Brazil ups fight against corruption, puts sport under pressure

Carlos Nuzman, president of both the Brazilian Olympic Committee and the Rio 2016 Organising Committee, is one of the Brazilian sports leaders who are in the line of fire. Photo: Global Sports Forum/Flickr

A televised legal battle against corrupt politicians and two upcoming mega-events are sharpening people’s awareness of how sport is governed in South America’s largest country.

On Sunday December 2nd, an elderly British gentleman with his white hair swept back in unruly waves boarded the plane from London to the Brazilian city of São Paulo. Even though these visits are as common in Brazil as sunshine and samba rhythms, the comings and goings of this specific gentleman was followed with particular interest in the top of Brazilian sports. 

The last time he visited the country in October 2011, it lead one of sports’ most powerful rulers, not only in Brazil but in the world, to resign in disgrace from all of his posts a few months later. So there might be good reasons for certain sports leaders to sit unruly in their seats during this visit. For whom does he have his eyes on this time, the British reporter Andrew Jennings?

In 2011, Jennings was invited to give evidence in the Brazilian Senate about the fact that two of FIFA’s top profiles – the 96-year-old honorary FIFA president, João Havelange, and his former son-in-law, the president of the Brazilian football federation (CBF) and FIFA Ex-Co member, Ricardo Teixeira – were the driving forces of FIFA corruption for decades.

Jennings’ documentation of the Brazilians’ roles in the ISL scandal – the biggest known corruption scandal in international sport – was crucial in making the pressure on Teixeira so substantial that he in 2012 had to withdraw from his posts and today lives in self-imposed exile in Florida, USA. Havelange has had to leave the IOC and a few weeks ago – 18 April 2013 – left his honorary presidency in FIFA.

With the 2014 FIFA World Cup right around the corner, it was characteristic for the atmosphere surrounding Teixeira that not even Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, would have her picture taken with him. 

Jennings’ efforts were heard far beyond the political sphere. A group of fans painted his face on a banner and brought it to the football team Internacional’s home court in Porto Alegre with the subtitle “save the World Cup 2014”. Such an honour has certainly not been bestowed on many journalists anywhere in the world.

Also today, Jennings and any other journalist, researcher or whistleblower working to uncover corruption in sport will find a responsive audience both among the Brazilian public and the country’s politicians. 

The upcoming 2014 football World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics have already had an effect that few sports leaders had counted on: a greater focus on how sport manages its rising public and private subsidies. 

Focus changes to Olympic president
After Ricardo Teixeira’s formal resignation – it is rumored that he is this very active behind the scene – focus has shifted to the 71-year-old president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee (COB), Carlos Arthur Nuzman.

He is in the line of fire for many reasons. He has, as the first NOC president in the recent history of the Olympics, placed himself also as the chairman of the Organizing Committee for the 2016 Olympic Games and has thereby assumed a highly demanding double-role which arouses suspicion among those who feel that his results have been failing.

“The effort Carlos Nuzman made as president of Brazilian volleyball for 20 years cannot be compared to his years as president of COB. The latter has been a giant fiasco”, argues one of the most well-known critical voices in the sports debate, journalist and blogger Juca Kfouri. 

Even though Nuzman has presided for 17 years as an Olympic president and has received a doubled state subsidy of more than two billion Brazilian Real (around 960 million USD) for the four years’ preparations for the London 2012 Olympics, he and the COB has not brought the country to the top of the medal statistics. 

Sure, Brazil had with its 17 medals – three gold, five silver and nine bronze – its best Summer Olympics ever, but it was only marginally better than Beijing in 2008 with 15 medals – also three gold. 

No public trust in event leaders
Even though the investments in professional sport have been increased with an additional 265 million dollars until 2016, few Brazilians believe that the host nation will realise its goal to be among the ten leading Olympic nations in 2016. Many people ask themselves why the doubled funding to top sport has not been to greater benefit of the elite athletes who must often scrape a living and pay for their own travels, training camps and equipment. 

”There is not one reason to believe that the Olympics in Rio will be any more transparent than the Pan American Games with regards to how the public funds are being spent, as it is the exact same people who are in charge of the event. Not one enjoys the trust of the Brazilian public,” says Juca Kfouri. 

The suspicion of corruption is not the only charge the sport leaders must defend themselves against. 

“There is a need for quick changes in the structure of the federation,” Brazil’s sports minister Aldo Rebelo announced in the weekly magazine Veja shortly after the London Olympics.  

“Democratisation and professionalism are the keywords. It is necessary to limit the leaders’ tenures to three or four years and with only one possibility for re-election,” the minister argued and posed the changes as a condition for the sports federations to receive public subsidies. 

The announcement did not raise enthusiasm among sports leaders and the minister has since backtracked a bit. There is no time to push through the legislation in this session and the changes will not become effective until after the 2016 Olympics, he now argues.  

Nuzman skips congress hearing
This made a number of politicians, led by the former Brazilian striker Romario, who is now a member of the Chamber of Deputies and the head of its Tourism and Sport Commission, get on their feet. Yes, said Romario, there is plenty of time but no political will: 

“It is unacceptable that the Government continues to distribute funds to federations who extend their chairmen’s power eternally. People who put themselves beyond morality, meets private interests and drives out scandals, either because of poor use of resources or corruption, “ Romario wrote on his blog. 

Since his election in 2011 to the Chamber of Deputies for the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), Romario has been a strong voice against the widespread corruption in Brazilian football. For years, the Brazilian Football Confederation has had its own “bench” for political supporters in Congress, but Romario is changing the sentiment. 

In April 2013 he handed in an appeal to the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) signed by over 50,000 Brazilians. The appeal demands that the CBF president, José María Marín, steps down because of his role as a political assistant for the former military regime. 

