Rio’s fragile Olympic spirit
Currently, The President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff (centre) and COB president Carlos Nuzman (left) keep only a necessary working relationship (here pictured at President Dilma's inauguration on 1 January 2011 with IOC president Rogge). Photo: Blog do Planalto/Flickr
10.05.2013By Jose Cruz
Three and half years before the 2016 Games, the Brazilian sports community still lacks the true Olympic spirit.
This is partly due to the fact that Brazilian sports fans are primarily looking forward to the World Cup in 2014, which will be played in 12 state capitals. Another reason is that the Brazilian Olympic Committee (COB) and the Games’ Local Organising Committee, CO-Rio 2016, in less than one year have been involved in two scandals damaging the country’s international reputation.
The first scandal occurred in August 2012 and was very poorly received in senior political and sporting circles. Employees of CO-Rio 2016, stationed in England, broke into data files belonging to the London Olympics Organising Committee and copied confidential documents. This episode echoed around the world and cast a suspicious light over Brazilian authorities in general.
One reason for the great repercussions of this incident was that it took seven days from the journalist Juca Kfouri revealed this scandal until the president of Rio’s Organising Committee, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, made a statement on the matter. He declared that he would fire 11 employees who were involved in the incident. Nuzman stated that it was "an initiative that the employees had taken on their own".
However, one of the fired employees, Renata Santiago, said that she had followed orders from seniors. The name of the 'commander' of the failed operation is still unknown.
This event helped undermine the relationship between the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, and the president of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, Carlos Arthur Nuzman, who also chairs the CO-2016.
Currently, Rousseff and Nuzman keep only a necessary working relationship.
This is a change from when Luiz Ignacio ‘Lula’ da Silva was president of Brazil from 2003 to 2010. At that time, the interaction between Nuzman and the Federal Government was closer and characterized with lots of friendship, hugs and smiles.
However, the London episode deeply displeased the current head of the Brazilian state.
A Brazilian government source confided to me that despite the dismissal of 11 CO-2016 employees, President Dilma was outraged and said to her aides:
"I'm fed up with Nuzman and I do not trust him an inch."
The distance between Dilma and Nuzman was evident in October 2012, when Dilma launched the Action Plan 'Medals at Rio 2016', a project designed to encourage Brazilian athletes to achieve better results at the next Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro.
At the official presentation, Carlos Nuzman arrived at the Planalto Palace alone and went to the meeting room. There, he stayed with athletes and guests until five minutes before the president arrived at the party. Only then was Nuzman called to Dilma’s office, so they could arrive at the party together, also accompanied by Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo. It was merely for protocol reasons.
Nuzman evades debates
Two other factors help to understand Dilma’s dissatisfaction: Nuzman, who for 17 years has served as chairman of the COB, also took over the chairmanship of CO-Rio 2016. It is a double post not seen recently in any Olympic host country. Nuzman was acting in his own interest, as if Brazil had no other authority that was able to manage the preparations for the grand sporting event.
Despite this double occupation of positions, Nuzman did not attend an official press conference held on the occasion of the Olympic Games in London. Instead, he sent his advisers. It is possible that at the time Nuzman was already shaken by the Olympic file copying scandal, but even that explanation would not soften President Dilma. After all, the Brazilian government is an intimate partner of the Organizing Committee for the 2016 Games and should be informed about incidents like this.
All in all, Nuzman prefers to escape from unpleasant debates. An example of this was seen at a public hearing on sports policy in the Congress four years ago. Just as his critic, the lawyer and member of the Brazilian Olympic Committee, Alberto Murray Neto, took the floor, Nuzman left the room, much to the frustration of the senators who unanimously criticized him.
Another incident took place recently when Nuzman sent his apologies to a public hearing held by the Senate Committee on Education and Sport, which would discuss the 'sports leaders' long-standing leadership positions'. Both chambers in the parliament – the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies – are treating a bill which will allow only one re-election for sports leaders. The federal government backs this bill.
The now 71-year-old Nuzman was first elected president of the COB in 1995 and was re-elected in October 2012. His way to sport's top started as a player on the Brazilian volleyball team at the Olympics in Tokyo in 1964.
