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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:

Brazil has approved 54 cities to host national teams during the 2014 World Cup.

It’s a preliminary list that should rise to closer to 100 by the end of the year.

The cities must have at least one  FIFA-standard hotel and at least one FIFA-standard football pitch. Teams will base themselves there for the group stages of the tournament, and from there fly or drive to games.

That’s why 30 of the 54 are close to Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, each of which will host at least six matches.

Japan, England, Australia, Holland and the United States are among those nations who have sent representatives to scope out potential bases.

See the official FIFA document with all the approved areas here.

The Brazilian teams still in the Libertadores and Copa do Brasil have adopted the same strategy as every year, saving the best players for the midweek games and playing their reserves in the league.

Both Santos and Corinthians are getting exactly what they deserve for such stupid, short-sighted and insulting policies. After four games, Corinthians are bottom of the table with 1 point and Santos are just above them with 3 points.

The clubs still in the Copa do Brasil playing semi-reserve teams are doing almost as badly. Palmeiras are second bottom of the table and Coritiba are in 14th place. Only Sao Paulo in seventh and Gremio – in third after defeating Corinthians (reserves) yesterday – are anywhere like they should be.

The policy is stupid because resting top players for league games doesn’t make these teams any more likely to triumph in the Libertadores.

It’s short-sighted because giving up on so many points at the start of the season will inevitably cost them any chances of league success later on.

And it’s insulting to players because it presumes they can’t perform to the best of their abilities twice in a week and to fans, who are asked to pay to see sub-standard line ups.

Pele used to play more games in a season than any player does today. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo play twice a week and seem to do just fine. Players in England, Germany, France and Italy all play high profile, energy sapping league matches at the weekend and Champions league fixtures during the week.

Supporters deserve better. They’re not daft. Yesterday’s crowd to see Santos (reserves) play Sao Paulo (reserves)? 6,327.

The Brazilian Football Confederation has announced that Corinthians as yet unbuilt stadium will host the opening match of the 2014 World Cup.

(This according to the Folha de São Paulo; the CBF’s own statement is poorly worded and more circumspect.)

It’s a scandalous and risky decision for a whole number of reasons, not least of which is that no one yet knows anything about the proposed arena.

Local media quoted Corinthians President Andres Sanchez as saying the stadium will have 48,000 seats. But FIFA states that the venue for the tournament’s opening match must hold 65,000 fans.

There’s also no guarantee that the stadium in Itaquera, on São Paulo’s East Side, will be ready in time or that it will meet FIFA’s strict criteria. The area will also need to update transport links, add car parks, and areas to host sponsors.

Experts say it takes around 30 months to build a new stadium from scratch, and that’s from the moment the first diggers move in. More time is needed beforehand to complete environmental impact reports, consult residents and do all the other preparation work.

The CBF urgently needed to make a decision about which stadium São Paulo would use, having dilly-dallied for far too long. In that sense, it’s action at last.

Corinthians, too, can be relieved they are at last getting the stadium they so desperately crave.

But this decision looks like one more capricious move by Teixeira. It’s based on personal friendships (with Sanchez) and vendettas (against São Paulo Futebol Club, owners of the Morumbi).

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