There is a saying that soccer and politics cannot be discussed. Besides being a questionable maxim, they are often confused. Soccer was used by fascist Italy in the 1934 and 1938 World Cups, during the Argentine military dictatorship in the 1978 World Cup, and by the Brazilian military government in the 1970 World Cup, at the height of the authoritarian regime’s violence. Silvio Berlusconi was president of Milan before becoming prime minister of Italy, Mauricio Macri presided over Boca Juniors before being elected president of Argentina and Sebastián Piñera owned Colo-Colo before becoming president of Chile. Flamengo, a three-time Copa Libertadores winner, is no exception.
The team with the biggest fan base on the continent and probably in the world, is the team of 21.8% of Brazilians, according to a survey conducted in July 2022 by the Ipec institute. This popularity is exploited by politicians. The current president of Flamengo, Rodolfo Landim, supports Jair Bolsonaro and has used the club on numerous occasions to help his ally in his bid for re-election to the presidency of the Republic.
However, the day after Flamengo defeated Athletico Paranaense in the Libertadores final played in Ecuador, Lula defeated Bolsonaro. The vote in Brazil’s Northeast was decisive, as Lula received 69.3% of the votes in the region. Landim’s wife, Angela Machado, who serves as the club’s social responsibility director, reacted to Bolsonaro’s defeat by attacking the Northeasterners on her social networks: “We won where they produce, we lost where they summer. Let’s go to work because if the cattle die, the tick goes hungry”.
Xenophobic attacks on Northeasterners are recurrent among Bolsonaro’s voters. Beyond the seriousness of the prejudice, Machado addressed a region with a large base of team supporters. According to the Ipec survey, as mentioned above, the club is the favorite of 25.2% of the inhabitants of the Northeast. Asked whether Flamengo should apologize, Landim denied it: “This was not a Flamengo action. It was a person. She is a natural person which has the right to position herself. It is an intimate decision of hers. Everyone has the right to act and think as they want”.
On the eve of the presidential elections, still at the Monumental Stadium in Guayaquil, Landim and other Flamengo directors celebrated the Libertadores title by posing for photos with the team’s jersey and making with their hands the number of Bolsonaro’s candidacy, 22. And on the same day of the elections, the team was received at Rio de Janeiro’s international airport by Bolsonaro himself while voting was taking place throughout the country. In a clear attempt to seize the moment, Bolsonaro, who is not even a fan of the team, got to lift the trophy. He then took a helicopter ride with players Pedro, Santos, Thiago Maia, Everton Cebolinha, Marinho and Diego Alves.
Judge Siro Darlan, a benefactor of the club, called for the dismissal of Landim and the dismissal of Angela Machado for the former’s alleged electoral crime and the latter’s biased statements. The opposition group within the club called Flamengo da Gente also issued a statement, saying, “Since 2019 Flamengo has been used as an instrument of bolsonarism and a springboard for personal gain by its board members. Today, in a violent political demonstration, director Angela Landim, wife of the club’s current president, distilled xenophobia against Northeasterners. By disagreeing with the voting choice of the vast majority of voters in the northeast, the director assaulted and disrespected our fans revealing once again the prejudiced and anti-popular face of the current Flamengo management.”
In fact, the use of the club to benefit Bolsonaro occurred throughout the entire mandate. Despite being a Palmeiras fan, Bolsonaro has gone to several Flamengo matches in Rio de Janeiro or Brasília. When he was Minister of Justice, former judge Sérgio Moro, an Athletico Paranaense fan, was invited, wearing a Flamengo jersey, to attend a match in Brasília. The Vice President, General Hamilton Mourão, was even honored by the club with an honorary title.
At the still acute moment of the Covid pandemic, the Flamengo board and Bolsonaro, who always downplayed the seriousness of the disease, converged in advocating the immediate opening of the stadiums, against the distancing measures. Landim took advantage of his relationship with Bolsonaro to change the legislation on the broadcasting of matches on television. This proximity between the two was also presented by both as an opportunity for the president of the Republic to intercede for the public bank Caixa Econômica Federal, administrator of a piece of land in downtown Rio de Janeiro, to negotiate it with Flamengo for the construction of a new soccer stadium for the club.
In 2021, Landim was considered by Bolsonaro to be his vice-presidential candidate. However, General Braga Netto was chosen. In March 2022, Bolsonaro proposed Landim for the position of CEO of Petrobras’ Board of Directors, but he declined the invitation a few days later.
Even before taking office, Lula’s visibility inside and outside Brazil after being elected president already exceeded that of the current president. Just when the image of Brazil’s most popular club could be reinforced by the repercussions of the Libertadores victory, Landim and the Flamengo board of directors tied him to the candidate who was not only rejected by the majority of the electorate but who flirts with not accepting his defeat. In addition to being disrespectful to the majority of the club’s fans, it is a stain on its reputation at one of the most glorious moments in its history.
*Translated from Spanish by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva