Pickup Soccer in Brazil
RIO DE JANEIRO — In Brazil, the ball is always moving. It moves on grass and on sand, on concrete and on cobblestone. Sometimes, during the rainy season, it even moves on water.
Organized soccer, the kind the Brazilian national team will play next year in the World Cup, is known as futebol (pronounced FOO-chee-ball) in Portuguese. But the pickup variety, the kind played in the cities and the countryside, is called pelada, a term Brazilian men also use to refer to a naked woman. One night last month, a hotel doorman waiting to play at a game in the Flamengo neighborhood here explained the odd symmetry this way: “Football and women,” he said, “are the only two things we really love.”
Chasing the Dream
It must be said: the ball has always had meaning, always resonated far beyond a foot and a goal and a game. As just one example, some believe the roots of Brazil’s attachment to joga bonito, or the tenet that one must “play beautifully” or not at all, was born from the country’s long history with racism.
There was a time, the theory goes, when a dark-skinned Brazilian could not even touch a white man without fear of retribution or punishment. Because of that, some say, the silky, slippery, slinky feints and shimmies that Brazilian players hone while playing pelada were developed as a form of survival: the goal was to be able to get past an opponent without even grazing him, lest a societal code be broken.
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