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The choice of who presents the World Cup draw in Brazil has proved highly controversial – with a heated discussion on social media over race.
Lazaro Ramos and Camila Pitanga are two well-known and well-loved Brazilian stars – they played the leading couple in the soap Lado a Lado (Side By Side). And they were expected to play a key role in the World Cup group stage draw on 6 December, in the state of Bahia – the historic heart of African-Brazilian culture. When news emerged that the draw would instead be led by the blond, white couple, Fernanda Lima and Rodrigo Hilbert, there was outrage on blogs, forums and social mediain Brazil.
“Fifa, we want Lazaro Ramos and Camila Pitanga, ok? They are our face, our people, and we love them!” was one tweet. “As if we weren’t already self-sufficient when it comes to racism, Fifa comes over to lend us a hand,” was another. US film director Spike Lee even chimed in with criticism of Fifa’s power over the game. Many demanded an explanation – and in the absence of one, were quick to come to their own conclusions.
“I was trying to tell people ‘Hold your horses’, it could be racism, but we don’t know,” says Guilherme Pinheiro, a film and TV producer in Sao Paulo, who joined the Twitter discussion to call on people to cool down. There could be other explanations, he says – to do with sponsorship or standard of English, for example.
Fifa says the choice of who presents the World Cup draw is not theirs, but one made by the host nation – in this case by GEO and TV Globo who are producing the show. Fifa has announced a line-up of musicians for the World Cup draw which includes a significant number of Afro-Brazilian artists.
The story hit such a nerve, because many in Brazil are resentful of the money being spent on World Cup preparations, and feel Fifa is trying to dictate how Brazil comes across on the world stage, says Sergio Charlab, of the Twitter-based English-language news service Brazil Character Lab. There have been similar controversies before. When women in Bahia were told they could not sell acaraje – a traditional dish with African origins – at World Cup stadiums, there was outrage on social media.