Brazilian beaches ain't ballin

by by Beatrice Igne-Bianchi

Come December 1, Rio de Janeiro’s sandy white beaches will no longer be venues for pick-up soccer games. Currently, hundreds of police officers are being recruited to enforce a ban on all ball games as part of an effort to curb chaos during the country’s summer months. Authorities plan to prohibit unruly jet skiers and illegal vendors who sell trinkets on the city’s beaches. Around 300 extra police officers are slated to join the regular team of 96 agents for this new plan.

The ball-game ban particularly targets “altinho”—when one skillfully juggles a soccer ball using one’s feet, legs, knees, torso, and head without letting the ball hit the ground. It also includes prohibiting the fast-paced game called “Frescoball” which originated on the beaches of Rio. The game is played with two people who try to keep a small—yet very hard—rubber ball in the air with wooden paddles.

The ban intends to run until mid-March, which marks the end of the summer season in South America. Beachgoers will not be able to play these ball games between 8am and 5pm.

But in a city famous not only for its beaches but also for its soccer stars, the ban has caused a stir among many residents. “It’s absurd,” Gustavo Segala, told the UK’s Telegraph. “Playing soccer on the beach is part of our culture.” While that it may be, Rio’s authorities insist that the ban is not attempting to curb a love for the games, but rather to keep beachgoers out of harm’s way. Stray balls often hit bystanders, and those wanting to take a dip in the ocean must run quickly through ongoing matches to get to the water.

Sharon Feder, B’13, who is from São Paulo, believes that soccer is representative of Brazilian unity. Feder said that by banning beach soccer during the summer “the government is removing a rare moment of union [among Brazilians], and that right does not belong to them, but rather to the Brazilian population.”

On the flip side, those who prefer to stay stationary on the sand are pleased with the new measure. Ines Lins e Silva, who supports the ban, told the Telegraph that she has been hit “many times” and insists that these “games should be played in an area away from other bathers.”

The controversial prohibition is the latest in a series by Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, who was elected last January.
Brazil is more prominent than ever in the international media, largely due to its widely anticipated hosting of the most coveted events in global sports—the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic games—in addition to the 2013 Confederations Cup Final.

Paes is working to shed Rio’s tainted image as a lawless city--where drugs, violence, and poverty are rampant--in the next two years before it is time to play host to a plethora of international tourists and sports fans. And his prescription seems to be cutting down on recreational sports.
But Brown freshman and native of Brazil, Jennifer Reis, believes that he should focus his efforts elsewhere. Reis said that if the mayor “wants to make Rio more ‘civilized’ he has to take care of social problems first, not the recreational aspects of the city.”