Zero Dark Thirteen – Brazilian football wallows in the mire of corruption

James Young
MAracana 300x225 Zero Dark Thirteen   Brazilian football wallows in the mire of corruption

Brazil's flagship stadium - the Maracana in Rio

If the 2014 World Cup is to signal the arrival of Brazilian football’s brave new world, a desperately needed fresh start for the game in a country where on-field majesty is usually matched by administrative skulduggery, it can’t come soon enough. The year is not yet four months old but it feels, to misquote autocratic former president Getúlio Vargas, as though Brazilian football is standing in a sea of mud. Worse, it often appears as though chaos has become the norm.

How else to explain the relative lack of kerfuffle over the revelations of Sport president Luciano Bivar, who said that in 2001 he paid cash to an intermediary to ensure midfielder Leomar would be selected for the Seleção squad? While the claim was vehemently denied by then Brazil manager Emerson Leão, in truth the story stirred up not much more than a few squawks of protest. The idea that such dubious practices may have long existed is, it seems, no surprise to fans and journalists.

Or perhaps the scandal was just simply absorbed into the murk that continually surrounds football’s governing body in Brazil, the CBF. The shenanigans of former president Ricardo Teixeira, many revealed through the work of Scottish investigative journalist Andrew Jennings, include the receipt of millions of reais in illegal payments from defunct FIFA linked marketing agency ISL. Teixeira now lives a life of gilded luxury in Miami.

Those hoping for a change of luck with his successor, the cadaverous Jose Maria Marin, have been disappointed. The initial signs weren’t good – soon after his appointment, made via the criminally underused electoral system of “oldest vice-president gets the job”, footage emerged of Jose filching the winner’s medal of a young Corinthians player at the Copa São Paulo juniors competition. As omens go, it has proved prophetic.

Recently a video emerged purporting to show Marin planning to buy off opposition with expensive CBF paid-for dinners, while other footage revealed the CBF chief threatening those who have accused him of further corruption, in which he says “you can take him (vice president, Marco Polo Del Nero) down, but you won’t get me.” Marin has said the footage is fake.

Worse was to come, this time from Marin’s dubious past during Brazil’s military dictatorship. Ivo Herzog, son of the journalist Vladimir Herzog, arrested and killed during the ditadura, has accused Marin of being responsible for his father’s death – in 1975 Marin, then a São Paulo state assemblyman, demanded that action be taken against the opposition TV Cultura station, where Herzog was editor. A year later, Marin would fulsomely praise the work of notorious police chief and dictatorship henchman, Sérgio Fleury, accused of operating a death squad during the regime.

Last week, Herzog and former Seleção great Romário, now a somewhat self-aggrandising congressman, delivered a petition with 54,000 signatures to the CBF, demanding the removal of Marin. “It’s unthinkable that one of these people (those accused of human rights abuses during the dictatorship) should get credit for bringing the world to Brazil. It’s intolerable. The World Cup is ours (the Brazilian people). Not Marin’s.” Marin has called the campaign against him “sordid”. “It’s slander and libel to suggest I was responsible for the torture and death of Vladimir Herzog,” he said, a remarkable statement for the organisation of a major sporting body to have to make. And he has begun legal proceedings against Romário, after O Baixinho said “it makes me sad to see (the CBF) being passed from one crook to another.” Romário’s dreams may be coming true – rumours currently abound that FIFA wants to remove Marin as president of the World Cup Local Organising Committee.

With the roof of Brazilian football apparently so riddled with the termites of venality, it is little wonder that the rest of the house is creaking under the strain. The new World Cup stadiums are starting to open, and look impressive, which perhaps gives a misleading sheen to the state of the footballing nation (even if many are late and running hopelessly over budget). Further down the food chain, things are not so rosy. Rio’s Engenhão ground was recently condemned as structurally unsound and closed by the city council, despite opening a mere six years ago.  This means that the city, arguably Brazilian football’s spiritual home, is currently without a top flight football stadium.

Issues with on and off field safety abound too, even at the new grounds. There was no drinking water, or lights in the bathrooms, at the opening game of the Mineirão in Belo Horizonte, and a near riot broke out during ticket sales for the Bahia vs. Vítoria clássico that opened the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador. Further afield, twelve Corinthians fans are still being held in prison in Bolivia, accused of causing the death of local youngster Kevin Espada with a naval flare, the Palmeiras squad was attacked by their own fans at an airport in Argentina following Libertadores defeat against Tigre, and the wildly undisciplined players of Argentinian side Arsenal de Sarandi were confronted by heavy-handed police on the pitch after losing heavily to Atlético Mineiro.

These are all separate and unrelated incidents, and there is no suggestion that Brazilian clubs or fans are to blame in every case. But this type of confusion seems to pervade the game here (and arguably South America as a whole) at almost every level, from fan violence and ill-disciplined players, to the crepuscular behaviour of those higher up. At least supporters can sometimes blame difficult social conditions and a lack of opportunities in life for their frustrations. But the men at the top, who in general lead lives of power and privilege, should surely be setting a better example. Instead the country’s top clubs present us with the unedifying spectacles of (since departed) Flamengo directors brawling with fans after a game last year, and, shamefully, the board of Corinthians doing everything in its power to duck responsibility over the Kevin Espada tragedy.

In some ways, corruption in football in Brazil simply mirrors wider society, where one graft scandal seems to follow another. The government of Dilma Rouseff, and crusading prosecutor Joaquim Barbosa, have done much to combat political corruption. It is hoped too that one day soon Brazilian football will be able to free itself from the sleaze that riddles the corridors of power at the CBF.  Until then, it is the roughest of beasts that slouches towards 2014.

James has lived in Brazil for the last eight years, and writes about Brazilian football for The Blizzard, ESPN, World Soccer, IBWM, and others. He is currently at work on a novel about love, death and footbal in the nordeste of Brazil. Twitter: @seeadarkness

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  • dingowild

    well written, and – if one takes the content seriously – not without danger. these disgusting figures remind me of even earlier bad times in brazil, when artur friedenreich, the world’s best player (acknowledged as such by pelé for instance), a black player, son of a german immigrant and a black brazilian beauty, was brutally hindered in many different ways in the late 1920s and early 1930s from regularly playing for “his” country at a time when racist brazil only allowed whites into the national team.

  • James Young

    Author’s note: A quick correction – Joaquim Barbosa is in fact Brazil’s Supreme Court Justice, not a prosecutor (which he was previously). Thanks to Idelbar Avelar for pointing that out.

  • Drew Gains

    You’ve got nothing on Tim Vickery

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