True Brazilian sports journalists, please step forward

The Brazilian Championship anno 2015 – one of the most exciting in many years – has been wrecked by the refereeing.

The statement above is not an opinion neither an accusation. It’s a fact. The many errors committed by referees round after round is having a direct impact on the championship and on the position of teams in the tables. Moreover, there is consensus that one team has benefitted more than any other from this sequence of errors: current leader Corinthians.

Perhaps it’s all about poor refereeing. Perhaps. Nevertheless, the only thing people talk about is the refereeing. And whether it’s “only” poor or if there is a hidden agenda.

In Brazil, it’s common knowledge that the road is slightly better paved for a few: Flamengo, Fluminense, Corinthians… The treatment these receive in the rulings of the Supreme Tribunal of Sports is just one of several indicators. The expressive investments Corinthians and Flamengo receive from the largest Brazilian TV network and the difference in airtime, another.

There are expressions in the context of Brazilian football – “a força da camisa”, “influência nos bastidores” – used without shame to point out the importance of working backstage in order to secure things go your way, or at least not against you. Including influencing the outcome of draws.

Of course you get suspicious. We live in a dishonest country – Atlético Mineiro coach Levir Culpi 

It’s hard to blame Levir Culpi. Especially when considering that Corinthians’ ambitious former president is part of the inner circle of the Brazilian Football Federation and also has political influence. Refresh your memory, if necessary, reading first about the Itaqueirão and then about the shameful (and luckily failed) attempt to cancel 90% of football club’s tax debts

Still, many are skeptical. Who would be coordinating this unlikely scheme, paying off the many referees and linesmen for it to come together? It’s easier to envision if you forget about the money. This is not match fixing for profit (not like in 2005, when that was actually the case and people ended up in jail). Think of it as a culture, where referees quickly learn that if they want to have a career, they better not get on certain team’s black list. Where a phone call from the head of the National Association for Referees on the night before an important game, wishing good luck, is like a shout through a megaphone.

So what is the sports journalists’ take on all this? They normally stay within three arguments: 1) the refereeing quality is bad, and has been for a while. 2) mistakes are committed all the time, but that evens out over time. 3) there could be foul play involved, but suggesting this without proof would be frivolous, and they have seen no proof. With that, they lean back and continue business as usual.

Seems like Brazilian sports journalists have collectively forgotten one of the fundamentally important pillars of good journalism: investigation. They are waiting for the police to arrest people, for the prosecutor’s office to press charges, for someone to invite them to a press conference and lay out evidence. If none of the above happens, they seem happy to conclude that everything is fine. 

I’m not saying there is foul play involved. I’m not saying there isn’t. I’m saying sports journalists have a goddamn obligation to initiate investigations of their own.

Investigation concluded, they could say “no, we found absolutely nothing”. Or they could say “yes, this championship is corrupt”. Either way, they would have done what is expected of serious journalists.

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