"In politics I'm going to have less difficulty than I've had so far to do something for children and young people in the community and also for children with special needs. People, especially in the communities, respect me and see in me someone who came from where they are and that they can get to where I did."
--Romario, on how some voters identify with his own experience of poverty and hardship growing up in Jacarezinho, Rio de Janeiro.
Brazil soccer legend Romario scored his first goal in politics by being elected to Brazil's lower house of Congress as a member of the Brazilian Socialist Party, an ally of President Lula's outgoing Worker's Party. In amassing over 150,000 votes, Romario became the sixth most popular candidate in the state of Rio de Janeiro to enter Brazil's lower house of Congress. The 44 year old retired striker ran for office with a campaign that promised improved sports projects for impoverished communities and expanded services for special needs children. Romario's commitment to special needs children involves his experience raising his youngest daughter, Ivy, who has Down syndrome. On Monday, Romario pulled up to cast his ballot in an armored BMW before heading off to Jacarezinho, the shanty town where he was raised. Much of Romario's campaign stressed his own experience growing up in poverty in Brazil and the sincerity of his desire to improve the lives of the poor in Rio de Janeiro and Brazil more generally.
Romario scored 55 goals in 70 national appearances for Brazil and led the team to World Cup glory in 1994 after a 24 year old drought. He won the Golden Ball in World Cup 1994 and formed a lethal strike partnership with Bebeto, scoring 5 goals and providing several assists. Romario spearheaded Barcelona's clinching of the La Liga championship in 1994 by scoring 30 goals in 33 matches in the 1993-1994 season and proceeded to win the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1994. In commenting on his political victory, the striker whose career spanned Vasco da Gama, Flamengo, Fluminense, PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona and Valencia noted that he had achieved every goal he had set for himself in life and now wanted to focus on serving his 4 year term in Congress in the best possible way. By his own statistics, Romario claimed to have scored over 1000 goals in his career and he promised more "goals" for Brazil by entering politics.
Known for his proclivity to celebrate the nightlife, the retired striker played true to form on Monday evening by partying late into the night with friends and family after the election results were determined. Romario's strike partner from World Cup 1994, Bebeto, also scored a political victory by earning election to Rio de Janeiro's state legislature for the Democratic Workers Party. In a post-election conference, Romario noted how he hoped to relive his successful strike partnership with Bebeto in the political realm.