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CORFing and BIRGing through the World Cup

Friday, July 18, 2014
Dirt Under the Nails
A fan of Brazil weeps as she watches as the Netherlands score a second goal against Brazil, during the match for the third place finish of the World Cup, at the Fifa Fan Fest in Sao Paulo, Brazil. AP Photos

I would like to explore Brazilian football fans for a bit. You know, the ones in the stands who were painted and clad in yellow and green contraptions and engaged in Oscar-winning theatrical performances. 


I want to try to understand their behaviour. You know, where they screamed, danced, jumped like rabbits, flailed their arms wildly as if possessed, and hugged total strangers like long lost best friends. I am trying to put myself in the Brazilian fans’ shoes. 


You know, the “hard-backed” adult men who clutched an imitation World Cup trophy and sobbed violently over it, and buried their heads in their neighbours’ arms in mourning as if at the funeral of a loved one. But I just can’t. 


It all seemed quite fickle to me. Is there nothing more important in one’s life that one would weep like a baby because a sport team lost a match? Seems silly doesn’t it? There are just so many more important things in life over which to get so upset!


I also cannot understand the bi-polar type behaviour where one minute the fans were screaming in support, then in another minute they were booing the Brazilian team in whose colours they dressed, danced and sang. Sounds familiar? We Trinis have also done it with the Soca Warriors and our cricketers. To me, if you’re a fan, you’re there to support regardless.


In an effort to comprehend this behaviour, I did some reading and found a few interesting points about fan psychology that could help put meaning to this phenomenon. 


Firstly, being a fan is a vicarious thrill, and therefore, a fan’s identity is the team. Brazil is football, and for the Brazilian fan, there must be nothing more thrilling than watching his/her team play, as this team is a reflection of the country. 


Win, and Brazil solidifies respect on an international stage as being the best. It gives the fan, and the country, a sense of worth. Lose, and that identity is threatened, self esteem lowered, and what it means to be Brazilian is no longer admirable. 


Given the country’s political turmoil as a result of controversial allocation of funds towards the World Cup instead of to social necessities, Brazil needed to win this tournament to justify the corruption that allegedly occurred. If they won, it would be “okay,” and Brazil could regain it’s lost identity as the football giant, solidifying the dying notion that Brazilian style football is the best. 


This is what has been termed BIRG by an Arizona University professor, “Basking In Reflected Glory,” which refers to the tremendous pride fans feel when their team wins.


However, it seemed that Brazilian fans had CORFed, “Cut Off Reflected Failure.” This term was generated by other researchers to describe the tendency of fans to distance themselves from the losing team. Maybe this was an attempt by the fans to maintain some semblance of pride and self-worth? Maybe they no longer wanted to identify with their football team because the team, which represented everything Brazil stood for, lost miserably in their last two matches? 


It appears that such a fan is extremely self-centred, behaving only to boost his ego or “save face.” During this World Cup, it seemed as if the fans viewed athletes like Neymar as super heroes, who could do no wrong. Brazil placed so much pressure on these athletes. They poured their hopes and all their expectations onto these players like torrents of water gushing down a mountainside. They supported the players through the good times, when it was good to be Brazilian. 


Yet when the team faltered, and really needed their fans to help lift them through trouble, the players were met with boos, curses, and CORFing…a strong demonstration of denial that athletes are actually human and that winning is not completely in the control of the athletes. 


It boils down to the fact that winning allows the fan to feel good, whereas losing does not. 


From my observations of different levels of sporting events, from small school tournaments to mega-events like the World Cup, it appears that the intensity of the response from the fan is positively correlated to the size of the event. Hence the frenzied celebrations during victories and the looting, shooting and violent weeping that occurred when Brazil lost. 


Brazil has not lost its identity. It is just going through a difficult time. 


Maybe the performance of the team mirrors the politics of the country in some sort of twisted irony. But winning is that much better after failure, and the next time Brazil wins a World Cup, as I am sure they will, the victory will be that much sweeter for the fans. 


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