Here’s a cool idea from Brazil.

Rather than suspend football players for fouls, handballs and ungentlemanly conduct, authorities here are making them do community service.

It’s a novel ‘punishment’ for players who all too often abuse their role model status.

Among those receiving alternative sentences in recent months are Sao Paulo and Brazil striker Luis Fabiano, Palmeiras’ Chilean midfielder Valdivia and troublesome Corinthians striker Emerson Sheik.

Valdivia was ordered to spend his 10,000 real fine for insulting a referee on food and other aid for an orphanage in Rio de Janeiro while Luis Fabiano was sentenced to visit a rehabilitation centre for handicapped children. Emerson yesterday visited children being treated for cancer.

All declared the experience enlightening.

“This isn’t punishment,” said Luis Fabiano, shortly after bonding with a spunky six-year old who claimed to be a fan of rival Corinthians. “It made me really happy and gave me great satisfaction to spend some time with these kids, it was priceless, Sometimes we complain about little things and a visit like this serves to motivate us all.”

As I said in my Reuters story here:

“This type of visit is educational as well as being punitive,” said Flavio Zveiter, who heads the court that metes out punishment to footballers in Brazil.

“These guys are heroes to lots of people and this helps them reflect about their position and responsibility to society.  They sometimes live in their own little world and they don’t realise that what they do has repercussions in society as a whole.”

Zveiter said he was moved after seeing Luis Fabiano interact with the disadvantaged kids and vowed to hand out more alternative punishments in the future.

“It think the repercussions were positive, the player himself said he was touched by it and that was the main thing,” Zveiter said. “I intend to use this policy more.”

The policy sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

Emerson, the man who played such a huge part in helping Corinthians win the Copa Libertadores earlier this year, turned up almost three hours late to see kids at the Graacc hospital.

Authorities might want to reinstate his ban. Turning up three hours late for a meeting is a total lack of respect under any circumstances. For children with cancer it’s an outrage.

Here’s a local TV report on Emerson’s visit: