Violence, cash problems hit Brazilian football
Brazil's Botafogo's supporter looks at the Copa Libertadores 2014 group 2 football match against Argentina's San Lorenzo at Pedro Bidegain stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on April 9, 2014 - by Juan Mabromata
The country that will host the World Cup finals from June 12 has a chaotic football industry.
It ought to be different.
"With the players who are produced here, Brazil ought to have the best league in the world," according to Dutch star Clarence Seedorf, who this year became coach at AC Milan after playing for Rio side Botafogo.
The prestige of Brazilian football is unrivalled. Brazil have won a record five World Cups and six of the last 10 South American Copa Libertadores.
Yet, the "Brasilerao" championship is far below the top European leagues where star Brazilians now play. It labors under problems ranging from violence and racism on the terraces to crippling cash flow problems.
- Violence -
Despite Brazil's multicultural society, racism regularly plagues matches. President Dilma Rousseff last month received two victims of racist abuse which she said could not be tolerated.
Sanctions were taken against two clubs. Esportivo de Veranopolis were docked nine points after a referee found bananas strewn over his damaged car outside the club ground.
For Veranopolis, the lost points meant relegation to the second division of the southern regional Gaucho league.
The Mogi Mirim club, run by 1999 world player of the year Rivaldo, were fined 8,100 euros after fans racially abused a visiting Santos player.
Hooliganism marred the end of last season when fans clashed in the southern city of Joinville and disgruntled supporters of Corinthians invaded the club's training center in February and beat several players.
Brazil's veteran centre forward Fred recently revealed how fans of his side Fluminense had physically threatened him.
- Finance -
Brazilian clubs have seen debts mushroom in recent years. A parliamentary commission estimated that the country's top 25 clubs owe an estimated 1.5 billion euros between them, far outstripping their annual revenues.
In terms of football earnings, Brazil stands eighth in the world. But it slips to 11th in terms of squad values as an opaque ownership system, much criticized by international football authorities, means many players are owned by private companies and secretive third party enterprises.
Top clubs, including Botafogo and Vasco da Gama in Rio, have both struggled to pay players' salaries in recent months.
A group of players seeking to reform the domestic game have set up a collective, Bom Senso FC (Common Sense), seeking financial fair-play measures along the lines proposed in Europe.
The Brazilian football Confederation (CBF) is not keen on the proposals but lawmakers are speaking out in favour.
- Jobless footballers -
Brazil's top clubs have to negotiate a crammed calendar with state championships running from mid-January to mid-April before the national league takes over until December. There are also domestic and continental cup encounters. Some matches have to be scheduled on dates FIFA earmarks for internationals, depriving clubs of their top stars.
Even so, 583 of 684 professional clubs do not play year round and more than 80% of players see no action for at least six months of the year.
Bom Senso unveiled a banner at last weekend's state league finals condemning how there are "500 clubs without activity and 12,000 (players) unemployed."
Flamengo's Brazil international Elano told AFP: "The main fight is for the little clubs as their players, who earn less, end up not getting paid. And all work deserves a salary."
Last October, the CBF indicated it would introduce a month-long pre-season break, while also setting a maximum number of matches per month and per year.
- Empty spaces -
Brazilians love football but the country places just 18th worldwide in attendances, behind the likes of Australia and the United States. The average league crowds are just 13,000 and this falls to 2,500 for state league matches.
Just 18,000 people went to a clash in February between Flamengo and Fluminense at the legendary Maracana stadium.
Fans say ticket prices are too high and most star players, such as Neymar, are now in Europe. Neymar joined Barcelona last year from Pele's old side Santos.
According to the International Center of Sports Studies (CIES), Brazil was in 2012 the biggest exporter of professional talent with 515 players in Europe, compared to 269 French players abroad and 205 Serbians.
Some veteran stars, such as Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, came home to end their playing days.