Football: Brazil's 1982 World Cup team reunite to help fight Covid-19 in packed favelas; others also do their part

People walking in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro on April 9, 2020. The elderly who live in the favelas of the Brazilian city are one of the groups most at risk in the current health crisis caused by Covid-19.
People walking in the Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro on April 9, 2020. The elderly who live in the favelas of the Brazilian city are one of the groups most at risk in the current health crisis caused by Covid-19.PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Dunga, Brazil's 1994 World Cup-winning captain and ex-head coach, and Internacional player Andres D'Alessandro help with food distribution to poor people amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Porto Alegre on April 7, 2020.
Dunga, Brazil's 1994 World Cup-winning captain and ex-head coach, and Internacional player Andres D'Alessandro help with food distribution to poor people amid the coronavirus outbreak, in Porto Alegre on April 7, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

(REUTERS) - Members of Brazil's 1982 World Cup squad have reunited to ask their compatriots to work together and donate money to help the country's overcrowded favelas avoid the worst ravages of the coronavirus.

They are just some of the country's leading athletes, past and present, who are stepping up to help the most vulnerable communities.

In an initiative led by Paulo Roberto Falcao, 19 players, including Zico, Junior and Leandro, recorded a video message appealing for donations.

"The 1982 Brazil team was known for its creativity, union and collective work ethic," Falcao said. "Now we are springing into action for Brazil again."

The former Roma and Internacional midfielder said 2.6 million reais (S$719,250) has been raised in less than a week.

His appeal is the latest in a series of efforts by leading current and former Brazilian footballers to help the largest South American nation cope with the effects of Covid-19.

More than 900 Brazilians have died from the virus but doctors fear the death toll could rise exponentially if it gets a foothold in the densely populated favelas, or shanty towns, that dot most Brazilian cities.

The Brazil team at the 1982 World Cup in Spain is widely held to be one of the greatest sides never to win the tournament.

After beating the Soviet Union, Scotland, New Zealand and Argentina, Brazil needed a draw against Italy to move into the semi-finals.

However, a hat-trick from Paolo Rossi gave the Azzurri a 3-2 win and helped them on the way to the final, where they defeated West Germany 3-1.

All the Brazil team except captain Socrates, goalkeeper Waldir Peres and midfielder Batista are still alive and contributed a video for Falcao's initiative.

Olympic judo medallist Flavio Canto, meanwhile, is among those giving his time and money to battle the outbreak.

"When all this is over, those that have a lot are going to have a lot less but they'll still have more than most, and they have an obligation to help those who have nothing," the Rio de Janeiro resident told Reuters.

A bronze medallist in the men's 81kg category at Athens 2004, Canto is almost as famous in Brazil for his work with the Instituto Reacao, a charity that uses martial arts to help transform young people's lives.

He is raising funds for a project that will give a monthly stipend to thousands of families in Rio and Cuiaba who are under quarantine or suffering financially due to unemployment or the need to self-isolate. The monthly stipend of around 100 reais comes in the form of a pre-paid cash card that can be used in local supermarkets.

"My charity has 20 years of experience in that field and the other athletes are people with the same profile, who have experience in charity work and therefore credibility," he said by telephone from Rio.

Dunga urges donations

One such athlete is Dunga, who captained the Selecao to their 1994 World Cup win.

The former Internacional and Fiorentina midfielder is working with business contacts and former players - including ex-Brazil internationals Jorginho and Edmilson and Paulo Cesar Tinga - to help disadvantaged communities in his home state of Rio Grande do Sul.

Like Canto, Dunga has run a charitable foundation for many years, helping orphanages, old folks' homes and social projects.

In the last few days he has persuaded supermarket owners, food producers and transportation companies to donate and distribute more than 10 tonnes of food to local charities as more and more people suffer due to the virus.

"We saw that there are a lot of people in the favelas who aren't working and they don't have food so I called the friends I still play football with and said let's do something," he told Reuters.