Not everyone plays ball at the world’s first Indigenous Games

On the 23rd of October the ’World Indigenous Games’ kicked off in Brazil, the first event of its kind. While it might not be of the same magnitude in the sports community as Brazil’s recent hosting of the World Cup in football, or the upcoming Olympic Games; this event does promise some unusual events such as spear toss, a rustic race and tug of war.

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Valter Campanato / Agência Brasil – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archery#/media/File:Brazilarcher.jpg

The event will feature more than 2000 athletes from 30 countries, and it will also include more western-style sports such as football and swimming. In a clear break with the sporting worlds ordinary aim of staying out of politics, the participants will not only compete, they will also partake in discussions concerning human rights and environmental issues.

This unusual feature has however not stopped the sporting event from receiving its fair share of criticism. Two indigenous tribes, Krahô and Apinajé, from the Brazilian state Tocantins, where the games are hosted, have announced that they will be boycotting the event. A statement by local leaders concluded that: “How can we participate in an event financed by a government that is promoting the genocide of our Guarani-Kaiowá relatives in Mato Grosso do Sul and in various other regions of the country”, referring to large land losses by indigenous people to cattle ranchers and farmers. Other objections have also been raised against the event, for instance the cost, but it is also seen by some as a sensationalised media event that only serves to hide the ongoing suffering of indigenous people in Brazil.

No matter your view, it is clear that Brazil is steadily trying to positioning themselves as a leading host of global sporting events. How this ambition plays out remains to be seen; in no doubt, organizing the World Cup, the World Indigenous Games and the Olympic Games requires deep pockets, something Brazil arguably doesn’t have. Only time will tell what effect all of these events will have on the Brazilian economy, politics and society.

Lotta Herz