Not just a stylish player: Quaresma’s stance on gypsy rights
A mobile phone was a luxury that a young Ricardo Quaresma could not afford.
In May 2000 he was away in Israel with Portugal’s Under-16 team. He had woken up not feeling well and was desperate to get in touch with his mother back in Lisbon.
Burning with fever, he had only one thought in his mind: how to get home as soon as possible.
Instead, Quaresma was convinced to stay and, despite his condition, went on to play in the final of the European Under-16 Championship. He scored twice as Portugal beat the Czech Republic 2-1 in extra time to lift the trophy.
These two goals would change his life forever.
Watching from the stands in Tel Aviv was Romanian manager Laszlo Boloni, who would take over Sporting Lisbon a year later. One of his first moves was to be promoted to the senior team in Lent.
At the end of the 2001-02 season, Sporting were champions and Quaresma the outstanding star of a campaign that paved the way for what was to come: he moved to Barcelona, Inter Milan and for a loan period, Chelsea.
During Portugal’s Euro 2016 win, he played in every game. He scored the winner against Croatia in the round of 16 and converted the decisive penalty against Poland in the quarter-finals.
At the age of 32, helping his country to its first major title was the highlight of his career. But off the pitch he was making an even bigger impact.
That summer, for the first time, a player of Roma origin had the whole country behind him. This led many to wonder if a tipping point had been reached.
“Can a football hero end 500 years of racism?” asked Renascenca, one of Portugal’s leading radio stations.
Such was the way in which Quaresma and his roots were embraced by the fans that, before the final against France, the national newspaper Diario de Noticias published an article claiming that “our gypsy is better than theirs”. It was a reference to rival striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, another footballer of Roman origin.
After the tournament, however, the mood changed again.
“Obviously it made us proud to have a member of our community excel at the highest level, but at the same time it was a bit of a mixed bag of emotions for us that’s not easy to explain,” says Vitor Brands, founder and current. vice president of the Portuguese Gypsy Union.
“Unfortunately, our community is still very discriminated against in Portugal. We saw a whole country cheering for Ricardo and chanting his name, but the next minute these same people will refer to us all as criminals when one of our own does something wrong. .
“In other words, we’re not all as talented as Ricardo when he gets it, but if a single person in our group commits a crime, we’re all instantly thrown in the same bag and considered a gang of criminals? I’m surprised every time. I’m sorry.
“As much as Portugal does not consider itself a racist country, it is clear that there are situations of racism that persist in our society.”
Quaresma himself had to deal with them.
“I have never smoked, I have never drunk, I have never experimented (with drugs) and I have never wanted to. But here it is, because I am Roma, I have a reputation for being many things in football.” he said in an interview with SIC in June 2016.
Gypsies are the longest-standing ethnic minority in Portugal, and yet they still feel, in some ways, like foreigners in their own country.
A 2016 survey by the Agency of Fundamental Rights of the European Union found that 71% of the community had experienced discrimination in the previous five years, the highest figure among the nine countries studied.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa admitted in 2018 that Portugal’s strategy to fully integrate them had “failed”. Romaphobia remains deeply entrenched and, more recently, has become a source of political gain among the burgeoning far right.
“We have identity cards, but very often we hear people saying, ‘Go back to your land.’ It must be the gypsy because I don’t know where she is,” gypsy activist Pimenio Ferreira told public broadcaster RTP.
The feeling of not being wanted is part of the daily life of the Roma population in Portugal.
Research carried out by the Gulbenkian Foundation in 2021 revealed that many viewed Roma as undesirable neighbors, comparing them to alcoholics and drug addicts.
It is not unusual to find shops, restaurants and even pharmacies using racist practices to try to keep them away. They do this by placing ceramic frogs at their entrances, as the animal is seen as a symbol of bad luck and evil, especially by the elderly gypsies.
One of Portugal’s biggest supermarket chains, Minipreco, had to apologize for doing this in 2019.
“We live with this idea that we are a tolerant nation, but this is a very dangerous concept,” says Marques.
“We should embrace each other’s cultures instead of tolerating them. If we don’t change this mindset, we will never be the same.
“We had the April 25 revolution that ended almost 50 years of dictatorship and brought freedom to Portugal in 1974, but while the vast majority of citizens benefited, we ended up being forgotten.
“The day we are given the same conditions of access to education and work, we can say that we are as Portuguese as the rest of the Portuguese, but that day has not yet arrived.”
Last year, a report from the European Committee of Social Rights of the Council of Europe concluded that Portugal continues to violate the right to decent housing for the Roma community residing in the country.
Arguably the most telling example of this comes from the northern town of Torre de Moncorvo, where families were removed from their tents in 2007 and placed in a decommissioned prison complex, originally only for six months.
They have been waiting for a permanent solution for more than a decade. Children have had to grow up in prison cells.
According to the country’s High Commission for Migration, there were 37,000 Portuguese Roma in 2017, but the figure is disputed by other sources and some estimate it to be at least three times higher.
In recent years, Andre Ventura, leader of the far-right populist party Chega (Prou) which is now the third largest force in the Portuguese parliament, has been repeatedly denigrated by Andre Ventura, after winning 12 seats in the election January generals.
Ventura, a former televised soccer expert, accuses the Roma of abusing social benefits and even proposed a specific confinement plan for them at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic because they have “many difficulties in respecting the rules”.
Quaresma has publicly confronted Quaresma, who has said that his “racist populism only serves to turn men against men in the name of an ambition for power that history has already shown to be a fatal path for humanity “.
In a post on Facebook, he added: “I have taken part in several campaigns to appeal against racism, not because it looks good but because I believe that we are all equal and that we all deserve the same opportunities in life.
“Eyes open friends, populism always says that scoring a goal is simple, but in reality scoring a goal requires a lot of tactics and technique.”
Now 38, Quaresma has been without a club since leaving Portuguese side Vitoria de Guimaraes this summer. But she remains a powerful icon and continues to apply that power in support of the Roma community.
It recently supported the country’s first women’s team made up of Roma girls and celebrated the success of Nininho Vaz Maia, a singer who has been making waves with her performances.
“Last night, a gypsy woman filled the Coliseum (the biggest concert hall in Porto)! I am very proud of the achievements that gypsies are achieving in our society. Only with effort can we overcome intolerance,” he wrote in Instagram.
Insisting that he has received many offers and is not ready to retire, Quaresma and his influential voice will likely remain active in football for some time. He plans to become a coach once he hangs up his boots.
And the struggle is far from over for Portugal’s gypsies.
“For the persecution and emptying of our culture, lifestyle and even our identities before the 1974 revolution, we deserve an apology,” says Marques.
“We were watched by the police and had to be constantly on the move because we couldn’t stay in one place for more than 24 hours. We were the most attacked community in the country.
“Other countries have apologized to their Roma people, but Portugal has not. I can only hope that one day someone will look at what we have been through and what we are still going through here.”