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Brazil Debates Gays in Soccer


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Straight goods on soccer

Gay debate rages in Brazil


An accusation that Sao Paulo FC's Richarlyson is gay has thrown Brazilian soccer into turmoil and sparked renewed debate about homosexuals in sport. (AP File Photo/Andre Penner)

Would you play with a gay athlete?

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) - The director of a prominent soccer club insinuates on national television that a player on a rival team is gay. The player sues for slander and goes on TV to deny being homosexual. A judge causes an uproar by saying gays don't belong in Brazilian soccer.

With a narrative like a Latin American telenovela, a controversy over the questioned sexual orientation of Sao Paulo midfielder Richarlyson has shaken one of Brazil's most hallowed institutions - soccer - with insults, blanket accusations of homophobia and unsolicited defences for supposedly closeted gay teammates.

It all started in June when Palmeiras club director Jose Cyrillo Junior was asked on a national TV program whether it was true that a soccer player from his team was negotiating for an exclusive television interview to announce that he was homosexual.

Cyrillo denied the report, but added "Richarlyson 'almost' played for Palmeiras," suggesting the 24-year-old ninth-year pro was gay.

Cyrillo later apologized, but Richarlyson - whose father played professionally and whose brother played for Sporting in Portugal and is now with Brazil's Cruzeiro - filed a criminal complaint for

slander, saying he was wrongly accused of being gay.

Judge Manoel Maximiano Junqueira Filho stoked the dispute by dismissing Richarlyson's claim and issuing a ruling that suggested he leave the game if he was homosexual. If he wasn't, the judge said, Richarlyson was obliged to defend himself on the same TV program where he was accused.

"Not that a homosexual can't play soccer," Filho wrote. "He can, but he must form his own team and federation, setting up matches with those who want to play against him."

The judge concluded that it is not "reasonable to accept homosexuals in Brazilian soccer because it would hurt the uniformity present" in team sport. Soccer, the judge said, is a "virile game" but "not homosexual," and allowing gays could lead to affirmative action for the sport requiring quotas of gays.

The ruling prompted the government body that oversees judicial ethics in Brazil to demand an explanation from the judge, who has until Friday to respond.

The judge, who did not respond to repeated requests for interviews, abruptly voided his initial ruling last week, saying a different court has jurisdiction. Then he took a leave of absence beginning Monday with no date for a return.

Gay rights groups were outraged, but said the controversy has forced the issue of homosexuals out in the open in Brazil, a country where gays are generally tolerated but usually not in soccer and are often ridiculed.

"It was a fascist statement and (the judge) needs to pay for it," said Marcelo Cerqueira, president of the Grupo Gay da Bahia.

He said there are several gays in Brazil's pro league, but they fear disclosing their sexual orientation over losing their jobs.

"This case is important to uncover the issue about gays in soccer, to create debate," Cerqueira said.

There have been no public declarations of homosexuality by Brazilian league players. Some well-known players have posed nude in gay magazines, but none acknowledged being homosexual. Among them were World Cup veteran Vampeta, former Sao Paulo goalkeeper Roger and, most recently, Vitoria goalkeeper Rafael Cordova.

Cordova said there are gays in the Brazilian league, and that he sympathizes with their situation.

But after the announcement that he will appear naked in Brazil's "G Magazine" in an upcoming edition, many fans vilified him even though he says he is heterosexual.

"The fans want me fired," Cordova told Veja newsmagazine last week. "We lost three matches in a row and who do you think they are putting the blame on?"

Filho's pronouncement even surprised some accustomed to the he-man nature of the sport.

"Soccer is a macho sport anywhere in the world, but we know there are homosexual players, just like there are homosexuals in other professions," columnist and TV commentator Antero Greco said. "But sexual orientation should never be a problem as long as the person is competent at what he or she does."

Richarlyson, who has played for four different Brazilian clubs and with Red Bull Salzburg in Austria, declined for months to address the issue of whether he was gay, but finally went on Brazil's most popular weekly news and entertainment program to say that he is heterosexual.

"If I was (homosexual), I wouldn't have any problems admitting it," he said on the Fantastico TV program Sunday night.

Richarlyson Barbosa Felisbino was signed by Sao Paulo in 2005 after failed negotiations with Palmeiras.

The player's lawyer said he believes the public began doubting Richarlyson's sexual orientation after he celebrated a goal against Palmeiras by dancing on the sidelines. Palmeiras fans have constantly jeered him since.

Richarlyson said he doesn't mind the fans' behaviour, but he still isn't willing to accept the insults from a judge.

"This is a disrespect not only to me, it's a disrespect to Brazil," Richarlyson said Sunday. "All that matters is if the player can do his job on the field."

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"allowing gays could lead to affirmative action for the sport requiring quotas of gays."

Is there any precedent for this at all? Has any sport ever had a gay quota? How do you prove a player is gay? That judge just stepped in it.

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This far more complicated than what most may think. Brazilian society would be a Sociologist's dream. Maybe that's why their previous President (Fernando Henrique Cardoso)was a Sociologist.

Brazilian society (especially Sao Paulo society because it and Rio society are leading the charge) is full of contradictions created by a rapidly modernizing and urbanizing society. Religion is prevalent but not as prevalent as in the rest of Latin America. Especially in Sao Paulo.

In Sao Paulo, you have incredibly rich living near favelas. You have a large gay community that no one talks about much so long as they stick to themselves. In general, Sao Paulo society tries to show itself as being very liberal but in reality, it remains very conservative. It's treatment of women is still paternalistic even though it is trying to move into the 21st Century. There are even some racial undercurrents present at times. And the courts and its judges are still rooted in the old Brazil.

The biggest irony in this whole story is that opposing fans (from Corinthians, Palmeiras and Santos especially) derisively refer to the Sao Paulo FC team as the Bambis. Bambis is a term used to describe gays. I suspect that there is a lot of "I told you so's" being directed at Sao Paulo FC fans now.

But Sao Paulo FC still is having the last laugh because it is Brazil's richest club and currently leads the Brazilian league.

Still, I see the fact that this is being discussed openly as a positive for Sao Paulo society and Brazilian society as a whole because it is much needed therapy.

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