The Favelas continuously grew in size as Rio De Janeiro failed to provide proper housing facilities to the poor. Absence of proper transportation facilities and irregularities in local train timings meant that the poorer sections of the society needed a habilitation near their place of labour. 20% of the dwellers of Rio reside in Favelas while the most popular ones being Santa Marta, Cidade De Deus (City of God) and Rocinha. The physical disparity between the skyscrapers of main Rio and the slums of the nearby Favelas are apparent and since the very conception of the Favela has been the concrete difference between the rich and the poor, the white and the black .
The favelas are well known for their harsh environments and grievous violence. In accordance to government reports the Favelas have an average of 120 bullet injuries every night, and despite the violence the Favelas provide for some of the most unadulterated Brazilian cultures you could find.
Football has entered the fray at a very crucial juncture of Brazilian history and gone head to head with Drug Trafficking and smuggling. Teenagers roam around Favelas with automatic and semi automatic rifles. It is more natural for a nine year old in a Favela to be seen with a nine millimeter pistol instead of a toy. However having the Brazilian DNA ensures that they have a weakness for football, and more often than not will you see a kid “eloping” with football to escape the treacherous insecurity that is doled out by a life of crime and drugs. Girls are often forced or sold into prostitution and in the recent years the number of females in the wanted list for being a “narco trafficante” has skyrocketed. With the current surge in popularity of women’s football in the world, the girls too are slowly but surely taking giant strides towards rising up against prostitution and human trafficking.
Most of the football pitches in the Favela region are torn up with garbage floating around. The walls are punctured with a zillion bullet holes. Threats like, “death to the police” and propagandas against the government can be found on almost every corner of the road. A 17 year old football coach while giving her interview to the guardian said that stray bullets were a normal part and parcel of daily life in the favela. “Sometime you have to jump into a house to dodge them”.
Phillip Velduis, the founder of Favela Street , a project that teaches ex-drug traffickers to train young children in football says : “ the kids here have a choice, join the drug traffickers, or play football with us”. The younger generation generally are easily seduced by the money, lavishness and so called “respect” that comes from being a drug trafficker. In a place where proper education and discipline is absent and the literacy rates have been stunted, this is not something that one should be surprised of. More than thousands of children today receive their football training from ex drug traffickers Although women teams lack support, sponsorships and media attention these training facilities are helping to rehabilitate both the trainers and the children many of whom have already been scarred for life by the atrocities they have witnessed.
Female football stars from all around the world have visited the favelas. Alex Scott, the Arsenal and England defender visited the favelas some years ago and she said that the trip was a real eye opener for her, “Football helps you because you have to learn how to channel your aggression. If you let it overwhelm you, you risk letting down the whole team. Developing that discipline helps you in the rest of your life.”
Although only one percent of the total population is involved in Drug trafficking, the ramifications of the violence however are faced by the remaining ninety nine percent too. Innocent bystanders are sometimes caught in the bullet storm. The raw talent that is hiding inside the ghettos and the favelas cannot be measured. The Favelas have produced talents like Ronado Luis Nazariode Lima, Zico, Romario, Jairzinho, Adriano who have set the world footballing stage on fire with their bewildering skills as we the audience stood on the edge of our very seats perplexed at the level of skill on display. Such is the poverty of the slums that people like Ronaldo used to play football with coconuts on the beach bare footed, one of the many reasons Ronaldo attributes for his brilliant ball control and leg strength.
Before the start of the 2014 FIFA world cup and the RIO Olympics, the government came up with the decision to remove some of the Favelas . As a direct result of this 20,000 people were evicted out of their homes according to official purposes. However, according to the numbers put forward by the lawyers of those families the number is somewhere around 1,70,000. The actual figure is believe to be somewhere in between.
The Favelas might not be as posh as the rest of the country, however they are an integral and unique part of Brazil. The cultural differences from the rest of the country are evident in these parts. If only we could somehow put an end to all these gun battles and drugs, the favelas are nothing sort of a paradise. The talent coming out, if utilized more, can revolutionize and rearm the Brazilian football tournament which has been off color in the last few international tournaments. Neymar said in a recent interview, “the children are the one who can make world a better place” and these football in favela projects are trying to achieve that. Whether or not they will be successful only time will tell but the effort that needs to be put in as part of the process to make it a success is our obligation.