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Do Portuguese coaches suffer xenophobia in Brazil?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

Perhaps it might be strange to question whether Portuguese people experience xenophobia in Brazil, considering that Brazilians have been oppressed and exploited by Portugal since the “discovery” of Brazil.

However, before making any assertions, we need to understand the concept of xenophobia. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), xenophobia can be defined as:

“Attitudes, prejudices, and behaviors that reject, exclude, and often defame people, based on the perception that they are strangers or foreigners to the community, society, or national identity.”

UNHCR about Xenophobia

In other words, xenophobia is an aversion to foreigners.

Historic context

Between the 16th and 19th centuries, the process of Portuguese arrival in the Americas, which would later become Brazilian territory, took place. The colonization process occurred through the occupation of indigenous lands by the Portuguese. Initially, this was done through trade relations, but with a keen interest in exploiting the wealth of the newly discovered lands.

Colonization introduced slavery to Brazil and led to the demarcation of territories aimed at organizing the economy to generate profit for the metropolis, of Portugal. This period consisted of three cycles of exploitation: the Brazilwood cycle, the sugar cycle, and the gold cycle. In all three cycles, Brazilian labor was exploited.

The relationship established between Brazil and Portugal was that of colonized and colonizer, colony and metropolis. Therefore, this context allowed Europe to become a continent with first-world countries, considered superior to their former subordinates or former colonies.

The supposed “end” of colonization occurred with the process of Brazil’s Independence, declared by Dom Pedro I, a Portuguese prince. This makes history contradictory. The fact is that despite the self-declared Independence, Brazil maintained a relationship of subordination to the Portuguese. When they arrived in Brazilian lands, they occupied important positions and remained in power over Brazil.

It’s plausible to assert that the context between Brazil and Portugal may have fueled a sense of repulsion towards the Portuguese nation, nurturing xenophobic practices among Brazilians. Throughout history, Brazil was consistently becoming more isolated and being placed in an inferior position compared to the Portuguese.

The historical context between the nations is crucial to consider when asking the question, “Is the treatment Portuguese professionals face in Brazil a form of xenophobia?” We interviewed Paola Costa, an expert in International Relations, to gain a better understanding of this relationship.

“Xenophobia is a structural issue in our society, and situations in football merely reflect this, although it’s an issue that goes beyond sports. I believe that Brazil has a resistance to foreigners; despite the myth of being ‘cordial people,’ there are still deeply rooted prejudices,” says Paola.

nowadays

We can understand this relationship between the nations currently through the recent episodes involving Portuguese coaches of Brazilian clubs, such as Abel Ferreira of Palmeiras and António Oliveira of Cuiabá.

Recently, during the trial of a dispute between the coaching staff and players of Athletico-PR and Coritiba, Rubens Dobranski, an auditor from TJD-PR, made the following comment directed at António Oliveira, the coach of Coritiba at the time:

“Portuguese coaches who are working in Brazil seem to be trying to mark their territory. The case of the Palmeiras coach is an example: kicking water coolers, kicking microphones, and always being cautioned with yellow cards. And you, already in the 4th or 5th round of the Paranaense Championship, have been suspended due to yellow cards. Don’t you think you’re being overly complaint with the referees in Paraná?”

In an interview, specialist Paola states: “The remarks against Abel Ferreira, such as the one about wanting to mark his territory, show that they go beyond football. It’s a matter of anchoring to prejudices deeply rooted in our society to target a person beyond the sport itself.”

This isn’t the first time that the behavior of coaches has been questioned by the Brazilian media. Many times, Abel Ferreira has been labeled as “complaint,” “aggressive,” and “disrespectful” towards the media.

In a case from 2022, TV Bandeirantes presenter Neto made live comments on his show: “What does your mother know how to do? Cook codfish? What can your mommy do? Make little sticks? […] Do you think you’re a colonizer?”

In response, Palmeiras stated the frequent attacks on the Portuguese coach: “Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras vehemently condemns the xenophobic expressions that have consistently been directed at our coaching staff. […] We do not tolerate prejudiced statements that incite aversion towards foreigners.”

Given the presented facts, it’s possible to answer the initial question. Yes, Portuguese coaches do experience xenophobia and are consistently criticized based on the characteristics of colonizers, placing them in a position of dominance beyond the pejorative sense of football. For example, they are criticized for their on-field positioning towards the referee, for questioning the referee’s decisions, and for how they handle media criticism. This behavior is common among all football club coaches in Brazil, but for some curious reason, Portuguese coaches are labeled as insolent and arrogant.

Perhaps due to the frequent occurrence of Portuguese coaches coming with a different football background based on European methods and becoming successful champions with Brazilian teams, Brazilians develop a perception of Portuguese dominance once again, coupled with a sense of aversion towards the Portuguese nation.

These comments go beyond journalistic criticism, constructive critiques, and overall analysis of a coaching staff. The criticism simply boils down to insulting the coach’s nation, demeaning their work, anchored in their country’s turbulent history, and the deeply rooted prejudice in Brazil.

The specialist illustrates: “Similar to how we see women being criticized, regardless of the domain, be it sports, politics, pop culture, there are certain adjectives that are specifically directed towards this group, unlike men. In the same way, we see certain adjectives being directed at him (Abel Ferreira) that wouldn’t be directed at Brazilian coaches. So, yes, it can be considered xenophobia, and sports become another stage for this kind of prejudice, which is both inherent and structural, and surfaces in these situations.”

It’s important to highlight that today, Xenophobia is a crime defined by law in Brazil. Law No. 9.459/97 covers those who might practice, induce, or incite discrimination or prejudice based on race, color, ethnicity, religion, or national origin. The crime is punishable by a fine ranging from one to three years.

However, it’s essential not to generalize this “colonizer” behavior and categorize all Portuguese individuals under a profile based on the xenophobic mindset ingrained in Brazilian culture.

Unfortunately, football, which should serve to unite nations, spread cultures, and unify people in a single cheering corner, ceases to be the main spectacle when we witness saddening episodes like the ones mentioned above.

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The article above was edited by Clarissa Palácio.

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Gabriela Guedes

Casper Libero '26

meu nome é Gabriela e sou estudante de Jornalismo da Cásper Libero. Amante da escrita e apaixonada por futebol, música, séries e viagens. Espero que goste das matérias que encontrar por aqui.