Beedie research explores the social benefits of Brazilian soccer

Sep 03, 2013

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Beedie School of Business professor Jeremy Hall has partnered with a soccer school owned by Brazilian international player Hulk (pictured above, left) to conduct research into the social inclusion benefits of soccer in Brazil.

With the 2014 World Cup in Brazil less than a year away, reports of social unrest and mass protests among Brazilian citizens may suggest that soccer no longer holds the power to unite the nation to the extent that it once did. However new research from Beedie School of Business professors Jeremy Hall and Stelvia Matos suggests that the social inclusion benefits Brazilian soccer makes possible might provide a light at the end of the tunnel for the nation.

The pair have partnered with a soccer school in Brazilian city Campina Grande to explore the opportunities for social inclusion made available to poorer regions through participation in soccer. The school is owned by Brazilian soccer international Givanildo Vieira de Souza, more commonly known by his nickname Hulk, and run by former professional soccer player, and Hulk’s former coach at youth level, Mano.

Through the partnership, the researchers aim to explore the social inclusion policies that have been implemented in Brazilian soccer, in particular those that encourage Brazilians to participate in the sport, and in the process become better citizens

“From an academic perspective, soccer makes an effort to take on important social issues, such as anti-racism and social inclusion,” says Hall. “FIFA (the international governing soccer body) are trying aggressively to encourage participation from poor countries, which is one of my main areas of research. The soccer school’s business model is about identifying football talent, but at a deeper level they’re encouraging good citizenship through discipline. Hulk is very keen on social inclusion, and is always eager to talk about the soccer school and the benefits it has for the community.”

Hulk, who plays for Russian club Zenit St. Petersburg following a $63 million move from Portuguese side Porto and is a starting member of the Brazilian national team, grew up in Campina Grande, a region often overlooked by soccer scouts seeking young talent. Having experienced poverty as a child, being unable to afford equipment and the fees for soccer school, Hulk was subsidized by Mano, an act of kindness that still resonates with him to this day.

“Today, I have a privileged social position, but I don’t forget that I come from a poor background,” Hulk responded, when asked about the recent protests in Brazil. “They are right to protest. What they say and what they hope for is in the right direction. We have to listen to what they say.”

Hulk’s soccer school continues to subsidize underprivileged children, where he now hopes to “link the good with the useful,” by providing soccer training for impoverished youths and in the process provide them with fundamental skills to ensure they have a better future.

Hall and Matos have conducted numerous research studies in Brazil previously, and view the project as an extension of some of their previous research on entrepreneurship in poorer regions of developing countries. The pair are partly basing their research on a framework developed by William Baumol, which explores the idea of productive, unproductive and destructive entrepreneurs, and how these types of behavior are shaped by institutions.

Productive entrepreneurship – innovation – is when a cheaper and/or better quality product enters the market, resulting in a win for the seller and the buyer. Although some such as incumbent sellers lose, the end result is a net societal gain.  Destructive entrepreneurship is when there are more losers than winners, for example, in organized crime, when intimidation is used to extort money for a net loss overall. Unproductive entrepreneurship, meanwhile, occurs when entrepreneurs exploit legal loopholes and engage in rent seeking, resulting in no net societal gain.

The researchers have suggested that many Brazilian entrepreneurs are engaged in unproductive and destructive activities, especially in poor communities. Hulk, however, may fit the criteria of a productive entrepreneur who has come from a deprived background and become a contributor towards society by creating value.

“Here is someone that was practically barefoot 15 years ago, who came from a very impoverished community,” says Hall. “Now he owns his own soccer school and operates it through his former coach Mano, and they are seeking out talent in this region that has for the most part been ignored by the rest of the country. We have to conduct more research to determine whether he fits the criteria of an entrepreneur who is generating something that benefits society, which is bigger than him. He may well be the elusive productive entrepreneur that came from a poor background.”

The research is in the early stages, but Hall believes it has potential to be put to use in social inclusion issues closer to home, with parallels to be drawn in encouraging people from inner cities and First Nations groups, who have a historically poor participation rate in Canadian soccer, to become more involved.

“In Canada, the majority of talented athletes get funneled into hockey or football, whereas in Brazil they are much better at finding talent in poorer communities,” says Hall. “If we were to start engaging with these other communities in the way that Brazil does, there is great potential for including people that would otherwise be overlooked.”

This story was first published in the August edition of Ideas@Beedie magazine, the Beedie School of Business’ iPad, Android and desktop magazine showcasing the business school’s academic research, industry impact and engagement with the community. To view the full digital magazine or download the iPad and Android apps, visit