The Amazon rainforest has shrunk at a rate of more than 2,000 soccer fields a day in the first five months of 2022 alone. The supporting data is provided by the Deforestation Alert System Institute (ISAD), which has been monitoring the Amazon since 2008. A total of 3,360 km2 of native forest has been destroyed to date.
Activists of the voluntary organization Sport for Democracy, and the Indigenous Movements, Walter Casagrande Jr. (ex-footbal player and sports commentator), Sônia Guajajara (indigenous activist and environmentalist), Célia Xakriabá (indigenous activist and educator), Moara Passoni (screenwriter and film director), Nara Chaib Mendes (actress and writer), Bruna Marcatto (film producer), João Rosa (actor, master's in football and poetry), Mônica Saraiva (press officer), Elisângela Guanaira (film producer), Ana Mesquita (swimmer and writer), Gustavo Pizzi (film director, screenwriter and producer), Myriam Pereira (press officer), Irlana Cassini (cultural producer), Wallison Amin (Pilates trainer and teacher) and Graci Guarani (screenwriter and film director) are scheduled to play a football match in an area that has suffered environmental degradation as a way to draw attention to the ongoing destruction of Brazil's forests on the 23rd of September 2022. At the end of the game, participants will contribute to reforestation, when each player will plant a tree on the devastated field.
Sônia Guajajara, Célia Xakriabá, Walter Casagrande Jr. and the screenwriter/film director Moara Passoni talked to Meer Magazine about the match and how the world must take action right now against Brazil's necropolitics that kills not ‘only’ the environment, but those who stand against the destruction of the forest.
Sônia Guajajara is the coordinator of APIB (Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil) for the Amazon. She is also a member of ANMIGA – The National Articulation of Ancestral Warriors Women, a nationwide reference organization that mobilizes indigenous women from all of Brazil’s biomes. Sonia was selected by Time magazine in 2022 as one of the 100 most influential people globally.
Célia Xakriabá is an indigenous educator and activist of the Xakriabás people of Brazil. She became the first individual of indigenous descent to represent native Brazilians in the Minas Gerais state's Department of Education.
Walter Casagrande Jr, one of the greatest strikers in the history of Brazilian football, was also one of the leaders of Corinthians Democracy, a movement that revolutionised Brazil's football at the height of the country's military dictatorship.
Moara Passoni is a well-known screenwriter and film director, a graduate in Sociology, Anthropology and Political Sciences at the University of São Paulo (USP) in addition to Philosophy & Aesthetics at University Paris 8. She also holds a Master’s Degree in Film & Documentary at UNICAMP and Masters of Fine Arts in Screenwriting-Directing at Columbia University in New York.
How do you think a football match in a devastated area can help the peoples of the forest and their environment?
Sônia Guajajara: Football is part of Brazil's heritage. The sport mobilizes so many people around the world. This action has the potential to be one of the greatest safeguards of Mother Earth and the Indigenous Peoples. It is not the first time that football has taken the side of popular struggle, there is a tradition here that certain players, like Casagrande, stand up with the people.
Today, the ongoing attacks on our people and territories place the indigenous agenda at the center of national and international debate. We urgently want to draw the world's attention with this match. We need football lovers (irrespective of which team they support) to know the part that the extreme right-wing president Bolsonaro is playing right now in the Amazon rainforest deforestation. Anyone who loves Brazil, those in the world who care about climate change and global warming, need to be with us in the defense of our forests and our Native Peoples.
Do you think is it possible to change the mindset of illegal gold miners, illegal fishermen and illegal tree traffickers, into environmental allies or ‘friends’?
Sônia Guajajara: We must believe in everyone's ability to change attitudes and actions. We do this by changing the minds and winning the hearts of our people. Many people who are in these predatory activities do it because of a lack of economic opportunities. We must generate economic development without destroying the forests, and make people aware that without preserving the environment, there will be no future for anyone.
