Every year, usually in the first few months when the state championships begin, the debate returns: should these championships be axed?
In a country as vast as Brasil, this issue is complex because of the major internal differences. The national championship, the Campeonato Brasileiro, is only disputed between the teams of the principal states, whilst the press, who exert such a great influence over the preferences of the average Brazilian fan, are all located in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. As a result, the concept of regionalised, state championships is one that faces increasing pressure with every passing year.
In view of these considerations, we return to the beginning of football in the country, which occurred through the state championships. After all, geographically, a Brazilian state is usually the equivalent size of a European country.
The first official competition, the Campeonato Paulista (Sao Paulo state championship) began in 1902. Other states soon followed suit, with the Baiano (Bahia) and Carioca (Rio de Janeiro) championships beginning in 1905 and 1906 respectively. Some European countries, such as England and Scotland, had already begun their national leagues some years before, but many, such as the Italian (1898) and German (1903) competitions, are practically the same age as the first of the Brazilian state championships.
With the championships, rivalries were born; many of the major rivalries of modern Brazilian football have their roots in the early 20th Century state competitions - Grêmio and Internacional in Rio Grande do Sul, Bahia and Vitória in the state of Bahia and Corinthians and Palmeiras in São Paulo, just as examples, are only great clubs and historical rivals because of the regional tournaments. Due to structural and logistical issues, a Brazilian Championship was unthinkable at the beginning of the twentieth century. Additionally, the beginning of Brazilian football was especially localised: proudly rooted in the communities that formed the first clubs and associations.
There were attempts to form wider competitions, particularly between Rio and Sao Paulo, and there was also the the Taca Brasil, the legacy of which can be seen in the formula of today's important Copa do Brasil. Nevertheless, it was only in 1971 that a lengthy and all-encompassing tournament, including clubs from all regions of Brazil, came into existence.
In addition, therefore, to being more similar to the European nationals, the state chamionships hold, through their formation and geography, an essential part of the history of Brazilian football. It was in the Carioca that Flamengo became great, it was in the Paulista that Santos paraded the legendary team with Pelé and company in the 60s, and in every other state local clubs established themselves as the favourites of their people. Finally, the smaller and middle-sized clubs, who are now suffocated in shorter tournaments with little visibility or recognition, featured great stars, such as Socrates at Botafogo de Ribeirão Preto or Roberto Carlos at União São João, in many cases in times where the Brazilian national team shone much more than they do today.
The project of the authorities is clear: to marginalise the state championships in favour of a national competition that concentrates on the big cities (especially in the capitals of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro), the richest clubs in the country, and sets aside much of the national territory for a 'quality football.' Thus, it should come as no surprise that many boys from the interior who have no relationship with the clubs of the capitals, and watch the gradual failure and sad decline of the local teams, choose to cheer for European clubs that ultimately bring together the great Brazilian stars.
Killing the state championships, an idea that advances with great support from the media, and creates a real chasm between the teams through payments for TV rights, is to destroy more than a little of what has made football the beloved sport of Brazilians.