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Friday, 24 November, 2000, 17:48 GMT
Brazilian football in crisis?
Brazil fans at Wembley stadium
Brazil football fans take the game seriously
Brazil calls itself the "country of football" - and with good reason.

It has won the World Cup four times - more than any other nation - and has created a fluent, skilful footballing style that is regarded with awe.

Ronaldo
Ronaldo is Brazils's most famous player
The sport is unquestionably the strongest symbol of national identity. A love of football is one of the few things that unifies Brazil - the fifth largest country in the world in terms of population and area.

"Football integrates all the races that make up our country," said Aldo Rebelo, the congressman who started the current parliamentary inquiry into Brazilian soccer.

"It is like a religion, and our players are like its apostles.

"It is our patrimony,"

Public suspicion

It is often said that the second most important job after the president is the coach of the national team. Banks shut for matches during the World Cup and all newspapers - even broadsheets - usually have a football story on the front page every day.

Brazil fans at Wembley stadium
Brazil football fans take the game seriously
Brazilians feel proud of their football because it embodies what they like about themselves - such as carnival, flamboyance and racial harmony.

But among the public there has always been a feeling that the way the domestic game is organised represents the worst of Brazilian practices.

Club bosses - who are known derogatively as "top hats" - run their teams like personal fiefdoms with little respect for financial responsibility or public accountability.

When the national team is winning, complaints about the way football is run tend to get brushed under the carpet.

But Brazil lost two World Cup qualifiers against Paraguay and Chile this year and the under-23 team was eliminated by a nine-man Cameroon side in the quarter finals of the Olympics - the worst run in recent years.

Crisis?

In addition, the former Brazil coach Wanderley Luxemburgo has been fighting allegations that he lied about his age, dodged taxes and made commissions from players he picked for the squad.

The public outcry at the poor results caused the political climate for the congressional hearings to get underway.

"Brazilian football is in crisis," said Rafael Lima, a 23-year-old gym instructor from Rio de Janeiro. "The congressional inquiries are good because they call attention.

"But I¹m not sure they will find anything out because no one is admitting to anything."

Teacher Márcio Donato, aged 26, believed the problem was that football had become more about money than about love of the beautiful game.

"It's crucially important for Brazil to start to organise itself properly," he said. "Football needs to turn back to the art that it was before."

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