Futebol mulato: racial constructs in Brazilian football

Tiago Fernandes Maranhao
Jorge Knijnik


The aim of this paper is to review Gilberto Freyre’s ideas about futebol mulato and the way these ideas have spread the notion of the Brazilian mulatto as a symbol of a ‘racial democracy’, unique in Brazil, around the world. The notion first appeared in 1938 in an article by Freyre for the Diários Associados, an important Brazilian newspaper. Football (soccer) was employed by Freyre as the special arena where the multiracial Brazilian nation could shine and show the world a different way of being, opposed to the white and ‘rational’ way of European football. In Freyre’s work, the so-called ‘football-art’ was compared to poetry, while the European style was equated with prose. This essay argues that Freyre’s ideas were useful in constructing the Brazilian identity, a nation of harmony in all its aspects, including the area of race, and how the idea of the mulatto has been used to minimise social disparities within Brazilian society. Freyre’s ideas remain contemporary; many Brazilian intellectuals still refer to these concepts. As well, the press in this huge country, and especially in World Cup years, uses the concepts of mulatto and football-art to characterize Brazil and differentiate it from other countries.


Futebol mulato; Gilberto Freyre; football-art; mestization; racial democracy; Brazil

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5130/ccs.v3i2.1790