Chapecoense was more than just a tragedy

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Cal U'Ren, Staff Reporter

Brazilian soccer club Chapocoense was involved in a horrific plane crash this past week killing 71 of the 77 passengers on board. The tragedy has shaken the world, especially South America, as it occurred just a few days ahead of the continents second biggest tournament, Copa Sudamericana. Chapocoense was set to play in the championship game of a continental wide tournament against Colombian powerhouse Atletico National. Aside from the horrific tragedy that occurred, the club was revered and maintained a nearly perfect model for all sports organizations in a country plagued by greed and corruption. The media attention gained through the tragedy will hopefully convince many other sports organizations in Brazil to follow their lead.

Brazil contains the continents largest economy and populace, and has seen over 40 million citizens climb out of poverty from 2003 to 2011. This has begun to create a rapacious desire for money among regular people and those involved in the historically corrupt political system. So much so that it is becoming a phenomenon spreading to sports too, mainly in soccer, the countries most popular sport by a wide margin.

The country’s former president was recently impeached in the face of widespread corruption charges, their current president investigated for similar instances, all with simultaneous investigations occurring on roughly 40 percent of their federal senate. In 2015, the president of Brazil’s soccer federation was indicted by the United States Justice Department on corruption charges as well. Money has been used to pander politicians for legislation regarding stadiums built and used for the 2013 Confederations Cup and 2014 World Cup, just to name a few examples of the infringements occurring.

Many soccer clubs purposely manage money only for the short term, splurging on players they cannot afford, or managing funds without potential economic hardship in mind. For example, if a team is relegated from their tier they are essentially guaranteed to lose money due to a lower revenue share from the league, with attendance and promotional advantages often diminishing with it. These teams must then rely on bailouts from state legislators who take previously allocated funding from other sources to help them sustain their business, regardless of the costs associated with doing so.

Chapocoense followed a different approach to their club that allowed them to sustain monetary success throughout relegations in different league tiers, while also being in the minority of Brazilian clubs that were actually making money in the process. The team was an example of resiliency as they climbed from the Brazilian fourth division in 2009 to the pinnacle of the first division just five short years later.

The club originates from Chapeco, a southern Brazilian city of just over 200,000 with working class roots in meat processing and agricultural goods. The club’s owners and board worked diligently with local business to create a stable and working relationship that allowed them both to benefit from it. The club president, who was one of the 71 killed in the crash, was a previous winner of Chapeco’s businessman of the year award, and was recognized as somebody who sustained money in an efficient and legal way.

The initial reason the team was flying was because their modestly sized stadium could only hold 22,000 fans, which wasn’t deemed big enough for a tournament final. Utilizing limited resources while remaining competitive with larger, more established clubs truly was the success story behind Chapocoense.

Their Cinderella story earned them plenty of fans in the process, and respect from those who recognized the club’s foundation was built without the corruption frequently associated with Brazilian soccer. The precedent set by the small market club demonstrated that it was possible to succeed amid a corrupt system with the odds stacked against you. Hopefully the publicity stemming from the tragedy will cause a shift in ideology among those involved in Brazilian soccer, and even politics in the future. The deaths of those on board should never be forgotten, and neither should the righteous history of the club either.

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