Brazil’s Parallel World Cup Brings Immigrants Together in Unusual Ways

If you haven’t heard, the Cameroon soccer team beat Bolivia 2-1 in the World Cup final.  That’s right, the African team is the new champion, at least in …

Cameroonian immigrants celebrate victory in the Gringos Cup.

If you haven’t heard, the Cameroon soccer team beat Bolivia 2-1 in the World Cup final.  That’s right, the African team is the new champion, at least in the “Gringos Cup” league, a parallel soccer tournament that brought together 24 teams formed by foreign immigrants who live in Sao Paulo. This little known championship ended June 8, just four days before the official 2014 FIFA World Cup begin.

The idea of organizing a soccer tournament with foreign immigrants was of Stephane Darmani, a passionate French soccer fan who has lived in Sao Paulo for seven years.

Indiscriminate Interaction

The event aimed to promote the fraternization between the foreign communities which live in Sao Paulo and further facilitate interaction between people from different cultures and social class levels, from refugee immigrants to multinational executives and even consuls. “I approached the French consulate, which helped promote the league along with other consulates. We spread posters around the streets, pubs and other places which are frequented by foreigners. We also announced the event in Facebook and multinational companies,” said Darmani, the owner of an audiovisual production company.

The matches were held on Sundays, from April 13 to June 8 in a public soccer pitch, and brought together 360 players. The tournament boasted the participation of countries that are not playing in the official World Cup, such as Peru, Congo and Canada. Families and friends supported their national teams in what became a great fraternization, which always ended with lots of beer and barbecues. “The great legacy of the tournament is the promoting of friendship between people of the same community or different nationalities or socio-economic status, who do not usually frequent the same places,” Darmani said.

Darmani had already created an amateur soccer league called “Virada de Futebol” in which the matches were held at dawn, although this was not directed specifically at foreigners.

In the “Gringos Cup,” as Brazilians call the foreigners, the most competitive teams turned out to be from countries in Latin America and Africa, which have the largest number of immigrants in Brazil. Some of these had already held informal soccer championships among their community members. “Soccer has the capacity of bringing together people of different profiles, countries and socio-economic levels, all with the same aim,” Darmani emphasized.

The Cameroonian Champions

The tournament final was held in the Aclimação Park with an audience of over 1,000 people. Despite the enthusiastic Bolivian fans, who brought a marching band, the Cameroon side beat Bolivia 2-1.

At the end of the tournament a prize draw was held with four trips to Europe: two to Paris and another two to Amsterdam. The Cameroonian player Francesco M’Bougue was one of those who won an all-inclusive trip to Paris.

M’Bougue, who is 26 years old and has already played in professional soccer teams, saw a poster announcing the championship in Sao Paulo in the city’s downtown area and became interested in participating in the tournament. He was soon accepted into the Cameroon team, which usually meets every Saturday to play soccer. “It was a really exciting experience participating in this league, which allowed us to make many friends and get to know other immigrants who face the same difficulties in Brazil,” said M’Bougue, who works as a model and has lived in São Paulo since 2008 with his Brazilian wife.

The most difficult match in the tournament was against Nigeria, he said. “Africans have the same style of playing and, sometimes, are a little violent.” M’Bougue was a little disappointed with the performance of the Cameroon team in the FIFA World Cup not because of the football but by the behavior of the players. “I supported the Cameroon team because of my love for the team shirt, but the players have had many problems recently and played violently against Brazil (in the last Cameroon match in the FIFA World Cup) and this affects the reputation of all Cameroonians,” he said.

Portuguese Pride

The Portuguese immigrant José Belo, who has been to other World Cups in Europe, experienced for the first time the excitement of living in a country which is hosting the World Cup. The Portuguese immigrants in São Paulo meet to watch the World Cup matches at the Consulate of Portugal. “When we are away from our country, we become more patriotic, although the Portugal team performance has been disappointing this time,” he said.

Just as in the FIFA World Cup, the European teams were eliminated in the early stages in the “Gringos Cup”. Portugal was defeated by Italy in the quarter-finals.

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The team received support from the Consulate of Portugal and the consul even played in the league. The Portuguese immigrants played soccer on Sundays. “These meetings were very important because they allowed us to get to know other compatriots who are facing the same difficulty of being away from their families,” said Belo, a civil engineer who has lived in Brazil with his wife and three children for three years.

The Portuguese immigrants profile is quite different from African or South America immigrants. The majority of them consist of qualified people, who work for multinationals or are entrepreneurs. “The ‘Gringos Cup’ brought an important social legacy. We usually are close to our community rather than opening ourselves to relationships with people of different nationalities; and professionally speaking, it was also very interesting to meet people in the same working area,” Belo said.

In September, a new tournament will be held, which will be divided into two groups: League A, comprising the 12 best teams in the “Gringos Cup”, and League B, which will include new teams. “We will look for sponsorship to get financial support for the league, which allows any team, from any country, to participate in it,” said Darmani.

Learn About the ‘Beautiful Game’

One opportunity for foreigners to discover a little more about Brazilian soccer history and the country’s culture is visiting museums in São Paulo city.

Last Saturday, Darmani led a group of French tourists, who came to the 2014 World Cup, to watch a documentary about amateur soccer in Sao Paulo produced by Darmani himself. “There are almost 3,000 amateur teams just in São Paulo,” he said.

In the Soccer Museum at the Pacaembu stadium, tourists can discover the history of Brazil and soccer interlaced in an interactive and fun fashion. Incidentally, the Pacaembu stadium played host to six matches in the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Besides the Soccer museum, tourists can visit the “Football on the Tip of the Tongue” exhibition (Futebol na Ponta da Língua), which presents displays that explain the origin of Portuguese words related to the game. This museum is located close to the Luz railway station and uses multimedia and interactive attractions to explain the intricacies of the Portuguese language.

As a major port of entry into the country, the city of São Paulo played host to the World Cup opening ceremony. The city is expected to receive at least 390,000 tourists during the 2014 World Cup.

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