Marín has responded by taking Romario to court for defamation, but Romario has more options on his tactics board: He is also pushing to subject the CBF to a congressional investigation. 

Paralympic president limits his own power
One federation that swims against the tide is the Brazilian Paralympic Committee (CPB) under the management of the only 35-year-old Andrew Parsons. He was elected president in 2009 as part of a reform programme which means that he has limited his own tenure to a maximum of two periods of four years. 

CPB has impressed by realising the goals it set of becoming the number one nation at the Para-Pan American Games (disabled sport’s equivalent to the Pan American Games) and number seven at the Paralympics in London last year. 

Parsons cleverly avoids criticizing his colleagues in the COB and the big sports federations directly, but tries to set a positive agenda that indirectly reveals inadequacies elsewhere in Brazilian sport:

”We have reached our results by following clear objectives, planning, hard work and evaluations. When we receive public funds, we feel that it is only fair that we make our objectives publicly known,” Parsons said at the Play the Game day in São Paulo this October. 

”Changing the tenure does not solve anything in itself, because no one knows if a new face is better than the old or comes from the same group. It takes bigger changes in the way the federations are governed, not only via governmental legislation. But the changes cannot only take place from above in an office in Brasilia or São Paulo, they have to involve the lower levels of sport as well”.  

Olympic burglary 
It is not wise to oppose will of Carloz Nuzman directly. This is something that Eric Maleson, the president of the Brazilian Ice Sports Federation has learned the hard way. Out of 30 federation presidents, he was the only one who opposed when Nuzman was re-elected COB president for the fifth time. 

The conflict between them culminated when leading COB employees broke in at the Ice Sports Federation’s headquarters in December last year, allegedly because the Brazilian authorities had unsuccessfully asked for certain documents to be handed over. This was a legitimate reason to break in to the opponent’s offices, which are leased from COB, says COB itself and refers to the fact that nothing was removed. 

It has been more difficult for Nuzman and the COB to explain their way out of another break-in: shortly after the London Olympics it was revealed that key employees from the Rio 2016 Organising Committee had broken into a server belonging to their British colleagues from London 2012 and had gained access to confidential material on organisation, commercial contracts, etc. 

Even though this case looks remarkably like a similar occurrence in 2007 when some of Nuzman’s trusted employees stole files belonging to a private event-management bureau, the two Organisation Committees in

London and Rio has so far succeeded in covering up the incident. The crucial question is of course whether the break in happened by order of Carloz Nuzman or with his silent consent.  

Mensalão-scandal may be a turning point
The pressure on the sports federations has come in a time when the Brazilian public seems more tired than ever of the corruption which seems to be inextricably linked with political power, both in and outside of sport. 

Politicians are often mentioned in the same breath as criminals and thieves, and they are not without blame in attracting this reputation. The current congress has granted itself the highest politician salaries in the world and it is tradition that the government must purchase votes in order to be able to carry out its policies.

But something is changing. President Dilma Rousseff, who took over the post from the popular Lula on 1 January 2011, has advocated for a stronger effort against corruption, fired seven ministers – including the former sports minister Orlando Silva – and, in spite of her relatively modest political and economic results, she enjoys enormous support among the Brazilian voters. 

Last year football had to compete for attention on the TV-screens, as a huge number of Brazilians have been following the live transmissions from the court proceedings from the so-called mensalão-case. Mensalão is a slang expression for a huge monthly allowance and is used as a byname for the most serious disclosure of corruption in the top of Brazilian politics to date. 

According to the Supreme Court, 27 million real (around 13 million USD) were distributed from the Treasury to political allies through an ingenious system of public and private institutions. The purpose was to ensure that Lula could carry out pivotal reforms. 

Supreme Court has now imposed severe punishments on a number of former president Lula’s ministers and closest associates along with allied politicians and businessmen – between two and a half years and up to 40 years imprisonment. 

It is never before seen that such a number of societal notables – and particularly not politicians – have been put in jail. The scandal can prove to be a turning point in the relationship between the population and the political elite. 

Stole a youth tournament medal
In this atmosphere, sports leaders are forced to account for more than they have so far. Once the now dethroned football president Ricardo Teixeira got away with saying that it was no one’s business how the CBF spent its money as it was a “private organisation”.

The argument is still thriving in the CBF, where Teixeira’s successor as president, the 81-year-old José Maria Marín, was caught on film by ESPN discreetly putting a medal in his own pocket at a price ceremony at a youth tournament in January. 

Also Teixeira’s successor as FIFA  ExCo member, CBF vice chairman Marco Polo del Nero, has sent out a press release to reassure people that the interrogation he was brought into by the police had nothing to do with football. Several other board members in Brazilian football have through the years been involved in questionable business dealings.

“Instead of six we got half a dozen”, says the journalist Fabiana Bentes with a proverb that sums up footballs unaltered situation. 

Voluntary sports leader with a huge fortune
The Olympic President Carlos Nuzman’s circumstances are also shrouded in mystery. Juca Kfouri and others pose the question of how a man, who has been a voluntary sports leader since 1975, has become as extraordinarily wealthy as Nuzman.

Lately, Nuzman has felt pressured to explain that he has been a lawyer for many years with three work days a week. But this argument did not persuade Kfouri during the Play the Game day in São Paulo:

“If this is the case, I wonder why I in my 30 years as a journalist not once have seen Carlos Nuzman’s name on a file.”  


Jens Sejer Andersen visited Brazil for three weeks in October and November 2012 on a combined conference- and research trip. He tried unsuccessfully to get to speak to representatives from the COB and CBF.

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