Football Today: The Brazilian Footballer who never was-Football detail
Football has quasi-religious status in the Brazil and becoming a professional player is every Brazilian boy dream. But prejudice within the game and Brazilian society means that for some dream is cut short.
When Douglas Braga arrived in Rio de Janeiro at the age of “12”, he was filled with the excitement. “I had a lot of hope,” he says. “I came here with a dream, I was ready to fight for it.”
He had been scouted by 3rd-division Madureira and after 6 years in the youth teams there and Douglas’s dream started to become reality.
At 18, he was signed by the Botafogo, one of the Rio’s top clubs, which had been recently won the Brazilian league. But something else was happening to the Douglas at that same time.
‘Toughest decision of my life’
“I started discovering my sexuality,” he says. “I started seeing that I had desires for that it was for men.”
As his career progressed, training with players, who would go on to play for the Brazil and making appearances for the first team. Douglas realised that he could not carry on playing football and be an out gay man.
“It was a choice that either you are yourself, or you are a footballer. It just was not possible to be both.” At 21 age, he quit football. It was the toughest decision of his life.
“That day that I have decided not to play, I cried so much,” he remembers. “I walked around for hours crying.”
For all the flamboyance of its annual carnival, Brazil is an deeply homophobic country, particularly when it comes to the football. The people we speak to tell us that, what seems obvious – of course there are gay men playing professional football in the Brazil. But no any top level player has ever come out.
Listen to the chants at a football match or talk to the fans and it is not very hard to see why.
One of the common taunts directed at opposing players is “viado”, which translates as “faggot”.
At a home game of the table-topping São Paulo team Palmeiras, supporters tell us that there is “not really space” for gay men to play the professional football in Brazil and that the supporters would not want to watch gay playing.
One fan, wearing the branded vest of the Palmeiras supporters’ club, says there is no chance a gay man could ever play for this team: “Football is a macho sport. It is a place for the men.”
During the recent presidential election campaign in Brazil some other Palmeiras fans were filmed in the mobile phone in a São Paulo metro station chanting about: “Look out queers, Bolsonaro going to kill the faggots!”
Bolsonaro, who was elected the president last year and took office charge on 1 January, has described himself as a “proud homophobe” and said that if he saw two men kissing each other, he would physically attack them.
According to Brazilian human rights group, 387 LGBT Brazilians were murdered in trans- and homophobic attacks in 2017, significant increase on the previous year.
Despite this hostile atmosphere, Douglas is part of the group of men fighting back against homophobic prejudice in Brazilian football.
Back on the pitch
15 years after thatwrenching decision to leave football behind, he is back on the pitch, playing for a gay amateur team called BeesCats.
His team mate André Machado, founded BeesCats so LGBT footballers could come together to play in the Rio. It was such a success that he helped other gay teams to form around the country and then, just over a year ago, started an LGBT tournament called the Champions LiGay.
“The LiGay is made for us to play the soccer,” André says. “We want to play soccer in an safe place.”
The 3rd Champions LiGay, held in São Paulo is the biggest yet. There is a loud, party, colourful atmosphere and the football is of a high standard.
BeesCats get knocked out from the quarter-finals and Douglas is frustrated they did not do the better. But deeper down, there is an bigger disappointment that his dream of being a pro was cut.
“It hurts, seeing my friends from back still playing as the professionals,” he says. “It really does still hurt today.”
In the hostile landscape in which gay Brazilians find themselves, the prospects for the Douglases for the future look uncertain at the best.
But, despite the election of a new homophobic president, the tournament founder André, is defiant. “Now I am so sad with Bolsonaro,” he says.
“But I think the resistance will grow a lot in the next few years.”
Is the Champions LiGay part of the resistance? “Totally. I think we have in these 2 days, maybe 1,000 people here and I think in the other Champions LiGay, we will be more and more people who want to be a part of this.”