I remember the first time I watched a football match. I was 8 years old. My grandfather “kidnapped” me, told my parents that he would take me out for ice cream, I had it and I was “baptized” into the global religion of football.
The first Fla-Flu in the midst of an 80’s dictatorship, nobody forgets! There I was, there she was, dressed in all colors, screams of ecstasy, passion, she was there in the stands, in the former general of the Jornalista Mário Filho Stadium (Maracanã), Democracy was inside, and the military was outside.
While I was supporting Flamengo and watched my grandfather cry with the defeat of “-nense”, in the neighbour city of my Rio de Janeiro town, in São Paulo, a group of players would go down in history, not only for taking crowds to the stadiums, but for fighting for everyone's rights: be they players or fans.
They entered the field, not only with the body, but with the soul and their minds. They did not play to guarantee only a victory within a specific field, but for a nation, in addition to Corinthians.
Walter Casagrande Jr, was one of them.
The former Corinthians player, currently a sports commentator, talks to WSI Magazine about what was Corinthian Democracy, Sport for Democracy and the fragile moment that Brazilian democracy is experiencing.
What was Corinthian Democracy? When was the kickoff?
Corinthian Democracy began to be developed in late 1981 when sociologist Adilson Monteiro Alves became the vice president of football at Sport Club Corinthians Paulista. He started a different process in the relationship between the club and the players. And in March 1982, Democracy began to take shape, it was more visible. The group started to have more freedom and we got together more.
Adilson started to get closer to us players. I remember the day we were in a debate at PUC (Pontifical Catholic University, in São Paulo) in 1982, we debated democracy, talked about Corinthians and our democratic movement within the club, when we finished our reports, journalist Juca Kfouri said: “This is a Corinthian democracy” and then Olivetto's Washington (publicist), took this “speech” from Juca and put together the slogan: Democracy Corinthian and we started playing with that phrase written on our shirts.
We started to understand the social and political interest of each player. It was very clear that some players did not have so much freedom, they wanted to participate more, but football was very paternalistic, sexist, authoritarian, they were “half aside”, during the Corinthian Democracy the people started to let go, to have more freedom, in my case specifically. I was only 18, but I played for Corinthians at the time of the dictatorship, at the end of the 70s, at the time of Vicente Matheus (president of Corinthians 1959 to 1991) I stood out a lot in the youth team, but I also caused a lot of friction because I was against the dictatorship and Corinthians followed the rules of the government, which was military.
The team was playing well, and we participated in various political activities. We resisted the pressure of the government that called the club every week asking them to stop that movement, to remove the name Democracia Corinthiana from the shirt, so as not to put the phrase “day 15 vote”, which was an incentive for people to vote.
It had been almost 20 years since people had had the right to vote in Brazil, and at that time a campaign for direct election to the government began. People were left behind, afraid to vote, questioned if that was not a "trap" or if it was for real, and we entered the field with the phrase on the shirt to stimulate the campaign for the vote.
Corinthian Democracy was formed in this way: with me, Socrates, Vladimir and Adilson, but everyone participated, each in a different way, they were not obliged, some were not interested, others did not understand much of what was happening, some had a little fear, but the group was there, united and strong.
What was the biggest goal scored by Corinthian Democracy?
Can it be two goals? One was in the sports field and the other in politics. The final of ‘82 against São Paulo was the necessary goal. It was the year that the generals (the military government) put pressure on the club because of our movement, strong pressure from the police, a year of great friction, and we, the players, depended on that championship title to establish Corinthian Democracy. That was the great goal on the field.
The political goal was the Diretas Já movement, when we took part, along with other big names who were also fighting for democracy in Brazil at a historic event in the Vale do Anhangabaú, in São Paulo.
It was the main historical participation of soccer players within the political field in Brazil within that whole scenario of the Brazilian dictatorship.
What was the worst penalty that Corinthian Democracy suffered?
He had a defeat. It was Adilson (vice president of Corinthians) who lost the presidential club election in 1985. At that time there were two candidates. One represented the wing of democracy with Adilson and the other candidate Roberto Pásqual, represented the military dictatorship. They hit us. I had votes from people who weren't even alive anymore! Losing that election was the biggest blow and there ended Corinthian Democracy. We suffered a lot of attacks, but we took them "out of hand", but having lost that election ...
If you could classify Corinthian Democracy in a role on the field, would it be striker, defender, midfield, side or goalkeeper?
I think Corinthian Democracy was an attacker! It's not because I'm a striker, no! We really attacked! There was no middle ground.
When the ideology and the group were formed, we had in mind, and feet, that we couldn’t just play in midfield because the attacks came from all sides and in very dirty ways. We had to be real attackers, giving the "face to hit", we ran all the time, even with the risk of suffering falls, bad consequences, we didn't worry about that.
Casagrande, do you think Brazilian democracy is “losing out”?
It is a momentary defeat, but a painful one. We have seen so much wrong ... There are several movements, groups and people mobilising against all that is going wrong and the result is still very small. Brazil is taking a beating in every way, especially in the environment that is being destroyed.
