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Qatar World Cup: Fears grow rowdy football fans may overshadow Brazil's on-field magic

Brazilians are known for their love of football and the carnival like atmosphere they bring to the terraces, but heavy drinking could land some in trouble
A fan wears a shirt in support of the Brazilian national football team at a beer garden in Munich, Germany on 12 June 2014 (AFP)
By Eduardo Campos Lima in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Having a drink whilst watching the football is a common feature in "o Pais do Futebol" or "the country of football".

Whether it's on the terraces, at a sports bar, or even in your own home; Brazilian fans can be seen chugging down beers as they anxiously await the final minutes to kick off.

But in a country where the beautiful game is loved for its on-field antics - flair, elegance, and skill - the stands at many of the country's Serie A football matches have become synonymous with heavy drinking and fighting.

Despite an alcohol ban introduced in 2003 as part of attempts to stem the violence, Brazil led the world in football-related deaths from 1998 to 2008, with at least 42 fatalities reported.

'People may push their luck to drink alcohol [in forbidden areas] and disrespect women. I am concerned over what may occur in Qatar'

Edison Gastaldo, anthropologist 

The issue came to worldwide prominence in 2014 when Fifa's former Secretary General, Jerome Valcke, said he was "amazed" by the levels of drunkenness in the South American country.

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Valcke acknowledged that "maybe there were too many people who were drunk" at the matches and pointed to the connection between inebriation and violence.

The issue gained further attention at the 2018 Russia World Cup when some intoxicated Brazilian fans duped women from other countries into repeating sexist and homophobic remarks in videos that triggered nationwide outrage.

Now, as more than a million people prepare to descend on Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, there have been questions as to how Qatari authorities will deal with boozy football supporters and so-called "laddish" behaviour.

The conservative country has had to open up areas outside stadiums and in fan zones for the sale of alcohol.

Qatar's World Cup chief has potentially ruled out prosecuting drunk fans by saying anyone intoxicated would be sent to special areas to sober up, and at one venue, fans will be allowed to drink for up to 19 hours a day.

"There are plans in place for people to sober up if they've been drinking excessively," he said. "It's a place to make sure that they keep themselves safe, they're not harmful to anybody else."

Class divide

Marcelo Fadori Palhares, a professor of Physical Education at Fundacao Herminio Ometto, in Sao Paulo State, said Brazilian fans were likely to drink excessively in Qatar, and would likely do things that land them in trouble.

"Rooting for a football club - or for the national team - is seen in Brazil as a kind of pressure relief valve. Football fans not only cheer and chant together, but they also behave in a way that would not be socially acceptable elsewhere," he told Middle East Eye.

According to Palhares, who researches Brazilian football fans, also known torcidas organizadas, misogyny is "an integral part of the Brazilian football culture," and "in an exclusively male environment, people feel comfortable to act in sexist ways and say or shout inappropriate things to unknown women".

Edison Gastaldo, an anthropologist and expert in the behaviour of football fans, said unlike domestic football -  where it's mostly a working class affair - fans at the World Cup represented a different class of Brazilians and may interact differently with Qataris.

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"The rich and the poor are very different. The club's torcidas are formed by the working classes. The people who are going to Qatar have enough money to pay for the trip, the hotel, the Cup tickets – something impossible for most Brazilians," he said.

According to Gastaldo, Brazil's travelling World Cup fans usually don't root for a local club, do not go to matches, and often don't have a strong grasp of football.

"The 'World Cup supporter' is a derogatory term used by the torcidas to refer to [upper-class] people with no real involvement with football," he said.

For many of these travelling fans, Gastaldo argues, the World Cup is an excuse for tourism. But they still may display reprehensible conduct.

"Many upper-class Brazilians can be arrogant and feel streetwise. People may push their luck to drink alcohol [in forbidden areas] and disrespect women. I am concerned over what may occur in Qatar," he said.

It won't be uncommon for these fans, Gastaldo says, to disregard cultural differences and act with impunity.

"They are used to it in Brazil. Those who are the owners of everything always feel at home, no matter where they are. Here, such behaviour does not entail any consequence for them," he said.

'Hope respect will prevail'

According to Palhares, sexual harassment and other instances of misconduct will certainly occur – although they may not be recorded and shared on social media.

"As someone who knows the Brazilian dynamics, I am sure that some fans will behave badly. Maybe it will not go viral on the internet, but it will certainly happen," he said.

Palhares said another source of tension is the possibility of matches with the country's footballing rivals - Uruguay and Argentina.

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For Qatari resident Daniela Prista, a Brazilian national, even though there are no laws in Qatar against wearing revealing clothing like shorts, miniskirts, and tank tops, tourists should dress modestly and in a style that is sensitive to the local culture.

"Over the past few days, many people from other countries have been arriving and we can already see women wearing too short skirts and blouses," Prista told MEE.

Qatar's government tourism website notes: "Attitudes towards dressing in Qatar are relaxed, but visitors [men as well as women] are expected to show respect for the local culture by avoiding excessively revealing clothes in public. It is generally recommended for men and women to ensure their shoulders and knees are covered".

Still, Rinaldo Carvalho, a 46-year-old from Niteroi, a city in Rio de Janeiro's metropolitan area, said he feared what drunk Brazilian visitors could get up to.

Carvalho said he was a devoted fan of Vasco da Gama, a traditional football club in Rio de Janeiro, and this would be the third World Cup tournament he has attended in person.

"It is a big event that will take place in a narrow territory with a rather traditional culture. I hope respect will prevail because the Qatari rules are already common knowledge among the people who are going there for the Cup," he said.

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