of Brazilian supporters are seen playing a cruel and sexist joke on a Russian woman. They ask her to scream alongside them about her genitalia and race in Portuguese. Without understanding the language, the Russian woman follows along.
The Brazilian government quickly rebuked the group’s actions through its Ministry of Tourism in a press release. The statement denounced the sexism and misogyny captured in the video, particularly during an event such as the World Cup, which promotes “integration between peoples and cultures across the world.” Shortly after the video circulated, the Brazilian Federal Public Ministry decided to open a criminal investigation into whether the supporters are guilty of slander.
Brazil is the economic powerhouse of South America: It ranks ninth in the World Economic Forum’s list of the world’s largest economies, and boasts a population of 200 million people, who are predominantly conservative and Catholic. It is also a nation where a rape occurs every 11 minutes. Brazil ranks fifth in the world for its high rate of femicide, and 48 percent of its women lose their jobs after taking maternal leave.
“It’s refreshing to see that at least officially, [the video] isn’t being brushed off as ‘banter’ or ‘locker-room humor,’” says Stephanie Dennison, professor of Brazilian studies at the University of Leeds in northern England. Denison is referring to the ministry’s choice to condemn the soccer fans’ behavior. Still, she points out that the ministry’s stance is somewhat unconvincing, considering the country’s record on gender and sexualized violence.
“In regard to the ‘beautiful game,’ lest we forget, it was only last year that goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes de Sousa, having served time for murdering his girlfriend Eliza Samudio and feeding her to his pet dogs, was welcomed back into the Brazilian Football Association,” Dennison points out. De Sousa even went on to sign with the second division football club Boa Sorte, but the country’s Supreme Court ultimately ordered his re-arrest.
For Katiuscia Moreno Galhera, an intersectional feminist activist and a foreign analyst and researcher at Campinas State University in southeastern Brazil, “the main question isn’t how the image of Brazil is affected in the outside world, but how women are harmed by machismo practices such as those propagated by the Brazilian supporters.”
Other videos have shown Colombians, Mexicans, and Argentinians engaging in similar antics. Mexican supporters have been reprimanded by FIFA for screaming homophobic slurs in arenas. In contrast, Japanese and Senegalese fans were seen cleaning the stadiums after the games.
Four of the people in the video with the Russian woman were identified: Diego Valença Jatobá, the former tourism secretary of Ipojuca, in Pernambuco state; Eduardo Nunes, a police lieutenant in Santa Catarina state; Wallace Prado, a student from São Paulo living in Ireland, and businessman Luciano Gil Mendes Coelho. Galhera points out that the perpetrators are privileged, well-educated men, contradicting the common belief that such behavior is mostly exhibited by Brazilians of a lower socioeconomic status, whom many believe are prone to conservative and prejudicial thoughts.
Russian women’s rights activist Alyona Popova sent a petition to the Interior Ministry of her country and to Brazil’s embassy in Russia, stating that the men’s behavior “debases that woman as well as all Russian women.” Her petition demands an apology, and calls on the government to punish the soccer fans. Popova believes the group should also be punished under Russia’s administrative code, and fined for verbal assault.
Just a few days after the video of the Brazilian fans emerged, a video of a Brazilian LATAM Airlines employee harassing a group of women in Russia’s streets was released. The company fired him after the video went public.
“Without a shadow of doubt the firings, and the Public Ministry’s investigation of this is a great advancement,” says Galhera. The swift response, she says, reflects the ongoing efforts of Brazil’s “feminist struggle.”
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