A lot has been said about the indigenous cause, especially during Bolsonoro’s government, over the past four years. Several invasions, attacks on territories already demarcated, in addition to murders, including indigenous children. How do you think football can contribute to greater awareness in relation, mainly, to the cause of demarcation of indigenous territories and predatory environmental exploitation such as fish-trafficking, tree-cutting and illegal mining?
Sônia Guajajara: Drawing attention to the unparalleled destruction that this government has wreaked on our territories, on our biomes, is the first step to make people aware of the urgency of defending the environment. We have chosen a devastated area to show Brazil and the world that Bolsonaro is the father of destruction.
Walter Casagrande Jr: I always had the understanding of the importance of football in Brazil, I always had. Magrão (AKA Sócrates, former Corinthians player and Brazilian team, one of the founders of Corinthian Democracy) always told me: “Big (Casagrande’s nickname), the most political profession in Brazil, apart from the politicians in Brasilia, is football. Football is totally political.”
Football in Brazil is like a social network. For example: you give an interview now and that's it! It spreads to the whole world at an unbelievable speed. Look, when you say: there will be a live football game, at 11am, many people will sit down to watch not only because of their concern for the environmental cause, but because it is a football match. Football is the fastest way to reach society, that's why we chose a football game.
Célia Xakriabá: We are the defenders, defenders of humanity. Our intention is to shout out in Brazil and echo around the world. As players, we need oxygen, we need the forest standing. We, indigenous peoples, were the ‘Ministers of the Environment’ during these four years of absence of an environmental government in Brazil. It is important to value indigenous peoples and their culture, but to keep the forest, the biomes standing, we have to keep the bodies and the voices of those who keep the forest alive, there is no other alternative.
Casagrande, how was your approach with the indigenous leaders?
Walter Casagrande Jr: Over the years, I formed an anti-racist group on the very day of the death of George Floyd. I was outraged, I saw all the demonstrations and thought: I have to do something, I can't just sit here and do nothing. And then I created a group called Sport for Democracy which still exists today with filmmakers, lawyers, journalists, sportsmen, several people, and things started to be discussed in this group, among them the filmmaker, screenwriter Moara Passoni.
She introduced me to the causes and some of the most important indigenous leaders in Brazil, such as Célia Xakriabá and Sônia Guajajara. They were thinking, having ideas to do something more. People who live in cities think that indigenous people live only for hunting and eating, and have no other daily activities. In reality this is not true! They study, have schools and they participate in many other sports, alongside many other interests.
So, they preserve the forest for humanity, for example…
Walter Casagrande Jr: Exactly, their main job is this. It's a kind of profession. What is the profession of indigenous people? To keep the forest, the ecosystem in harmony.
Célia Xakriabá: Understanding that we are not even 1% of the Brazilian population and we are only 5% of the world's population, bearing in mind that 80% of biodiversity is protected by indigenous peoples. It is a humanitarian commitment, because only those who know how to be animals, who know how to be seeds, earth and trees, know how to be human.
When I talked to Casagrande, I said that although we are not recognized as the best scorers, even though indigenous peoples have many great football players (both genders), we are not recognized as great scorers, but we are the best defenders because we defend the territory and life on the Earth.
Moara Passoni: Again, bearing in mind as Célia just said: 80% of biodiversity on this planet is protected by indigenous peoples. Recentemente António Guterres (United Nations' Secretary General) said that humanity faces ‘collective suicide’ over climate crisis, but we have a choice: ‘collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands’.
The subject is urgent: if they disappear, we disappear with them. In this game there will be no winners, we will all lose.
How do you think this match will give more visibility to the indigenous and environmental cause?
Walter Casagrande Jr: I made two commitments to indigenous peoples. The first is: events for indigenous peoples and the second one: visibility. That’s what they asked for, “we need visibility”.
I was a little worried because before I was restricted to just one TV station. I had an exclusivity contract with Globo Network. I couldn't talk to other TV stations and other media, but now I am out of TV Globo, I can talk to other media platforms and I believe that visibility will be much greater. We are open to anyone who wants to cover it, whoever wants to go there and make a mini-documentary can go, whoever wants to film from the beginning of the demarcation of the field will be most welcome.
