Brazil | ‘Invisible chain of solidarity’ (w/ podcast)

A screenshot from the HP presentation “Paulo Coelho—Alchemist of Words” that concerns the writer’s dislike for religious schooling and his early interest in poetry. Coelho was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1947, under the protecting gaze of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) on Corcovado. (© 2007 Hewlett-Packard Development Company, L.P.)

Football-generated passions, says Coelho, will propel Brazil toward 2014

Paris | Within 24 hours of writing about Brazil’s successful presentation to host the 2014 World Cup and the role of writer Paulo Coelho in the bid effort (see Nov 2), we received a message from one of Coelho’s assistants, taking note of our comments.

The rapid response demonstrated Coelho’s consciousness of his global audience—he once signed 53 translations of The Alchemist in one sitting, a world record—but also that he may be the most plugged-in writer in world history. The computer provides his “window to the world,” he says in an HP promotion.

How did the Brazilian publishing sensation who lives only part of the year in his native land, who avoids Brazilian settings within his work, who does not play football or dance the samba, as he admits, come to speak before the lords of world football in Zurich on Oct 30 to advocate for the country’s first chance to host the tournament in 64 years? All it took was a request, before the initial presentation in late July, from Confederação Brasileira de Futebol president Ricardo Teixeira—a nod to the potential influence of the Coelho “brand.”

Coelho did not concern himself with the political aspects of the task or that he might compromise his creative freedom, but sees his support as helping to lift Brazil through the passionate medium of sport. (Brazil was the only nation to bid on the tournament in FIFA’s since-abdicated plan to rotate the Cup among continental confederations.) Coelho backs the view that, within sport, especially football, violent human instincts can be channeled to healthier ends.

“Sport in my vision is the most important thing in the world, more than politics, more than anything else, because it deals with your passions, with your emotions, without this aggression we see when we are dealing with something else,” Coelho says in the Nov 8 podcast. Coelho’s own sport is archery, which he employs as a meditative aid.

Such is the passion generated by football, Coelho says, that he quickly discarded the topic as a possible theme in his own writing. Santiago, the Andalusian shepherd in Coelho’s foundational tale of risk and self-realization, The Alchemist (originally O Alquimista, published by Editora Rocco, 1988), early in his life-altering quest meets the soothsaying figure who will propel Santiago toward his Personal Legend.

Coelho assistant Paula Braconnot created a video diary of the Oct 29–30 bid presentation in Zurich. At one moment, Coelho asks a Brazilian bid official if he should pitch his three-minute speech in the conditional mood: “We are all asking to host the Cup.” The official replies, “No, we already have it!”

“It’s what you have always wanted to accomplish,” says the man, identified as the figure named in Genesis 14:18, Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem). “Everyone, when they are young, knows what their Personal Legend is.” Coelho’s regard for the realm of meanings that futebol conveys in Brazilian life convinced him that Santiago’s journey would not conclude with him lifting the Jules Rimet trophy in the Maracanã. But given his interest in the game, Coelho said it was natural that he would one day ask himself:

Why don’t I write about football? And then I got to the answer immediately. I said because there is passion. This is something of course you can describe in a book, but [for] the experience of a sport, of football, you have to watch television, to listen to the radio, to go to the stadium. And I read some books on football. And I think they lack this emotion. They try to analyze it. They try to make some philosophies around what is happening. … It is something you should feel. It’s like love. You can read many books on love, but at the end of the day, it is your heart that is in love or is not in love.

Several notable Brazilian authors, of course, have worked to shape the sport and the Brazilian fascination into literary form. Playwright Nélson Rodrigues in crônica style, Luiz Vilela in short stories and Edilberto Coutinho in the story cycle Maracanã Adeus (translated into English as Bye, Bye Soccer) have made noteworthy efforts. Novelist Jorge Amado in A Bola e o Goleiro, a children’s tale, “tells the story of a ball who falls in love with a talentless goalkeeper,” writes Alex Bellos in Futebol: The Brazilian Way of Life (Bloomsbury, 2002).

But despite the list of native literary and musical tributes to o jogo bonito, Coelho says he would not favor a companion cultural program to the 2014 event—at least not on the order of the €30 million that Germany invested in such attractions in 2006 (see “The Artistic and Cultural Programme to the FIFA World Cup 2006”). “This is something that I am really not concerned with. What I am concerned with is really to have the infrastructure, to show how Brazil is and not what we read in the press.” Coelho continues:

They think first of all that there is violence down there, that we don’t respect the environment, that we are lazy, that we only think about football, samba and Carnival. And this is not true. To put a World Cup together you’re going to see that you need to work in all possible fields, like engineering … many, many technical things. And then you’re going to see how we respect our environment, how we really take care of our people. We don’t have as much money as you have, but there is an invisible chain of solidarity in Brazil that, from the moment that the government cannot do things, the people do [them] down there. This is what keeps Brazil moving on. I hope that the World Cup will allow us to show this.


The musical snippet in the introduction to the Coelho podcast, “Futebol,” comes from Holland-based electronica band Zuco 103. They are led by Brazilian vocalist Lilian Vieira.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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