Later he became president of the Brazilian Volleyball Federation, a position he used to create structure and visibility of the federation, and his work has brought international recognition to both the men's and the women's teams.
When Nuzman’s current COB term expires in 2016, he will have served 21 years in office. During the congress hearing recently, Senator Cristovam Buarque said:
"Managers’ long periods in the same office creates contempt for the grassroots. They produce a sense that the leader controls and owns what he is managing, he gets accostumed to his own mistakes, and this complicates the fight against corruption. Being a manager is a profession, not something you own. "
When Nuzman was confronted with this criticism by a reporter from the influential Veja magazine, he replied:
"If something is good, you should not change it."
And in the same interview he declared his opposition to limiting the sports leaders time in office:
"Certain battles require time and experience to be won. I am not irreplaceable, but my profile is unique. "
Havelange is still honorary president
It does not improve the Brasilian Olympic Committee’s reputation that former FIFA President João Havelange holds the title of honorary president of the CO-Rio 2016.
To avoid being expelled from the International Olympic Committee, Havelange had to give up his membership in December 2011 after his involvement in the so-called ISL affair where he had received bribes in relation to television and sponsorship contracts during his time as FIFA president. He remains a member of the Brazilian Olympic Committee and CO-Rio 2016.
Recently, yet another serious matter shook the CO-Rio 2016 office.
According to Brazil's largest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, one of the most recognized consultants in the Olympic world, the Australian Craig McLatchey, accuses COB of backsliding on a bill of approximately 800,000 USD.
The amount is a 'success bonus' said to have been agreed between the parties if Rio won the hosting of the 2016 Games. CO-Rio 2016 refuses to owe the Australian money, saying that the contract is fulfilled to the letter. The case could end up in court, but has already further contributed to the scepticism with which the surrounding world sees Brazil and Rio.
Judicial settlements with federal leaders
Also in relation to the Brazilian sports federations, the backbone of the COB, Nuzman is met primarily with problems due to his heavy-handed management style. But one of these cases has turned into a legal case.
The former president of the Brazilian Ice Sports Federation (CBDG, which comprises a number of winter sports such as bobsled, ice hockey, ice skating, curling and others), Eric Maleson, intended to run for president of the COB opposite Nuzman at the presidential election last October.
Nuzman took this to be a personal declaration of war and decided to get rid of his opponent. With the help of an allied in winter sports, Nuzman sued Maleson in court for misappropriation of funds and in November 2012, the district court gave its support to the removal of Maleson.
Maleson has, contrarily, accused Nuzman of breaking into the CBDG’s headquarters in February 2012, an episode that was filmed by surveillance cameras and made public on the sports channel ESPN Brazil. '
The COB denied the allegations saying that it was entitled to enter the location as the Winter Sports Federation’s offices are owned by the COB. Moreover, the event only occurred because auditors were visiting and
"there was a need to check the papers within the time limits that the legal system had established".
Maleson has filed a complaint with the IOC, because he sees the trial against him as a violation of the autonomy of sport. The Brazilian Badminton Federation, which has been through a similar case, has joined the complaint with the IOC. So far, the IOC has chosen not to answer the complaint against the hosts of the coming Summer Olympics.
Brazil lacks experience and education
These questions are linked to a fact, which throughout the years have become a chronic problem: Brazil’s lack of experience with hosting major sports events.
The country still has a fragile sports infrastructure. We, for example, do not have a national sports policy. We therefore also lack a definition of what kind of authority our most important sports bodies have. With the Sports Ministry, established in 2003, comes a lot of public funds, but we are still amateurs when it comes to sports management. Likewise, we lack well-educated staff for the different functions within sports.
It is on this background that a person such as Carlos Nuzman steps forward – a man who wishes to turn Brazil into an Olympic superpower, but creates an unrest that reverberates throughout the world.
José Cruz is a journalist and one of Brazil’s most recognised sports political bloggers on josecruz.blogosfera.uol.com.br. He is presently working as an assistant for the congressman and football hero Romario de Souza Faria throughout 2013. This analysis was written before this assignment.