Friday, June 21, 2013

Brazilians Turn on Pelé

Mkongwe Pele
Soccer is still the people’s game. Even with the ever-increasing influx of corporate money, club acquisitions by billionaires, astronomical transfer fees, lucrative sponsorship and branding contracts, the beautiful game remains at the center of the heart of the down trodden– the common people. The fans and supporters who can’t afford seats in the fancy luxury boxes still own the soul of this game we all love. Their pain is football’s pain, and football’s pain likewise is theirs. This dynamic should had been apparent to Edison Arantes do Nascimento, known to the world as Pelé, a Brazilian treasure and former soccer player widely believed to be the best player ever to grace a pitch.


Pelé made some comments following the recent unrest in Brazil, as protesters have taken to the streets to show their dismay concerning deteriorating economic conditions in Brazil. A recent increase in bus fares was the catalyst for the ensuing mini-revolution. The people of the Samba nation are seemingly displeased with crushing high cost of living, poor security, unbearably high unemployment, and systemic corruption. In light of the funds used to get Brazil ready for both the ongoing Confederations Cup and the World Cup next summer. The protesters are of the opinion that those moneys are better served for other infrastructure that would have a more lasting effect on the society such as health facilities, public transportation and security. In many ways, Pelé’s response to them was a bit tone deaf. He called on his compatriots to forget the protests that were erupting in Brazil and he reminded them that the Brazilian squad was the lifeblood of the nation. 

This was a gaffe on the part of the elder statesman, and his message was not received kindly.  Brazil's national gem had effectively told the people that the performance of their national team held more sway than whatever perceived grievances they had. This is how the protesters would have understood his message to be saying. The disenfranchised and despondent responded in derision to Pelé’s off key remarks. On social media they scoffed at his apparent aloofness, and made light of how out of touch with the rigors of everyday Brazilian life he had gotten. Pelé a Soccer god and living legend, a man of the people once, but now considered a celebrity and outsider by the same community he rose from. 

It has become a public relations debacle, maybe the great man wanted to say it in a different way. Pelé’s intent could not have been sinister. For a man with a reputation of causing a ball to bend to his will, his delivery was decidedly careless. It is understandable that he might have just wanted calm in the streets, and was fearful that if the protesters lost organization that violence might creep in and cause damage to the nation's image during a time when every TV camera is pointed Brazil’s way on account of the Confederations Cup. The soccer giant should have taken a leaf out of Brazilian coach Felipe Scolari’s approach. 
Scolari simply asked that if the protesters had to continue their public displays, that they do it in a democratic manner. In this regard he showed more craftiness than Pelé. In one blow, he managed to convey that he was sympathetic to their cause, but encouraged restraint so they do not unduly disrupt the performances of his team and the competition as a whole. Luiz Felipe Scolari is a man used to mapping out strategies and game plans before match days, and he had hit the mark once again.

Pelé wasted the opportunity to be seen as the father of the nation, the man who made the blazing yellow jersey the most recognizable around the world, the people's champion. He might yet recover, as he is merely one clever crafted message away from redemption. Nonetheless, Pelé should have erred on the side of the people. It was they who sang his name from the stands as he adorned the Brazilian colors in years past. The people loved their hero, they felt an affinity towards him, after all he played their game­– the people’s game.

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