A bridge between Rio and Roma, on the trail of a football

The story of Deley, a human rights activist passionate of football.

There is a bridge, even though fictional, that unites Roma and Rio De Janeiro. Better, between the neighborhood of Corviale and the favela of Acari. They’re not only united by poverty and social deprivation, but also by the love of football. Acari is a neighborhood in the extreme north zone of Rio de Janeiro, composed mainly by favelas. The major part of the habitants of Acari works at the farmer’s market, and women who are working are often off for the day, resulting in kids being all by themselves at home. The habitants of Acari are around 45.000 and more than half is under 29 years-old. The habitants under 14 years-old are between 6.000 and 8.000.
This link between Corviale and Acari has became stronger especially nowadays as the poorer part of the Brazilian city is living one of its toughest moment. The militarisation of the Rio De Janeiro state, decided by a decree by  President Temer, who decided to substitute police forces with the army in January, is the main reason for the numerous human rights violations, especially in the Acari’s favela. This is also the main reason for the murder of Marielle Franco, on the night of the 14th of March, a human rights activist that had accused, a few days before her death, the military soldiers of violence in the favela. Marielle Franco was a « favelada » of the favela di Maré and had immediately criticized the militarisation of Rio, publicly denouncing the violences perpetrated in the favela of Acari by the soldiers. That was also probably the motive for whom she was killed.

Deley from Acari is a human rights activist, fond of football. He was good friend with Marielle Franco, with whom he shared daily battles to defend the poorest and more marginalized citizen of Brazil. After the killing of Marielle, Deley had to escape from the favela as he was afraid the soldiers would treat him the way they treated Marielle and which had lead to her death. Deley had lived in Acari since 1974 (he was born in 1954) : in 1994, he had founded La Escolinha to give other kids, who were sharing the same passion for football, the possibility to dream of a better life. « La Escolinha de futbol » called « Sagrada Esperanca » in tribute to an Angolan poet, in addition to being an Non-Profit association of social value, is a football and volleyball school that also offers to the youth and to the whole community some cultural activities. The main goal of the association created by Deley is the social inclusion of this youth that, through football, can have the opportunity to play for importants teams in Brazil. Already 8 kids, between 6 and 12 years-old, have became members of the Brazilian team of Vasco de Gama. The football school is the reason why Deley, nevertheless the danger he’s in, comes three times a week in the favela to coach the team and follow all the activities of the « Colectivo Fala Acari »

Last December, during what can be seen as one of the toughest moment of the military repressive action, Deley told his experience via a Skype meeting, thanks to the activists of Libera in Campo Dei Miracoli, in Corviale, which ressembles a lot to Acari all the more so as Libera is thinking about a way to twin the two cities.
« La Escolinha – had said Deley – offers lessons for boys and girls from 6 to 15, with the possibility to come to the training for free and to participating in a regular championship, where teams of different ages of Acari will meet other Rio’s teams. The boys that will participate will all be from the favela, and it is not easy to keep the activities going because of the clashes between narco-traficants and police, that often result in innocent victims and compel the community to high levels of internal tension.

In fact -had said Deley- , during the police operations, it is common to see innocent habitants being injured or killed, in order to create a sentiment of terror and confusion in the neighborhood ».

In August 2015, Amnesty International published a report on the homicides committed by the military forces in Rio De Janeiro, denouncing the practice of « trigger-happy » that was prevalent in the favela of Acari after the end of the Football World Cup. In 2014, when the Football World Cup was held in Brazil, police killed 580 persons in the state Rio De Janeiro, 40% more compared to 2013. In 2015, the number skyrocketed to 645 persons.

Around 50 children are currently members of the Football school of the Acari favela. «  The kids – told Deley- suffer from poverty and discrimination. That’s why the school tries to cover for the eventual fees due to the participation to activities (as playing in a « normal » football club can cost around 100 reals per month). But the school is also an incentive for the children to go the school, as if they don’t commit to class in the morning, they can’t take part in the sport activities. The funds -added Deley- would come from the municipal of Rio De Janeiro, though it has ended two years ago and the current mayor of the city doesn’t help us, especially has they have thought about closing the school more than one time. Now, the equipment we are using is old and almost unusable : we don’t know how we can keep going ».

Hereby, Libera is thinking about a fundraiser to support the football school’s activities, as it is in deep economic issues and that it is jeopardizing the end of the championship. The monthly cost of activities will be around 16000 reals a week, that is to say 450 euros : a considerable cost for a country such as Brazil, where it is equivalent to a medium wage.

Article from « Il Romanista », 18th of April 2018, by Vincenzo Mulè.

Click here to see the article in Italian.