It has been a very exciting week for fans of Atletico Mineiro. My home town team just classified for the finals of the Libertadores and if the club wins the final, it will go on to the World Club Championship game in Tokyo. The “Yes, We CAM” slogan is a play on words taking Clube Atletico Mineiro (CAM) and mixing it with a slogan that Obama used. Actually, Obama copied the slogan from Mexico’s PAN Party and “Si se puede” slogan they used in Calderon’s election over 6 years ago.
The game against Argentina’s Newell’s Old Boys was one of the best that I have witnessed in many, many years of watching. Atletico needed to win 3 x 0 in order to move to the final after having lost 2 x 0 in the first game in Rosario. A 2 x 0 result required deciding kicks from the penalty mark at the end of the game to decide who would advance. CAM’s Bernard scored beautifully off a stellar pass from Ronaldinho at 3 minutes into the game and then Atletico attacked like crazy for the rest of the first half but could not quite score. The Argentines are masters of gamesmanship and delay tactics and did everything they could to block the home teams incessant attacks. Finally in the 90th minute of the second half, Guilherme scored on a rebound from about 25 yards out. In the kicks from the mark Atletico came out ahead 3 x 2 with Victor the goalie stopping Maxi Rodrigues’ and Newell’s last shot. All of Belo Horizonte (except for Cruzeirenses) have been walking on air anticipating the final against Paraguay’s Olympia, the Defenders of El Chaco.
On the same day that Atletico buried the Argentine hopes, former World Cup Brazilian team star, Romario, made an important speech in Brazil’s Congress. As a member of Congress representing the state of Rio de Janeiro, Romario has been a pleasant surprise to many political analysts. When he was elected many felt, he would be self serving and vain (as he often was on the field) but instead he has proven to be honest, hard working and a thorn in the side of Brazil’s political establishment and especially the traditional elitist interests of Brazil’s football confederation. When Brazil won its Third World Championship, Joao Havelange was FIFA President. Havelange closely courted the generals in Brazil and fully supported the idea that the national team win in 1970 should contribute to the legitimization of military rule. Havelange molded the Brazilian football confederation and made his son-in-law president. Both of course have been found to be corrupt and venial. The current president of the confederation, Jose Marin, has the same origins. He supported the dictatorship and likewise has a reputation for theft. Romario denounced the confederation’s lobby and apparent attempt to buy votes of deputies so that billion dollar debt of organization and its club member could be forgiven. (The debt arose largely from the individual club’s not paying their labor and social taxes, plus penalties and interest) The confederation argues that futbol and the clubs play such an important role in providing entertainment, employment, and service to the national character that these private debts deserve an “amnesty” which if not ceded will lead to the ruin of the clubs and the national past time.
Romario points out in his speech that Brazilians have been out on the streets demanding better services, the end of corruption and political transparency and that the lobbying maneuvers of the confederation serve only to perpetuate the status quo and the old elitist ways.
I am certain that Atletico has debts with the government and I am also certain that having to pay these back taxes will lead to the sale of talent and a decline in the quality of my team’s play. At the same time, I am against subsidizing and caving in to the confederation lobby. It is just another example of how Brazil’s heavy patrimonial tax and bureaucratic structures are impeding progress. The problem is how to undo the past and confront all of the interests that are both powerful and deeply embedded.