First World Indigenous Games held in Brazil

Some 2,000 athletes from 40 indigenous communities compete both in traditional and modern sports · Critics say Brazilian government uses event as smokescreen

Tug of war competition.
Tug of war competition. Author: World Indigenous Games
Some 2,000 athletes from 40 peoples and ethnic groups worldwide are taking part until November 1st in the first World Indigenous Games (WIG), which are being held in the city of Palmas, the capital of the Amazonian state of Tocantins, Brazil.

The athletes are competing both in traditional sports like archery, spear tows, tug of war, rustic race and canoeing, and more modern and universal ones such as football.

The UN, through its United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), is supporting the initiative. Cultural events highlighting the identity and traditions of indigenous peoples are also being held, alongside sports competitions.

Brazilian government under criticism

WIG organizers say their goal is to help showcasing the different cultures of indigenous peoples so that those communities are better understood at the international level. In this respect, Indigenous Games' promoters argue that athletes participating should be focused on creating links rather than competing for victory.

But some indigenous peoples do not perceive the WIG to be such a nice event. Representatives of several indigenous communities from within Brazil chose to boycott the Games while saying that the event only shows a folkloric portrait of their peoples. Critics also argue that the Brazilian government is using the Games to hide conflicts permanently caused by landowners on local communities, who suffer attacks by paramilitary groups.

Moreover, the Indigenist Missionary Council (CIMI), an organization linked to the Catholic Church, said the amount of money spent for the Games (100 million reais, some 23.3 million euros) is excessive, especially taking into account the serious problems of livelihood and extreme vulnerability faced by indigenous peoples in Brazil.

Faced with criticism, organizers argue that it is very important for indigenous peoples to have an international level event of their own. Similar Indigenous Games have been organized since 1999 in Brazil, but they are only open to Brazil's indigenous groups.

Keywords: Brazil, indigenous peoples, sport