The title of this article started out as “Why Brazil will win the World Cup,” but after the result of the first game against Croatia, I was very worried and decided to wait a bit more. I waited for Australia, Japan, and Ghana. Still unsure. When Brazil lost the game to France, I was devastated. My 12-year-old kid could not understand: “Mom, itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just a game!”
To my feminine heart, it is not just a game. I cried for all the Brazilian children who, like Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, come from modest families and hold soccer as their hope for overcoming discrimination. Brazilian soccer players come from families that represent 70 percent of what Brazilian families are like. Families who in spite of financial hardship have cared for their children. These kidsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ dreams were nurtured even on days when tomorrow looked gloomy. They received lovingly made meals even when there was not much for the parents to eat. Someone bet on their future and stood by them.
The Brazilian soccer players are the real people of Brazil. Loving, true with their feelings, hardworking, honest. I cried because this image of what Brazilians truly are has been suffocated by the shameful image of Brazilian politicians diverting money to line their own pockets. Money that is missing in schools, in health care, in transportation. Money that is missing to ease a bit the hard life that 80 percent of Brazilians endure.
I was sure that even with all the wrong decisions of our coach, we still had 130 million people with faith, praying for our players to win and erase forever the low esteem that has stuck as a curse since the times of slavery and colonization. A low self-esteem that is reflected in the stupid comment of our president to Ronaldo, who wondered if Ronaldo could do a good job since he was overweight.
Because of our enormous faith, I trusted that a miracle could happen. But then, Brazilians continue to be under the illusion that all is going well in Brazil. Now we have to face the fact that things are unbearably bad; we have to strive for solutions, and our president can t take a ride on the victory of our soccer players to get himself reelected.
Through my ocean of tears, I saw Zinedine Zidane, at the end of the game, embrace Ronaldo with the love of a brother. And comfort the tears of inconsolable Ze Roberto. I was touched. Why would a Frenchman care that we Brazilians were sad?
In the days that followed, the TV kept repeating the fabulous images of Zidane s spectacular control of the ball. Zidane s care for the Brazilian friends kept haunting my thoughts. His name was looping like a mantra. Zinedine Zidane. Zinedine Zidane. Strong. Rhythmic. Poetic. This was not a French name. Who was this guy? Why did he make France win?
I started to research him on the Web and was amazed with what I found. Right there in Wikipedia it said “of Berber-Algerian descent.” Just like me, you probably don t know much about this. As it happens however, last year I saw an old movie called “The Battle of Algiers,” winner of the 1956 Cannes Prize and banned from France. Prohibited because it shows the heavy discrimination the Algerians suffered by the French, and their heroic silent persistence that lead to victory and independence.
You probably do not know that there are half a million Berbers in France and they form one-quarter of the population of Algeria today. You probably do not know either that independence did not do much for the Berbers, as the government favored the Arabs. And you probably do not know that the Berbers do not speak Arab. They speak Tamazigh. They were forbidden to speak their own language in their own country. The government issued a list of “approved” names for Algerian children and Berber names were omitted. Only in 1995 was the language allowed to be taught in schools Ã¢â‚¬â€ as an elective course. The big struggle here is the recognition of Berber identity.
Another interesting fact is that “Berber” means barbarian, but Amazigh (singular) or Tamazigh (plural), as they call themselves, means “free nobleman.” And do you know who called them “Berbers”? The Romans, during an earlier invasion. Ah! The Romans… Did they leave strong memories in the Amazigh culture, as recounts a National Geographic journalist, describing his recent visit to an isolated Berber village in Morocco, where he was greeted by the children with cries of “Arrumi!” (“Roman!”), a label to all Westerners.
Well, Monsieur Zinedine Zidane, you ve come a long way, haven t you? Look now at all the French people of all ages, jumping around so happy, wearing your shirt, displaying your name with so much pride, celebrating your victory under the Arch of Triumph, their greatest symbol of freedom.
Noble and great Zinedine Zidane, who was chosen by divine justice to be a symbol of victory to all oppressed cultures in the world. The Berbers resisted all invasions Ã¢â‚¬â€ Roman, Arab, and French Ã¢â‚¬â€ and managed to keep their identity alive. Resisted poverty and discrimination to pass along a DNA that gave birth to such a skilled soccer player that people today dress in his shirt and exhibit his name with pride.
My 16-year-old son pointed out that the French soccer team has almost no real “French” person but is a mixture of races and cultures. Zidane in an interview says that solidarity is the strongest force binding the team together. It is a habit in small Berber villages to do things together. Marriages are done in large groups, circumcisions too, and even when a sick kid is taken to a doctor, the immediate family and other relatives all go with him for support. Nobody is abandoned to his own faith. Captain Zidane seems to have imported such great habits to his team. Maybe he is not fully conscious of all this, but his colleagues seem to trust his ways: “We just pass the ball to him. He knows what to do with it.”
The last game of the 2006 World Cup will be Zidane s last professional game. Will the French beat the Italians? Will Berber culture prove its supremacy over Roman culture all these thousands of years later, through a civilized, bloodless, and beautiful competition?
It matters not the result. Zidane is already the big winner of the World Cup. He has been elected by the crowds. He is a hero in France. A model to the youth. A model to all of us, of a conscious being that does not succumb to the glamour of media and fame, but is seriously engaged in the reduction of poverty and discrimination. What those athletes read before every game is no game. It is about time we stop looking down on people.
May Zidane and Ronaldo continue to hold up the flag of just not a single country, but a flag that goes beyond culture, race, religion, and economic status. Let s not try to make goals just at the last minute of the game. The World Cup will be over soon, and the game of social justice and equal opportunity keeps going on, with a dangerous lack of attackers. How many goals will we score till the next Cup?
Time is running out. There s not a minute to waste. The little boy that sadly sits on the sidewalk of your street and that you walk by pretending doesn t exist, could be holding the World Cup one day and making you feel proud again of your heritage. Just remember: we are all playing on the same team.
Anna Penido is a film writer and director, and mother of two boys, who lives in Rio.