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Brazil claims racism stand

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April 15, 2005 20:02 IST

A major victory in the fight to wipe racism out of soccer or just another twist in the long-standing rivalry between Brazil and Argentina?

Brazil claims it has set a worldwide example in the battle against discrimination by arresting Argentine defender Leandro Desabato for allegedly using racist terms to insult an opponent in the Libertadores Cup match between Sao Paulo and Quilmes.

Officials of the visiting Buenos Aires team said they were victims of a farce and claimed the Brazilians had over-reacted.

Desabato was arrested on the pitch after Wednesday's 3-1 defeat, accused of slander aggravated by racism, and was kept in custody while lawyers hired by the Argentine club applied for bail.

Desabato was granted bail by a judge on Thursday but spent a second night in a police cell because his representatives did not have time to pay the 10,000 real ($3,861) surety.

"The racist attitude of the Argentine player goes against all the values of equality, respect and unity which sport promotes," said the Brazilian Sports Ministry in a statement.

"This is an example for the rest of the world," said Marco Polo del Nero, president of the Paulista (Sao Paulo state) Football Federation.


Brazilian police say Desabato broke the laws of the land by racially insulting his opponent.

Critics, however, point out that the law is broken week-in, week-out on pitches all around the country where scything double-footed tackles from behind, vicious elbowing and punch-ups are common as well as all kinds of verbal insults.

Despite the on-field violence, there have been no major cases in Brazil of players being arrested for an incident during a match.

Some punch-ups, including one involving Santos and Corinthians players in 2003, have ended up in a police station but the protagonists are usually released after questioning.

In other parts of the world, authorities have also preferred to leave incidents during matches to the football tribunals, even in cases that would be considered criminal if they happened on the street.

A rare exception occurred in 1995 in Britain when Scotland and Everton striker Duncan Ferguson was jailed for head-butting an opponent.

Quilmes coach Gustavo Alfaro said Desabato had been arrested on the flimsiest of evidence.

"A football match should start and finish on the pitch," he said. "The witnesses are two television viewers who said they read his (Desabato's) lips."

Quilmes vice-president Jose Luis Meizner said: "This is not a coincidence, it seems that in Brazil there's a competition with Europe to see which country is leading the fight against racism."


In the end, the episode could go down as another incident in the long history of football rivalry between the two countries.

Only three months ago, an old controversy resurfaced about the possibility that Argentina players might have offered contaminated water to a Brazilian player during a match at the 1990 World Cup.

Argentines still remember Tulio's notorious Hand of God goal in the 1995 Copa America tie, which Brazil went on to win on penalties.

Sao Paulo coach Emerson Leao has never forgotten that he was injured during a huge brawl as coach of Atletico Mineiro after they beat Lanus 4-1 in Buenos Aires in the final of the 1997 Copa Conmebol.

He mentioned it again as he commented on the case after Wednesday's match, backing the decision to prosecute the Quilmes player.

"They have to take this to the bitter end," he said. "Let it be an example."

Brazil travel to Argentina for a World Cup qualifier in June while clubs from the two countries are likely to meet in the knockout stages of the Libertadores Cup between now and July.

Another round of controversy is unlikely to be far away.
Brian Homewood
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