The violence and misogyny of Brazilian society was highlighted on Monday when a second-division club signed up a goalkeeper who was convicted of murdering his girlfriend and having her body fed to his dogs.
Amid smiles and handshakes, Boa Esporte unveiled a two-year contract for Bruno Fernandes de Souza, who was released from jail last month pending an appeal.
The announcement drew anger from the family of the victim, Eliza Samudio, and groups campaigning against the high levels of gender-based violence in Brazil.
“Women are outraged and so are the general public. It is as if he had gone unpunished,” wrote Djamila Ribeiro, a political philosopher and feminist activist, on the UOL website.
Three sponsors withdrew their support from the team in protest against the decision. Hackers posted denunciations on the homepage of the team.
But many football fans applauded the return of one of the country’s most popular players, despite the gruesome crimes he committed.
The signing of Bruno comes amid growing concern about femicide and rape in Brazil
. To mark International Women’s Day last week, the Cruzeiro football team – which is famed for being socially progressive – wore shirts that highlighted the problems with relevant data for each number, for example: “A rape every 11 minutes”.
In its latest country report, Amnesty International noted that lethal violence against women had increased by 24% over the previous decade and confirmed that Brazil was one of the worst Latin American countries in which to be a girl or woman. One in three women had suffered physical, verbal or psychological violence over the past year, according to a survey released last week by Datafolha.
Bruno – as he is best known in Brazil – has served less than a third of the 22-year sentence handed down by a lower court for ordering the 2010 killing of his former partner and the mother of his child.
Samudio went missing after she sued the footballer for child support in a high-profile case that threatened a mooted big-money move to Milan.
Bruno confessed to his involvement in the crime. The court heard how he conspired with friends who tortured and strangled the model, then disposed of the body by feeding it to the footballer’s rottweilers.
Lawyers secured his release after a petition for habeas corpus because the country’s notoriously slow courts had failed for several years to rule on his appeal.
Video clips showed him celebrating the release with friends and champagne.
Soon afterward, his agent announced that several clubs were interested in signing the 32-year-old, who previously played for Flamengo and Atletico Mineiro and was once tipped to play for the national team. Fans posed for selfies with the goalkeeper and most online comments were positive.
The backlash has come slowly. Samudio’s mother unsuccessfully filed a suit demanding Bruno be sent back to prison because he posed a threat to her grandson.
There has also been criticism from women’s groups and commentators in the domestic and overseas media. Although no one questions Bruno’s legal rights, there is anger at his early release and the club’s willingness to overlook his crime.
Boa Esporte – a team from Varginha in Minas Gerais – responded with a declaration from the club’s president that Bruno had been punished and the club was helping in his readjustment to civil society by offering him the “dignity of work”.
It made no mention of the victim or the crime – or the fact that their new signing is still guilty and has two-thirds of his sentence to run.
Three sponsors – Nutrends Nutrition, CardioCenter and Magsul – have since pulled out, though the Varginha city government remains a financial backer of the club. Some fans are refusing to watch the team while Bruno is on the books.
“The residents of this beautiful city do not support a monster like this living close to their children. The residents are campaigning against you,” noted one, who gave the name Tati Coutinho, in an online column.
One group has planned a demonstration outside the Boa Esporte ground. The Popular Feminist Front of Varginha accused the club of trying to cash in on Bruno’s fame while forgetting the suffering of his victim.
A Facebook statement noted: “We protest both against this contract and against the willingness of the team and its sponsors to have their images linked to feminicide. A woman-killer must not be allowed a life acclaimed by the media. Bruno is no longer just a goalkeeper; his notoriety reflects the ease with which a woman’s life is forgotten in the interests of a sporting career.”
But it seems many others are more than happy to overlook murder and torture, as long as their team has a famous goalkeeper and their team lets in fewer goals over the next two seasons.