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