Memories of Lead: Football in the Times of Condor, a documentary produced by journalist Lucio de Castro, was revisited in the city of Rio de Janeiro this week to highlight the relationship between football and dictatorships in the region from the 1960s to 1980s. Debates about the subject followed the exhibition of the documentary.
“They keep saying that football and politics don't mix, but history shows that this is not the case. They intermingle up to the present. Many times democratic administrations also benefit from sports, from football, for propaganda. But it is clear that this tendency is accentuated during dictatorships,” said de Castro.
The documentary, which was initially released in 2010 and won the Gabriel Garcia Marquez journalistic award, was selected to participate in several international festivals. It showed glaring scenes of Pele and other Brazilian football players shining on the pitch as they took home the 1970 World Cup. This moment of triumph and glory, according to the documentary, served as the perfect cover during the height of torture, murders, disappearances and other crimes practiced by the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964 – 1984).
Journalist Aydano Andre Motta pointed out that, historically, large sporting events were always tied to constituted power structures.
“To give you an idea, the passing of the Olympic torch, which mobilized all of Brazil in 2015, was created by the Nazis for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Hitler did not realize the Cup in absentia of the International Olympic Committee. They organized it together. The sports power structure of the time aligned itself with Germany's Nazi regime to realize the event.”
Using sports as a means of national propaganda during dictatorships was not an exclusive strategy used by Brazil. Argentina, Uruguay and Chile employed sports during their military dictatorships and Operation Condor, a covert multinational program organized by six Latin American states (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay, later joined by Ecuador and Peru), with logistical, financial, and intelligence support from Washington,” according to J. Patrice McSherry, author of Predatory States: Operation Condor and Covert War in Latin America (2005). Their shared intent was to do away with leftist movements in the region.