We have been mobilising, but it is very sad to see what is happening to our environment and our indigenous peoples. The fight against Covid-19 is another disaster in Brazil, more than 160 thousand deaths and even so, people go out on the streets, go to the beach, bars, do not collaborate… And then I wonder: What to do so that these people change their idea? They are seeing another reality, which is not the real one: chaos. Brazil is experiencing chaos. We have seen surreal things in this period of the pandemic, it is unbelievable that people accept it all.
Why do you think Brazil reached this situation?
There was a coup against Dilma and several people “bought” the negative image of her government and Lula. Fake news was essential to misrepresent the whole situation. And then everything broke completely, I believe it was there that we took the real blow. Did everyone know it would happen, the result? We have seen it today. Brazil is experiencing the worst moment I have ever lived through, after the time of the military dictatorship.
What is the idea of Sport for Democracy?
I thought about creating this group when the boy João Pedro, 14 years old, died in Rio de Janeiro, killed by the police and then the murder of George Floyd in the USA. These two deaths made me very angry, mainly because of the racial issue.
I wanted to create a group at that time to defend Brazilian democracy and also to be a real anti-racist group. The group first emerged to be an anti-racist manifesto. It was what was happening at that moment, we could not keep silent watching all that happening, we had to show our face and that was how the Sport for Democracy group came about.
The Sport for Democracy “lasted” only a day and a half, because in the middle of the second day journalists, actors, musicians, filmmakers and lawyers joined, and the group's formation grew, opened spaces for all areas, strengthening it even more in relation to that that was happening in the world, mainly on racial issues in Brazil and in relation to attacks on democracy.
On the freedom of expression of athletes. Some have been banned by confederations from expressing their opinions, the most recent case being that of beach volleyball player Carol Solberg. How do you, who lived through the struggle for democracy in the midst of a dictatorship, see a situation like this today?
I think this is censorship. Carol was denounced by the attorney general of the Superior Court of Sports Justice (STJD) for saying “Fora, Bolsonaro”, at the end of an interview for a TV channel, after she won the bronze medal in a match of the Brazilian Circuit stage Beach Volleyball. And if there had not been a large mobilization with several groups demonstrating, supporting and in favor of Carol, she would get (and I have no doubt), a suspension of 6, 7 games and would still receive another maximum penalty: a fine R$ 100,000 (almost US$ 20,000) but there was a very strong engagement of society in favor of democracy, freedom of expression that still exists, that is why there was "only" censorship. The democratic sports society does not accept this solution to the "problem", we do not accept censorship for Carol or anyone.
Do you think athletes need to come together more?
Of course! This is something I have been waiting for for a long time. It's been two, three years since I demanded bigger participation from football players, in everything. I think this: We live in a democracy, they are not obliged to speak out, but so much is happening ... Well, they don't want to speak out politically, ok, but the racial issue in the world is very strong, prejudice, racism, homophobia is very big on the world stage and especially here in Brazil, it is in this sense that I think football players should use the strong voice they have, like Hamilton (Lewis Hamilton, F1 driver). Today I classify Hamilton as the sportsman with more sense of the importance of his voice, his movements, his victories, and he has used all this to show what is going wrong in the world, we have no voice like that in football, I think this is absurd.
I come from a Corinthian Democracy where we used freedom of expression very well and today I see that they don't use it for anything, I get a little indignant about it.
Do you see similar situations from the time of the dictatorship occurring now?
I don't see any similarities, do you know why? Because at the time of the dictatorship, the enemy was so big and strong that we were focused on a movement that would help the re-democratisation of the country. We were not looking at the sides, at the falls, we were wanting the military dictatorship to end. Score. At that time, we had more people at our side, late 70s and early 80s, most of the country, the population wanted democracy. Our fight was difficult, complicated, dangerous, but we had a lot of people behind us. Today it is very divided. The democratic side of the country, of the people who are trying to defend democracy, is without a rearguard.
I position myself every time the way I think it should be, I manifest myself in all the wrong things that have happened in the country since this new government started, but I don't feel as secure as I felt before. Why? Because I feel more fragile than I did in the 80's, when I fought for democracy. There are several people who speak out like me, the problem is that we are isolated, it is a very fragile position. The manifestations that happen in groups or movements are strong, but when it is more direct, individual, it is not as safe as it was before, although, for example, I manifested myself in the Robinho case and 90% of the population supported me. The player was sentenced to nine years in prison for sexual violence in Italy, is he entitled to appeal? Yes, but at that moment he is convicted of Italian justice. There is a phrase from the song Bola de Meia, Bola de Gude, by Milton Nascimento, which says exactly what I think: ‘I can’t calmly accept any slutty thing as normal’.
I have no way of not exposing myself because I come from a history of struggle for democracy since the late 70s. Automatically people always expect something from me in relation to a public position, and I don't feel pressured by that, because this is part of my training, my personality, I don't do anything forced, I do everything the way I think, I am and always have been. I will not remain silent, sitting in a box watching all this happen.
There are a lot of people who also have the same positioning that I have, but these “people” are still little in relation to the number of those who are against everything we have defended.
How to reverse this situation?
Insisting. Do not give up, having persistence, do not enter the process of giving up. That's how we can reverse the situation. Even more: Having the patience and strength to continue to take a stand against all the things that are wrong.