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Sent to prison for murdering his ex-girlfriend and feeding her to his dogs, Bruno Fernandes is a free man again. And it didn’t take long for clubs in Brazil to make offers to sign the convicted criminal, as Joshua Law reports…
March the 8th each year is International Women’s Day; 24 hours to celebrate, as the organisers’ website puts it; “the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.”
In Brazil, as in many countries around the world, it was honoured with street marches and demonstrations.
It is also common for high-ranking politicians to say or do something to celebrate the occasion. Theresa May announced a £30 million investment in projects to help women get back into work after a career break and to put an end to domestic violence. French President François Hollande made a speech criticising the threat to women’s rights posed by the Russian and American governments.
Brazilian President Michel Temer, who took power last year after ousting the country’s first female president, and followed this up by including a grand total of zero women in his first cabinet, also felt moved to say a few words.
“Here”, began the 76-year-old, “and outside Brazil, women are still treated as if they were second-class citizens, when in fact, they should occupy the top spot in all societies.” So far, so good. But keep reading.
“I have absolute conviction, because of my upbringing and because I have Marcela [his 33-year-old wife] by my side, how much women do in the house, how much they do in the home, what they do for their children.”
His foot by this point was being decisively moved towards his gaping, witless mouth.
“Nobody”, he continued, by now stuffing his shiny leather shoes down towards his tonsils, “is more capable of pointing out irregularities, for example, of prices in supermarkets than women. Nobody is better able to detect economic fluctuations than women, through higher or lower household spending.”
You may now, dear reader, be engaging your mind in the thankless task of trying to work out exactly which decade of the nineteenth century Mr. Temer inhabits.
Unfortunately this archaic language is not just the imprudent rambling of an elderly politician completely out of touch with reality, but a train of thought reflective of a substantial proportion of Brazilian society. This land is deeply macho; violent treatment and oppression of women is the norm.
This misogynistic attitude is something that transmits itself through all parts of society, including, however much some would like to deny it, football. This has become even clearer with the events that transpired in the days after Temer made his speech.
As you probably know by now Bruno Fernandes, found guilty in 2013 of the brutal murder of his ex-girlfriend Eliza Samudio, has been signed by the Minas Gerais club Boa Esporte, after being released 6 years and 7 months into a 22-year sentence.
— Portal R7.com (@portalR7) March 18, 2017
Bruno was released on a legal technicality, a Habeas Corpus petition, because of the tectonic pace of the Brazilian judicial system. Just over three years ago he filed an appeal against his conviction which has not yet reached trial. A federal judge therefore decided that the ex-player should no longer be imprisoned whilst he awaits the ruling. He has not been acquitted and could still go back to prison if he is once more found to be guilty.
The judge also said that Bruno’s “preventative imprisonment”, the way the detention is classified under Brazilian law whilst someone is awaiting an appeal hearing, was unfair because he “had an excellent prior record”.
He kidnapped, tortured and murdered a woman before feeding her corpse to his Rottweiler dogs. But he was nice before that. Surely after someone has committed such a stupendously cruel crime their previous actions should have no bearing whatsoever.
Eliza, an aspiring model, met Bruno at a party in 2008 and the pair had a short relationship. After they broke up Eliza discovered that she was pregnant but Bruno refused to accept that the child was his. Eliza filed a court order requiring him to take a paternity test and this marked the start of his use of physical violence against her.
After the test had been requested Bruno and two friends kidnapped Eliza for the first time and, according to her report to the police, forced her to take pills that were meant to induce an abortion. Abortion, incidentally, is illegal in Brazil. This failed and their son, Bruninho, was born in February 2010.
Eliza, naturally, wanted financial support from the father of her baby to bring up their child and so once more, with Bruno not forthcoming, resorted to legal means to obtain his economic assistance. At the time Bruno, a stand-out goalkeeper for Atlético Mineiro, was being linked with a move to AC Milan, but the court case stood in the way of the deal.
He and two friends decided that they would resolve the matter themselves and once more kidnapped the mother of his child. They transported her to Bruno’s house on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte and tortured and murdered her. Bruno still refuses to say where they hid the body but one of his cousins testified in court that her corpse was dissected and fed to his puppies.
Bruno is now free. There are no legal restrictions on what he can do, or where he can work, so by contracting him Boa Esporte are not breaking the law. But this is not just a matter of the law; it is a matter of morality. The law is not always right, especially in the convoluted, two-tiered Brazilian legal system, and we should not always use it to guide our decision making.
Boa Esporte’s choice to sign Bruno has obviously caused a backlash and outcry; all of the club’s main sponsors have withdrawn their support, many women’s groups and Eliza’s mother have also called on the club to backtrack.
But there has also been a lot of support for Bruno, both from the general public and some fellow players. Many in Brazil have reacted to the news by saying that offenders need to be reintegrated into society and given a second chance; that as this is the only profession he knows how to do he should be allowed to do it.
To say such a thing is to completely miss the point. Of course offenders, once they have served their time, should be helped to return to lives as contributing citizens of the country, but there is a way to do it and a way not to.
Bruno is re-entering a profession that is the most eminent and among the best remunerated in the country. He will be on television every Saturday, beamed into homes across the nation. Children will idolise him.
If he performs well, where do we draw the line? Should he be allowed a move to a bigger club? Should he be given a call up for the national team? Imagine, a little over year from now, Bruno standing in the tunnel before Brazil’s first game at the World Cup, clutching the hand of a young mascot, ready to strut his stuff in front of millions watching all around the world.
It is the example that we wish to set as a society that should be at the forefront of the mind of Boa Esporte’s directors, yet all they are able to think about is the best way to keep clean sheets in this year’s Série B and how to generate some cheap publicity.
What kind of precedent does this set for Brazil as a country? There was a photo that circulated in the Brazilian media this week of some children asking their club’s new ‘keeper for an autograph. What does seeing a man who committed such a brutal, misogynistic crime in such a celebrated position say to these children? What does it teach them about what society deems acceptable?
In a post on their Facebook page the Popular Feminist Front of Varginha, a group of women from the town where Boa Esporte is based, said:
“We protest both against this contract and against the willingness of the team and its sponsors to have their images linked to femicide. A woman-killer must not be allowed a life acclaimed by the media. Bruno is no longer just a goalkeeper; his notoriety reflects the ease with which a woman’s life is forgotten in the interests of a sporting career.”
This case is grizzly and dark beyond all comprehensibility and is made all the worse by how little remorse Bruno has shown since being released. On the day he was handed his freedom he was filmed sipping champagne with friends and grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
Bruno refused to talk about the case in the press conference held to announce his arrival, saying only that he made a “mistake” and that he is thankful to God for a second chance. He even told the gathered hordes of journalists that he wants to have a closer relationship with the son whose mother he asphyxiated and mutilated. Eliza’s mother, Bruninho’s grandmother, who now cares for the boy has told the press that she now lives in fear for his life and for her own.
This is a case of the world of football setting a precedent, but it is at the very same time a reflection of the values held by society. It is cyclical; one thing will always affect the other. Football, sometimes, needs to be more than just football. It needs to lead and to realise the power it has to set an example to society.