As if deadly accidents, embarassing delays in World Cup stadia construction and a brutal brawl between hooligans weren’t enough, Brazilian football found another big reason for soul searching after a sports court used a technicality to save 2012 national champions Fluminense from relegation.
Tiny Portuguesa will be relegated instead. It's the third time that regulations have saved the politically influential Carioca club from their results on the pitch.
The controversial decision has further tainted Brazilian club football’s credibility, after a long streak of good financial results and serious attempts by clubs to get professional managerial skills to their board. Portuguesa, whose 2014 TV budget will be reduced from £5m to £1m because of relegation, have threatened action in the civil courts. Fluminense, financed mainly by a healthcare company that also partners the Brazilian FA, says justice was served.
It is the first time in 13 years that results of Brazil’s top flight have been changed like this by a sports court. In 1999, a similar situation gave birth to a one-year league untied to the Brazilian FA - and experts say that could happen again in 2014. The idea then was to moralise Brazilian football (ironically it was called the Joao Havelange
Cup). At that time, Havelange’s Flu got a push by being promoted from the third division to the first. They also got a helping hand in 1996 when they were reinstated once again after relegation.
The angry mob
Many Brazilians have promised to stop watching club football next year and boycott sponsors of Fluminense and the Brazilian FA, who will elect their new chairman next year. Club officials are also upset - one source at Flamengo and another at Corinthians have told FourFourTwo they feel Fluminense tried to involve more clubs in the chaos because they believed their chances of staying up would improve.
The image of Brazilian club football was also hit by the hooliganism two weeks ago in Joinville, when Atletico Paranaense and Vasco da Gama ultras clashed
. That made Japanese carmaker Nissan end its sponsorship deal with Vasco, who were also relegated and tried to stay in the top division in another trial. Vasco, who lost that match 5-1, claimed Paranaense should lose the points because the home team hadn’t taken good care of security.
Fluminense striker Fred will be at the World Cup with Brazil this summer
Brazil’s Superior Sports Justice Tribunal found Portuguesa guilty of introducing midfielder Heverton in the last minutes of their 0-0 draw with Gremio in the final round of the national championship. By that point, Portuguesa were free from relegation and Gremio knew they would be runners-up. What the Paulista club didn’t seem to know, however, is that the player had been suspended in a Friday night trial not for one, but two matches. Heverton had already missed the clash with Ponte Preta.
The court sentenced Portuguesa to a four-point deduction - three for having Heverton on the pitch illegally and one for the the draw they got against Gremio. They did the same to Flamengo because of former Arsenal winger Andre Santos, but consequences for the Red and Black weren’t as heavy as they were to the Paulista club. Portuguesa claim their lawyer, who also works for other clubs, hadn’t warned them. The lawyer denies that. The court says it doesn’t matter.
Unlike most players in Brazil, Heverton was suspended for two matches because of abuse towards a referee after a clash against Bahia on November 24. “You’re s***,” he'd snapped, after the match.
Unsurprisingly Portuguesa have already appealed, sparking real fears that Série A could grind to a halt in the country's big year.
As cases in the 90s suggested, Brazil’s sport rules are full of loopholes and double interpretations used to keep top sides in the top tier. But after a few recent success stories, particularly those of Sao Paulo, Internacional and Corinthians, Brazilians thought those days were gone. It seems they were wrong. Déjà Flu now makes them feel they’re seeing something from a decade ago.