Top of Brazilian football’s governing body tainted by association with nation’s murky past

Calls mount for José Maria Marin, now head of the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF), to stand down

The picturesque Praca Liberdade in the centre of Belo Horizonte is lapped by joggers and traffic morning noon and night. Flanked on two sides by museums and surrounded by restaurants, it is known as the city’s cultural and, to a lesser extent, social centre.

However the poverty that never seems to be very far away in Brazil is evident too with a small encampment of homeless people located beside one of its most impressive buildings.

At the Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, an exhibition pays tribute to the bravery of journalists who fought, through their day to day work, for democracy and everything that was extinguished with it here between 1964 and 1985, the years of the military dictatorship. Across the square, at the Memorial Minas Gerais, there is an exhibition of photographs of Brazilian club football from the 1960s.

The respective collections convey a sense of two starkly different worlds in the country back then but inevitably they were intertwined.


When the World Cup was staged in Argentina in 1978 I remember being acutely aware, even at 10 years old, that the country was run by the military. Chile too. But somehow Brazil escaped my attention.

In my world view of the time, Brazilians played wonderful football (and music too) but not much else. I’m not sure whether the comparatively low number of people murdered and “disappeared” by the regime (measured in hundreds here as opposed to perhaps 3,000 in Chile and anything up to 10 times that number in Argentina) meant that its neighbours hogged the negative headlines internationally. The repression, though, was very real for those who lived here and quite a few journalists, along with students, trade unionists and others who sought to make a stand for freedom were either exiled or paid with their lives.

Large wall

Many different strands of the media played their part and one large wall is taken up with covers of publications that range from Journal da Tarde, a mainstream daily that refused to accept censorship of its coverage, to the more overtly political likes of Jornal Novas Rumos, Mulherio and Lampião da Esquina, periodicals produced by communist, feminist and gay groupings respectively.

Happily the football commentator Osmar Santos gets an honourable mention in another part of the exhibition in connection with the Direct Elections Now movement, one that emerged in the dying days of the regime.

On the cover of one magazine, O Pasquim, from a more dangerous time, January 1971, eight reporters just released from military detention are pictured standing defiantly together on the front cover. It is impressive stuff given that simply to be involved behind the scenes was to risk torture or death.

One who suffered both in 1975 was Vladimir Herzog, a Croatian-born documentary maker, journalist, playwright and academic, whose Jewish family had fled the Nazis in the 1940s and who had returned to Brazil much later after a few years in London working for the BBC.

At the time of his death Herzog was working for the Sao Paulo state-owned broadcaster TV Cultura where he was editor-in-chief.

On October 24th he was told to report to the infamous DOI-Codi in the Paradiso area of Sao Paulo. The building was a notorious military headquarters and prison known to be a centre of torture and is now preserved as a monument to those who suffered there.

Into hiding

Herzog could have gone into hiding but the next morning he reported to the front desk.

According to various witness testimonies he was taken in, told to change into prison clothes and very soon afterwards electrocuted during questioning as interrogators sought information on the Communist Party, of which he was a member.

Ultimately, he was killed; accidentally, it seems, while being tortured but the army then staged things to make it look as though he had committed suicide. Responsibility for his death was acknowledged in 1994 but it was only much more recently that his family finally managed to have his death certificate changed to reflect what really happened.

Herzog’s murder is seen as a major turning point, the beginning of the end for the regime but it still highlights the way in which so many of the issues of the era have been buried here by way of an amnesty granted in the name of moving on.

Nobody has ever been prosecuted for the regime’s many crimes but amongst those widely held to have been partly responsible for Herzog’s death is one José Maria Marin, now head of both the Brazilian Football Federation (CBF) and this World Cup’s Local Organising Committee.

The regime

Along with then president of Corinthians football club, Wadih Helú, Marin was a member of the São Paulo state legislature back in 1975 for ARENA party, which supported the regime. Both denounced Cultura, suggesting something should be done about it, in speeches made to the congress only days before the security services moved against Herzog.

Last year the journalist’s son, Ivo, with the support of current state assembly member Adriano Diogo (himself a victim of torture who is now the president of the region’s truth commission) and Romario, the world cup winning striker who is now a member of the national legislature representing Rio de Janeiro, presented a petition with more than 55,000 signatures calling for Marin’s removal from all his football related posts on the basis, as Diogo, put it, that: “He has bloodstained hands. He is not fit to be the President of the CBF”.

The CBF dismissed the move and the allegations but Diogo has been outspoken in his support for the campaign, previously attending a picket of the official’s home and calling for Fifa to refer the now 82-year-old to its ethics committee on the basis that he bring shame on the game.

Marin seems oblivious as, inevitably, is Sepp Blatter who has been photographed with him regularly. Sometimes, it seems, football has no shame.