COVID-19 redcards Brazilian footballer’s career in Belarus

When you think of Brazil, you immediately think of football. However, when it comes Belarus, the landlocked Eastern European country, perhaps not so much.

Yet, it is Belarus where Nivaldo Ciriaco, better known as Ciríaco found himself in recent years. The Brazilian football player first came to Belarus in 2015 during the 11th Futsal World Cup as a member of the Brazilian national team. And ever year since he returned to Belarus to conduct training camps and masterclasses for young footballers before taking over as coach of Dinamo Minsk’s youth team in 2018.

In the beginning, there were language barriers and cultural differences. But according to Ciríaco they faded out rather quickly: “Brazilians can get used and adjust to anything,” he smiles.

Most of all, it was the children that made him feel comfortable: “Children are children, in Belarus like in Brazil. So, it was not difficult to work with them.” They taught him Russian and he taught them Portuguese…and of course, dribbling, free kicks, and Brazilian goal celebrations.

Brazilian Footballer Nivaldo Ciriaco
Brazilian Footballer Nivaldo Ciriaco

But then COVID-19 broke out and the life of Ciríaco once again changed fundamentally—as one of the main sources of his income, private football lessons, came to a halt.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the number of private classes started to decrease more and more until nobody had the courage to continue training,” says Ciríaco. “This hit our family budget very hard.”

Ciríaco and his family had to make a decision: stay in Belarus despite all the uncertainty or try to get home, where despite COVID they would have family and familiarity.

“Honestly, we were afraid that any of us could get infected or even worse. Just imagine if I—the main provider for the family—would get sick. What would my family do? My wife would face a lot of difficulties in returning home. When we realized that we could get into trouble, we started to think about how we can return to Brazil before anything bad happens to us”.

With the savings of the family already severely depleted, they had to think of other solutions. When looking into different opportunities, they came across IOM’s assisted voluntary return and reintegration programme. They applied and got an immediate response from IOM Belarus.

Ciriaco and his family returned to Brazil
Ciriaco and his family returned to Brazil

It gave Ciríaco and his family hope:

“I am happy to return to Brazil and to my life there, to see my family. But I am sad at the same time because I think my story could be successful here. If the situation in Brazil is good for my family, we will stay there. If I have an opportunity to come back, well … as they say, never say never. “I don’t want to say "adeus" – ‘goodbye’, I’d like to say ‘até breve’ – ‘see you’.

Ciriaco and his family returned to Brazil safely within IOM’s assisted voluntary return program with the financial support of EU*.

*Within the EU-funded project “HELPING BELARUS ADRESS THE PHENOMENON OF INCREASING NUMBERS OF IRREGULAR MIGRATNS” implemented by IOM jointly with the Ministry of the Interior and State Border Committee of the Republic of Belarus in partnership with UNHCR in Belarus, Belarus Red Cross Society, PA “Belarusian Movement of Medical Workers”

Written by
Author
Olga Borzenkova
Communications and Advocacy Specialist

UNDP
Olga Borzenkova
UN entities involved in this initiative
IOM
International Organization for Migration