Fifa threatens Brazil with World Cup expulsion (almost…)

James Young
Corinthians Arena in Sao P 300x225 Fifa threatens Brazil with World Cup expulsion (almost...)

A view of the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo which will host the opening fixture in the World Cup

June 12, 2014. England against Brazil in the opening game of the World Cup. Surprisingly the stands at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo are almost entirely empty, though the lonely figure of former CBF (the Brazilian Football Federation) president Jose Maria Marin can be seen weeping softly in a seat in the upper deck. From the kick-off, Andros Townsend runs unchecked into the area and crosses onto the festively sun-pinked rectangle of Wayne Rooney’s forehead for an easy opener.

“A great goal from England!” crows Guy Mowbray. “A giant step towards World Cup glory! Surely no one can stop Roy’s boys now?”

“You may be right Guy! It feels like 1966 all over again!” squeals Mark Lawrenson alongside him. “Though I can’t help thinking it would have been a bit trickier if Brazil had been here too,” he continues, just the slightest tremor of self-doubt creeping into his voice.

But as the millions of football fans watching on TV will know, Brazil are not here, having been expelled from the World Cup nine months earlier, and England win on a walkover.

All because of a little known Serie C team from Minas Gerais called Betim (average 2013 crowd: 191).

An unlikely scenario, sure enough. The last paragraph of the letter from Fifa legal cheese Christine Farina to the CBF on Wednesday was probably a merely standard warning of what might happen if the entity’s instructions were not obeyed. Still, that last line had a doomy feel to it.

We’d like to remind you that if your association fails to do as instructed, the Fifa Disciplinary Committee will apply appropriate sanctions against the Brazilian Football Federation. This may result in expulsion from all Fifa competitions.


But England fans in the middle of taking out second mortgages to pay for World Cup hotels and flights need not worry.

The orders in question were to dock Betim six points for the club’s failure to pay an outstanding transfer fee to Bolivia’s The Strongest for the midfielder Pablo Escobar in 2008. And the CBF has since acted with unprecedented alacrity, dishing out the penalty yesterday, which means that Betim have been pushed out of the Serie C play-off spots, replaced by Sao Paulo’s Mogi Mirim.

All’s well that ends well, then. Brazil and the World Cup have been saved.

Not quite.

For Betim are no greenhorns when it comes to such cases. Just over a month ago the same thing happened, this time over the club’s non-payment of the transfer fee for full-back Luisinho, signed from Nacional of Madeira in 2006. On that occasion, Betim obtained an injunction from a civil court that blocked the punishment, and the CBF were powerless to act. No points were docked, the club carried on playing, and qualified for the play-offs, at least until the events of this week.

Powerless is a word that crops up rather a lot when it comes to the CBF’s inability to govern the behaviour of its clubs at the lower levels. Last year it was the turn of Treze, from Paraiba, to cock a snook at the decision of Jose Marin’s League of Extraordinarily Ineffectual Gentlemen to give Rio Branco, rather than Treze themselves, or Araguaína, the last remaining Serie C spot (this particular mess arose from a sticky legal situation involving Rio Branco that is far too complex and boring to explain here).

As the injunctions plopped heavily onto the CBF doormat, blocking one feeble attempt to resolve the crisis after another (one judge even threatened to send the police to stadiums to stop Serie C games from going ahead), and the division ground into a one month stoppage that put jobs at a number of impoverished clubs at risk, Mr Marin impotently twiddled his thumbs and who knows what else.

Now Betim have leapt onto the attack once more. “We’re going to the courts again,” roared club president Jaider Moreira yesterday. “The case is identical (to the one with Nacional) and we’re confident we can win.” His confidence may be well founded, given that in the previous case the court ruled that outstanding debts could not result in points being docked when a competition was in progress. “If they could, not a single club in Brazil could play competitive football,” Mr Moreira harrumphed, with impressive logic.

Assuming Betim are successful, then the CBF will be prevented from complying with Fifa’s instructions. And if that happens, leathery old Mr Marin had better douse himself in Old Spice and get a bottle of his favourite “good whiskey” ready for the visit of an irate Cristine Farina (a YouTube clip circled last year that showed Jose explaining how he could guarantee CBF election results by buttering up football bigwigs from Brazil’s state federations with a few bottles of Johnny Walker Blue Label).

Or else that opening game on June 12 really might be the dampest squib in World Cup history.

Note: Of course Brazil will not be excluded from the World Cup. But what the episode does reveal, apart from the moral bankruptcy of Betim and its directors, is the remarkable incompetence, not to say negligence, of the CBF. And as usual in such cases, those who suffer most are the fans. Awaiting the results of the legal imbroglio between Mogi Mirim and Betim are Recife’s Santa Cruz, one of Brazil’s best supported clubs, finally on the verge of a return to Serie B after five years in the wilderness of Series C and D. The Santa players were about to leave for Recife airport yesterday when news of the CBF’s decision, which moved the game from Saturday in Minas Gerais to Monday night in Mogi Mirim, came through.

Travelling Santa fans will now have to try and change flight and hotel reservations, both of which are eye-wateringly expensive in Brazil, at the last minute. Finally, the club has already started selling tickets for the home leg in just over a week’s time, at which a crowd of over 50,000 is expected. Now, thanks to the deadening hand of Jose Marin upon the twisted tiller of Brazilian domestic football, neither the date, nor the opposition, can be confirmed.

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  • James Young

    Author’s note: Late on Friday night, Betim was indeed granted an injunction by the esteemed judge Carlos Marcio Macedo, of (ahem) Betim Town Court. The injunction requires the immediate cancellation of the six point penalty, putting Jose Marin in the rather difficult spot of being prohibited by law from imposing a FIFA ordered punishment upon one of his member clubs. Another fine mess, Mr. Marin.

    Santa Cruz director Antonio Luiz Neto confirmed that the team intends to travel to Sao Paulo as planned on Saturday night, even though Monday’s game with Mogi Mirim is likely to be cancelled. The plan may be to stand outside the Estadio Vail Chaves waving placards enscribed “let us in!”, “we want to play!”, and “down with this sort of thing!” in an attempt to rouse the CBF from its eternal slumbers.

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