The small stands of the “Realengo” stadium in Rio de Janeiro are full. Drums are beaten, banners are held up, songs are sung as the atmosphere builds on this September day in the heart of Brazil’s most famous city.
Anyone passing through here walks past rotting and half-built bus shelters that should have been completed by the 2016 Olympics. They are one of the many unrealized goals of the state, which has promised to use the Olympics to improve people’s lives. living in the slums. Instead, corruption took hold once again.
Six years later, in the “Realengo”, the Favela World Cup is held, a tournament for the slums (favelas) of the city. There is a similar tournament in Sao Paulo. It is an ‘Olympics for the poor’, a grassroots movement in Brazilian football that has developed a charismatic character of its own.
“This is the World Cup for the favelas,” defender Julian Henrique Lopes told DW.
When he plays in his favela, Vila Croatia, he is nicknamed “Hulk”, due to his physical stature.
“We give our lives for this and we represent our favela,” said the 18-year-old proudly.
The tournament is extremely popular and, after a hiatus due to the pandemic, returns this year for its tenth edition. “We’re back” is written on the blue signs around the arena. There are no VIP boxes here, just a lot of honest enthusiasm. One of the most notable differences from the professional game is that before the game, all the substitutes, coaches, and staff gather for the team photo. Everyone is included, everyone is part of everything.
The games are always competitive, with local pride on the line.
In the small stadium, banners designed specifically for the audience are displayed. The organization that runs the favelas and expertly organizes the event, CUFA, also makes its presence felt. It’s a unified message: In this district, often neglected by the state, there is untapped potential.
If the state or the official football association (CBF) does nothing, the people organize it themselves. And apparently they can do a better job than those who organize the Olympics or the World Cups, events that bring debt instead of development.
A historic achievement
Elaine Pereira dos Santos, coach of Vila Croatia has a similar perspective.
“This favela tournament is an opportunity for young people, and one that should always be there. With the support of Celso and CUFA, this tournament is a historic achievement,” the 40-year-old told DW. “This is the only thing that welcomes people from the favelas.”
And sometimes the tournament is the first step for talents who go on to play professional football and move to Europe.
Ronaldo Cesar Sores dos Santos was a teenager at one of these tournaments and now plays for the Bulgarian team Levski Sofia.
It’s not just the players who get involved
“I played in two ‘Taca das Favelas’. One when I was very young, 14 or 15 years old,” Ronaldo César recalls to DW. “The matches there were a quiet time, a time when we were all friends.”
However, the 21-year-old admits today that, in sporting terms, they were a harsh lesson. “The one who played badly, he fell.”
Today, scouts looking for the next star who might have gone unnoticed attend the games. And some players do make the leap from the ‘Taca das Favelas’ to the professional game, playing in the Brazilian league or, like Ronaldo César Sores dos Santos, in Europe.
grand finale on saturday
The final will take place on October 8 in Rio de Janeiro. Defender Julian Henrique Lopes and coach Elaine Pereira dos Santos only reached the quarterfinals before losing to finalists “Complexo do Muquico” who will face “CRB Dick” in the final. In the women’s final, “Complexo da Coreia” will play against “Sapo de Camara” and the matches will be played at the “Moca Bonita” stadium in Bangu.
“It’s time for the big day, after months of hard work, lots of homework and lots of excitement. Now we have the opportunity to celebrate another great party at the ‘Moca Bonita,’” CUFA organizer Elaine Caccavo said before the final.
This article was adapted from German.