PtG Article 10.05.2013

Brazil lacks national sports policy

The country that will host two of the world’s largest sports events has no long term strategy for sport.

The president of Brazil’s National Council for Sports Education (CONFEF), Jorge Steinhilber, wishes that Brazilian politicians would focus more on the social and cultural impacts of Brazil’s upcoming World Cup and Olympic Games. 

"Politicians are only interested in infrastructure, stadiums, construction and transport. Not in sports participation, education and sport for the sake of public health," says Jorge Steinhilber, who is also president of the National Olympic Academy of Brazil.

“London did not succeed in using the Olympics to get more people involved in sports and now we also seem to be failing on this as nobody is paying it any attention” says Steinhilber, with reference to the fact that two thirds of the Brazilian population over 16 years of age are inactive and almost half of the population weigh more than the standard weight. 

Only one in every four primary school has sports facilities, but considering Brazil’s good weather and abundant nature it is not the facilities that worry Steinhilber the most:

“The problem is that young people do not know why they should engage in physical activity. They think sport is about winning medals or making money, and therefore most of them will be disappointed. We lack awareness of the benefits sport has on your health and quality of life.”

Like many others, Steinhilber calls for Brazil to formulate a national sports policy. The country that will host two of the world’s largest sports events has no long term strategy for sport. It is left to the individual operators in the field to fill out the roles they have historically been allocated, but there is no overall coordination or vision. 

Research in physical activity

Brazil’s Olympic Committee and the major federations focus primarily on elite sports. The vast country would most likely not have a wide offer of grassroots sports activities at all if it was not for two organisations linked to the labour market: SESC and SESI, which operate in all of Brazil’s states. 

SESI is linked to the industry and SESC to the trade and service sectors. Each organisation receives by law 1.5 per cent of the companies’ payroll. In return, they offer sports and cultural activities for the millions of employees and in fact also the wider population. With the growth in business and wages Brazil has achieved in the last decade, the finances of the two organisations have received a similar boost.  

Maybe that is why both organisations have a cautious voice in the debate on the Olympics and World Cup. They do not interfere in the debate on stadium constructions but still see the mega-events as a chance for grassroots sports: 

“We prefer to play our role well rather than criticise others. The Olympics and the World Cup are good opportunities to put sport on the agenda and to create working relationships with the sports organisations and other NGOs” says Maria Luiza Souza Dias, director of development in SESC in the state of São Paulo, the country’s strongest unit in the field with more than 30 sports and culture centres and 5000 employees. 

SESC has launched the most comprehensive campaign for grassroots yet – ‘Move Brazil’ – but has deliberately not yet set the final goal for the campaign.

“First, we need more knowledge on the physical activity of the Brazilian population, and our initial efforts will be to gather data in cooperation with the Ministry of Sport,” says Souza Dias, who has just released the research project to tender.

“This is very provocative, because it forces us and other NGO’s to set specific goals – for example to increase sports participation with 25 per cent. We need data to strengthen and develop the campaign” says de Souza, who has found inspiration for the campaign in the international grassroots sports organisation, ISCA, where she is vice president. 

This campaign reflects an unexpected effect of Brazil’s hosting of the WC and the Olympics is that more and more individuals, associations and institutions form new alliances, as seen with regards to the Maracanã, Jogos Limpos and Move Brazil. 

These groups of citizens will hardly be able to undo the mistakes that have already been made, but they can help set new agendas in Brazilian politics.