It Started With a Kiss: Footballer Causes Homophobia Debate in Brazil

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One week after Russian athletes Kseniya Ryzhova and Tatyana Firova kissed in celebration at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow as well as three-time pole vaulting champion Yelena Isinbayeva spoke out in favour of an anti-gay law in Russia that she later backtracked, it was Brazil’s time to debate homophobia through sport.

Footballer Emerson Sheik [en], who plays for Brazilian club Corinthians [en], published a photo online that caused controversy on Brazilian social networks. In the picture, the Corinthians number 10 celebrates his team’s recent victory by giving a male friend a kiss.

Imagem partilhada no instagram com 9.985 likes no momento de publicação deste artigo.

Picture shared on Instagram. At the time of publication of this article, it has received 9,985 likes. 

Alongside the picture, Sheik wrote:

Tem que ser muito valente, para celebrar a amizade sem medo do que os preconceituosos vão dizer. Tem que ser muito livre para comemorar uma vitória assim, de cara limpa, com um amigo que te apóia sempre.

You’ve got to be very brave to celebrate friendship and not be scared of what prejudiced people will say. You’ve got to be very free to celebrate a victory like this, openly, with a friend who is always there for you.

One kiss was enough for football – a notoriously macho environment – to become a place for debating homophobia.

Critics of Sheik were not slow to appear online nor to voice their opinion on the streets. One group of members of the fans’ organisation Camisa 12 protested outside the Corinthians training ground, demanding both an apology and a retraction by the player. The group carried banners with the slogans “No fags allowed” and “This is a man’s place”.

On their official Twitter page, Camisa 12 (@Camisa12oficial) wrote:

We reject isolated attitides that tarnish the image of Corinthians and its supporters. We demand respect for the Ultras! This is Corinthians!

However, as Wilson Gomes reminds us, in environments such as football, the use of terms referring to homosexuality have always been a way of belittling and devaluing the opposition. He wrote:

Aliás, faço logo uma distinção: não importa “o caso do selinho de Sheik”; o que é interessante é o “o caso da escandalização por causa do selinho de Sheik”. Tenho cá comigo uma regra de antropologia social de que não abro mão: pode-se conhecer, e muito, uma dada cultura pela lista dos fatos com que ela fica escandalizada.

Anyway, I’m going to make a distinction: Sheik’s kiss isn’t what is important; what is interesting is the scandal caused by the kiss. I have here with me a dictum from social anthropology that I guard closely: you learn a lot about any culture by the list of things that it is shocked by.

Artists launch protest by kissing and the campaign #SheikTamoJunto.

Artists launch protest by kissing for the campaign #SheikTamoJunto.

On the other hand, the Internet has been full of messages of support for the player.

It was not long before a remake of the “kissathon” [en], that took place during the campaign against homophobia in the Brazilian Comission for Human Rights [en], started to circulate online in support of Sheik.

The movement began with a photo (on the right) posted by brothers Fernando and Gustavo Anitelli, who are also members of O Teatro Mágico (The Magic Theatre).

Later the idea was featured on Blog do Rovai, causing it to go viral under the hashtags #Sheiktamojunto (Sheik we are one) and #vaicurintia (go corinthian).

Twitter users then began posting their own photos of support:

Fotos em apoio circularam pelas redes sociais. Foto: Alex Capuano/Facebook

Photos expressing support have circulated on social networks. This one reads “In this family we are all Corinthians fans, but none of us are bigoted!”. Photo: Alex Capuano/Facebook

The blog Impedimento (Obstruction) recalled the era of Corinthians’ Democracy [en] which was lead by a group of politicised Corinthians players and is considered “the most important ideological movement in the history of Brazilian football”:

Protesto mesmo, ato de rebeldia, daqueles que nos remetem ao Corinthians da Democracia, foi o beijo de Sheik, mesmo que ele não tivesse qualquer intenção política no gesto. Não é nada, não é nada, mas nunca tínhamos visto algum jogador brasileiro peitar este “preconceito babaca que existe no futebol”, como Sheik afirmou hoje, após a repercussão do gesto de carinho.

Even if the gesture wasn't politically motivated, Sheik’s kiss was a protest, an act of rebellion, in the spirit of Corinthians’ Democracy. Yes, it isn’t much, but then we've never seen a Brazilian footballer stand up to what the player himself labelled “this stupid prejudice that exists in football,” as Sheik affirmed today following repercussions from his affectionate gesture.

The photo of Emerson Sheik’s kiss has become an act of resistance in the battle against homophobia in a world where 76 countries still classify homosexual relations as a crime [en]. Or better still, as the blogger Fabio Chiorino said, it’s “a small kiss for man, a giant leap for Brazilian football.”


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