Football’s more than a sport
There was an important detail missing in my trip to Brazil as one mapped Brasilia to Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo and changed from formals to casuals to swimming trunks. Ten days in this Latin American country and there was still no peek at football, the beautiful game that has kept Brazilians mesmerised and in a state of permanent excitement.
In Brasilia, we discovered that open spaces were used for demonstrating for wage hikes. In Rio de Janeiro there was Copacabana and Ipanema beach where white sands were used for flaunting hot bods and playing beach volleyball. The famous Marcana stadium, which will showcase the next World Cup in 2014, looked desolate when we set our gaze from an elevation. Sao Paulo, therefore, was the last city to help us get our football fix before we headed home and to cricket madness.
Sao Paulo was like Mumbai on steroids. A 500-year-old city founded by Jesuits, the city's robustness and growth was sustained by an unceasing demand for sugar in coffee. Later on, automobiles and other businesses added up to make it one of the foremost commercial centres of Latin America. Quaint Portuguese buildings stood timelessly alongside skyscrapers on Paulista Avenue and the famous Central. As hundreds of commuters gurgle out of the underground metro network, it is possible to sense a definite urban buzz to this city.
Sao Paulo had business, fashion - and also football. The city allowed us to make a correction. We may still have missed a magical game of uniquely Brazilian football, but we got to see an entire museum devoted to this hugely popular people's game.
Set in Pacaembu stadium in Sao Paulo, the museum is like a religious shrine for Brazilians. Although the museum came up only in 2008, it serves as a pilgrimage for all those who find joy, happiness, exaltation in watching and playing this simple game that for sceptics and the uninitiated involves just kicking a ball. The game reaches the sublime when the ball is lazily living between the feet of artful practitioners like Pele, Socrates, Maradona, Zidane and Messi.
Sao Paulo's museum celebrates the game as a life-giver or a sport that shapes the destiny of ordinary people and societies. Life-size images of players arrogantly listed by just one name - Falcao, Garrincha, Pele, Ronaldo etc - greet the visitors.
Great imagination has been used to look at the great game from different standpoints. An initiative of the governor of Sao Paulo, there are sections that present different perspectives to football and the major events that showcased the game and the skills of the players.
Radio, that played such a big part in making the game popular - that is, before television brought a paradigm change in the way the game is played and analysed - has a position of pride in the museum. The voice of the commentator who shouted himself hoarse screaming "goooooal" when Pele scored in that fantastic match in 1970 is canned in the museum. It only needs a flick of a button to relive and replay those voices that brought the game to ordinary people in distant places.
The museum is a celebration of the game and the people who brought glory to it. In many ways it repeatedly recounts the life stories of people who braved difficult and at times horrifying circumstances to become footballers of international repute. A few of them may have had privileged backgrounds, but largely, talented footballers from Brazil and other Latin American countries have shrugged off the poverty and misery visible in favellas of Rio and other places to make a mark in the world. And what a mark they have made!
The museum has a separate installation for spectators where large installations comprising posters and video/film clips showing different moods, depending on victory or loss, are exhibited. Here visitors are allowed to scream and shout to add to the din of history, which is so beautifully documented. The museum also weaves world history with each of the major football events. Quite an education it turns out to be for those who thought that football was just a sport.
Indeed, the football museum holds important lessons for the Delhi Commonwealth Games. It provides a vision to the Delhi government to build sporting museums in the fancy stadiums after the athletes have gone back home. These museums could be on hockey or cricket - two sports that have a large following in India. Besides connecting the new generation with the country's sporting past, they would help in monetising an infrastructure that would otherwise go waste.