Bad boys: Brazil slaps misbehaving soccer players with service, not just suspensions

In an attempt to make athletes better role models, Brazil has mandated that some offending players do community service and help kids in need.

Paulo Whitaker/REUTERS
Emerson (l.) of Corinthians challenges Leonardo Silva of Atletico Mineiro during their Brazilian Serie A championship in Sao Paulo September 2, 2012.

Fines and suspensions for athletes behaving badly? Well, yes. But in Brazil, they get community service too.

Officials here recently ordered three high-profile soccer players to visit sick kids or pay fines to charitable institutions rather than serve sideline bans for misconduct on the field of play.

The plan is part of a scheme to make errant role models take more responsibility.

“This type of visit is educational as well as being punitive,” says Flavio Zveiter, head of the Superior Court of Sports Justice (STJD), the body that hands out suspensions.

“These guys are heroes to lots of people and this helps them reflect about their position and responsibility to society. They sometimes live in their own little world and they don’t realize that what they do has repercussions in society as a whole.”

Soccer is by far Brazil’s most popular sport. As well as being home to players such as Pelé and Ronaldo, Brazil is the only team to win the World Cup five times. It will host the next tournament in 2014.

It also has one of the most competitive leagues in the world, and when players are kicked out of a game they are automatically banned from the next match. But additional suspensions are tacked on if the player is a repeat offender or if the offense is particularly grave.

When hot-headed Corinthians striker Emerson was kicked off the field for insulting the referee earlier this season, he was banned for six games. He appealed the ban and the STJD reduced it to five games provided he spend some time with sick kids at a São Paulo hospice. He was also ordered to pay a 10,000 real (around $5,000) fine to the institution.

Always trouble, Emerson turned up two hours late for Monday's visit. But he left declaring his time there well spent.

“You can’t call this a punishment from the STJD, it’s more like a life lesson for us all,” Emerson said. “We can bring a little bit of joy to people who are going through a very tough time.”

Jorge Valdívia, a Chilean midfielder for Palmeiras, and Luís Fabiano, the former Brazil and Sevilla striker who now plays for São Paulo, had similar experiences.

Mr. Valdívia was ordered to spend his 10,000 real fine for insulting a referee on food and other aid to a Rio orphanage, while Luís Fabiano was told to visit a rehabilitation center for handicapped children.

Luís Fabiano thoroughly enjoyed his time with the kids, even playfully teasing a six-year-old who supported a rival team.

That attitude served as partial vindication for Mr. Zveiter of the STJD.

“It think the repercussions were positive, the player himself said he was touched by it and that was the main thing,” Zveiter says. “I intend to use this policy more.”

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