HUFFINGTON POST

Soccer Tournament In Rio De Janeiro Brings Military Policemen And Favela Residents Together

"If it weren’t for soccer, maybe I wouldn’t be alive right now."
A policeman and a resident of the slum complex of Mangueirinha pass a soccer ball in Morro dos Macacos, a hillside area in no
A policeman and a resident of the slum complex of Mangueirinha pass a soccer ball in Morro dos Macacos, a hillside area in northern Rio.

With a vision to improving security in the run-up to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, Brazil has in the past few years created 38 police pacification units, placing close to 10,000 police officers in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, which are inhabited by 1.5 million people and notorious for drug trade and bloodshed.

Amid rising political turmoil and an ongoing economic recession, the favelas have continued to be entangled in violence and destitution. So far this year, 1,518 people were killed by police officers in Rio’s slums — many of them poor, black men.

Over the past two years, Rio de Janeiro state has organized a soccer tournament in Campo Grande, in the west zone of the city, with a goal to ease the tension in Rio’s slums. Between June 4 and August 1, 1,050 people from 35 favelas — both police officers from the Pacifying Police Units Program, or UPP, and residents — played out their differences on the soccer field. 

The players competed for awards such as university scholarships — 90 players won distance learning grants, and six players earned spots in undergraduate or graduate courses at the Estácio de Sá University in Rio.

In June, HuffPost Brazil visited a popular soccer pitch in the hillside area of Morro dos Macacos in the north zone of Rio, and asked four of the best-performing athletes from the tournament’s first edition what the sport means to them.

  • Anselmo da Silva Nascimento, 27, security worker. Resident of Caju.
    "I'm sure my life would be a lot different without soccer. There's no doubt. Soccer opens up our minds to many things; we are
    Mauro Pimentel/HuffPost Brazil
    "I'm sure my life would be a lot different without soccer. There's no doubt. Soccer opens up our minds to many things; we are not limited in what we can do and it prevents us from going down the wrong path. I was born and raised in the Caju community. Many of my friends, who grew up playing soccer with me gave it up, and ran into bad situations. Some of them were arrested, others died, others got involved in drug trafficking and lived broken lives. It could have been different with soccer in their lives.

    It's exciting when soccer is involved. People cry when they win. They cry when they lose.

    Caju is a good and cheerful community, full of kids who have the talent but lack access to the resources to develop their skills. This region is lacking in investment. It's a community like any other, full of people who pursue their dreams and fight to achieve something in life, like any other middle or upper class citizen.

    Regardless of race, color or where you live, no one can judge you. People from Caju are like any other kind of people. They are educated: There are lawyers, engineers and even PhDs living there."
  • Cleiton da Silva Carvalho, 28, entrepreneur in the IT field. Resident of Vila Kennedy.
    "I'm a family guy, a fighter. I went back to school -- I'm studying law now. I believe I'm a good father. I receive complimen
    Mauro Pimentel/HuffPost Brazil
    "I'm a family guy, a fighter. I went back to school -- I'm studying law now. I believe I'm a good father. I receive compliments (laughs). I have two daughters, Ana Clara, 4, and Maria Eduarda, 10. Being a father to girls is challenging, but with patience and understanding, we can do it. Sometimes it's hard, and we feel like it's impossible, but we get over it. It's more delightful than anything else. It's in the children that we find strength.

    The community started as a government project. Residents of the Tijuca region were resettled and Vila Kennedy, named after the American president, was founded. With Rio de Janeiro's expansion and its social problems, Vila Kennedy ended up becoming a violent community, similar to the rest of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas.

    Vila Kennedy is quite big. It occupies both sides of Avenida Brasil and has over 100,000 inhabitants. We have a police station, club, nightclub, Olympic Village, family health center and talented people. Many soccer players and artists came from the community. It ended up receiving attention from the state government, despite the number of shortcomings.

    This is where I was born, where I have a lot of friends and where I have become a man. What makes me really angry are residents who defame the community. Instead of highlighting the positive aspects, they exaggerate the downsides in a destructive way. It is one thing to criticize and help make things better, and another to just spotlight the problems. It doesn't add anything.

    I've always moved through different places. I've worked downtown for six years. I’ve worked in Tijuca, which is a middle class neighborhood, for six years. When I speak with pride about living in Vila Kennedy, people look surprised. 'Do you live there?' they ask. Because they see my attitude, my job, the way I treat people, and they seem surprised. I end up listening to some things, comments about residents of communities."
  • Leandro Bouzan Lessa, 31, sailor's assistant. Resident of Mangueirinha.
    "It is an impressive achievement to have a team with residents and police officers. I won't tell you it isn't. But now, we ca
    Mauro Pimentel/HuffPost Brazil
    "It is an impressive achievement to have a team with residents and police officers. I won't tell you it isn't. But now, we can say it's a family. There's no difference between police officers and residents. We're a team.

    Nowadays, Mangueirinha is a pacified community that is achieving social growth. In my case, as a resident, I think it's a good community in comparison to others. The residents are quite welcoming and determined people who wake up early and work to make a living, hoping for the best. An excellent place to live. It's called a favela, but I don't see it that way.

    Politicians are not interested in us. This year is an election year and lots of promises will be broken. It discourages the community.

    There is no such thing as people living on the margins of society. The simple fact that they live in a community doesn't make them bad people. Just because I live in a favela and others live in the south zone doesn’t mean that I'm different. I have been blessed with a university degree and I'm going to be an engineer like those engineers in the south zone."
  • Marcos Vinícius de Jesus, 33, police officer. Resident of Mangueirinha.
    "First, you need to get to know the communities from the inside. From the inside out rather than the outside in. Those who ha
    Mauro Pimentel/HuffPost Brazil
    "First, you need to get to know the communities from the inside. From the inside out rather than the outside in. Those who have prejudice must come and see how the community is, how people living here really are, and not judge them by what one, two or three people say.

    I live in Corte 8, next to Mangueirinha. Every community has problems, solutions, good people, bad people. But Mangueirinha is a family. Here, we learn how to live, how to become united. Policeman don’t hit or mistreat residents, there's no misconduct. Mangueirinha UPP Command makes me very proud. We've been pacified for three years now and the death rate is the lowest of all UPPs. We have no trouble, no problems between police and residents, no buses set on fire in protest. Everyone has learned to live together. Mangueirinha is a family home. It's in peace, thank God.

    If it weren't for soccer, maybe I wouldn't be alive right now. Being born and raised in a favela, I've seen many people lose themselves due to lack of opportunities. But soccer has given me these chances.

    I got a scholarship to a private school because I played soccer. I went to Flama School and Educandário Cruzeiro do Sul, one of the best in Caxias. I competed in championships, won some of them, got my scholarship and graduated. And now I'm here. The UPP has given me a scholarship to study Law at the Estácio de Sá University.

    Regardless of the university, I don't see myself outside of the Military Police. My desire to become a police officer came from my relatives and friends who are police officers. I've always liked the uniform. I'm not a police officer for the power, but to help people. My 7-year-old son is proud of his policeman father.

    He tells me: 'Dad, I'm going to be a police officer. Dad, I'm going to be a police officer just like you.' He's excited about the fact that I have a job that I like. I wake up every day, ask the Lord to protect me, go to work, and come back home."
  • Mauro Pimentel/HuffPost Brazil
  • Mauro Pimentel/HuffPost Brazil
  • Mauro Pimentel/HuffPost Brazil

This piece was originally published on HuffPost Brazil and has been translated into English.

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