To sell and promote their product, drug dealers in Rio de Janeiro have organized cash-prize soccer matches -- in an example of how even low-level criminals use Brazil's soccer-mad culture to net illicit cash.
Police were tipped that the suspected drug-funded matches -- held in Rio's São Gonçalo district -- are followed by parties, where dealers peddle their wares, Globo's G1 reported.
One such match -- dubbed the “Clássico dos Milhões” (Derby of Millions), the name locals use for matchups between Rio de Janeiro rivals Flamengo and Vasco da Gama -- netted the winning team 50,000 reais (about $8,900). The match, which occurred on October 4, used a mix of amateur and former professional players. Police are investigating the source of the prize money and have spoken to several players.
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After a similar match several years ago, heavily armed men fired shots in the air to celebrate a win. That match was also held in the São Gonçalo municipality, according to a Journal de Record report. Police said that the games take place in areas that are known drug hotspots.
InSight Crime Analysis
Soccer and street-level drug sales have gone hand-in-hand in other countries, and the game has long been linked to high-level corruption in Brazil.
In Argentina, fan-run soccer gangs, known as "barras bravas," have repeatedly been caught selling drugs and involved in other rackets, including getting a cut of parking sales near stadiums.
In Brazil, soccer has been used as a front for all kinds of criminal activity. André de Oliveira Macedo -- an alleged leader of one of Brazil's largest criminal organizations, the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC)-- was arrested in September 2019 on charges of organizing large shipments of cocaine to Europe. Better known as "André do Rap," he claimed his riches -- which included a $1.5 million yacht and a luxury home in Rio -- came from serving as an agent to soccer stars and artists.
The sport has also facilitated massive graft schemes.
In 2017, Rio de Janeiro's former state governor Sergio Cabral was sentenced to 14 years in prison for accepting bribes for awarding construction contracts for the Maracaná soccer stadium.
Corruption has also reached the sport's highest levels, including premier events. During the 2014 World Cup, Brazilian police investigated several officials and former players for their alleged role in a corruption scheme related to game ticket resales.
In a country where soccer borders on a religion, it is no wonder that everyone from corrupt executives to low-level drug dealers would use the sport to line their pockets.