Célia Xakriabá: An important match is starting and we want people to be proud not only to wear the yellow green jersey (Brazil’s national team), but we want people to be proud to wear the jersey with the urucum (annatto) and genipapo´s colors (genipap), to be proud to wear the jersey in defense of the land, who are proud to wear the green jersey with the onça (jaguar) in defense of our environment, proud to wear the headdress (cocar). We need to recognize that Brazil's crown is not the crown of imperialism but rather, the indigenous headdress, the cocar. And we want that headdress standing up.
Our struggle is to enforce social laws that already exist. These laws were made to protect us. But right now in the National Congress there are more than 250 retrogression projects, weakening territorial environmental legislation. Planet B doesn't exist. Earth doesn't exist only to be exploited. This territory needs to be taken care of. We are the environment itself.
There will be no democracy without recognizing the importance of demarcating indigenous territories. Our struggle is for life, for humanity. We are the last generation that can do something to stop climate change.
Do you think this football game will get attention? Will it change people’s minds and hearts?
Walter Casagrande Jr: I believe that everyone will know what is going on! To radically change people's minds in a structure like Brazilian society. What’s happening now is the result of decades and decades of negligence regarding the Amazonia. It is difficult to change from one day to the next. A lot of people don't know what is happening, a lot of people think that what is said about deforestation that is destroying forests is a lie, a lot of people think that the journalists are exaggerating. And this football game on the 23rd of September is going to throw reality wide open.
Bolsonaro’s supporters won't want to see it because they don't care about it, but those who like the sport and are interested in the country's social causes, those who have a little doubt, will want to watch it to learn more about the indigenous people, what's going on and I think we'll be able to plant a seed in people's heads.
Célia Xakriabá: I have said that intemperance is one of humanity's problems. Every day the planet gets warmer, it is in convulsion. Day after day people's hearts are becoming colder, we are committed to the importance of cooling the planet and warming the people’s hearts.
Moara Passoni: The mission of reforesting minds is an indigenous flagship. Sônia Guajajara and Célia Xakriabá participate in the indigenous journeys project, which has precisely this idea of promoting actions to reflect on the importance of biomes and territories throughout Brazil. We definitely need new paradigms to think about the world, our century.
I believe that on the symbolic level it can change a lot, yes indeed. Because what we are seeing in the escalation of violence in Brazil, in the discourse of violence, undoubtedly encourages and releases violence. And in this case we are doing an event that is the opposite of that, which is playful, against anger and violence, we are playing for indigenous demarcation. The symbolic dimension of this is very strong.
Things are running out, people are exhausted.
According to a survey released by Datasus (Department of Informatics of the Unified Health System), Brazil is facing a ‘second pandemic’ in mental health, with a crowd of depressed and anxious people, and the numbers of suicides are increasing as never before. In a country stricken with sadness and depression, I believe that playing a football game, for example, can change a lot.
Do you think we have lost the ludic element?
Moara Passoni: I don't know if we've lost the ludic element. I imagine not. But I think that when we prioritize anger and competition at all costs we smother the playful dimension of things, we start to lose the dimension, the idea that we can build new things together. We are all in the same boat, the planet will end not only for indigenous people, but for the whole world.
In this match that we are organizing there are several ludic elements. For example: the ball will be painted with the map of the globe, the ball will be the planet in the field. The Earth team's goalkeeper will be dressed in the colors of fire, in the forest, that is, the Forest team will have to play against fire in the trees. The goalkeeper of the Forest team will be dressed as a mining company, that is, the Earth team will have to play against the mining companies. The idea is that everyone is playing on the same team, playing for the indigenous demarcation, we are playing for the Earth.
Will there be any action at the end of the match on the devastated field?
Walter Casagrande Jr: It is part of the event to plant the seed on the ground. In the same way that the event will try to put the seed in the heads and hearts of Brazilian society.
Célia Xakriabá: It is not just about reforesting hectares. What is most important is this resignification, the resumption of the principle of humanity, of our shared responsibilities. So, playing on this field has this meaning: playing for the same cause that is for life on this planet.