How corruption and football are connected in Brazil

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world cup brazilian football corruption

Brazilian football is run by corrupt men. Photo: Fauzan Saari

The Brazilian Football Association (CBF) was created in 1914, back when football was an amateur game. In 1950, when Brazil hosted the World Cup for the first time, six teams from Europe and Asia forfeited the invitation owing to a lack of money to be able to make the trip. Soon, however, football became the world’s most popular sport – and a multi-billion-dollar industry to boot. In 2014, when Brazil hosted its second World Cup, FIFA, the governing body of world football which describes itself as being “not for profit,” had a turnover of USD 5 billion.

But compliance practices have not evolved since the early days of the CBF, which means that they remain practically nonexistent. While the world has changed, Brazilian football remains ruled by authoritarian, outdated and opaque business models. An equation that mixes an abundance of money with a lack of checks and balances can only result in one thing: corruption.

Over the past seven years, the CBF has seen three of its former presidents lose office after facing corruption allegations. One of them has already been convicted of corruption in the U.S., and is in a Brooklyn jail awaiting the proclamation of his sentence.

The others are afraid to travel abroad, as they are featured on Interpol’s red list of wanted men. The Brazilian Report explains how these greedy men have corrupted Brazil’s most fervent passion.

João Havelange and Ricardo Teixeira

In 1966, a partnership that would change Brazilian football forever was initiated during a Carnival party in Rio de Janeiro. A young law student named Ricardo Teixeira met Lucia Havelange, the daughter of João Havelange, a former Brazilian Olympic swimmer, member of the International Olympic Committee, and president of CBF at the time. Soon, Mr. Havelange’s daughter married Mr. Teixeira, who became his father-in-law’s protégé.

In 1974, Havelange made the jump from CBF boss to FIFA President – becoming the first non-European to head football’s highest governing body. Over 14 years, Mr. Havelange, described by British journalist David A. Yallop as the “Godfather of football,” transformed the sport into a money-making machine – for FIFA and himself.

Mr. Havelange’s strategies at the global level were so successful (he used to brag about transforming an “institution worth USD 20” into a powerhouse with “over USD 4 billion in contracts”) that he replicated the experiment at a local level in 1989, pushing for his son-in-law to take over CBF, despite the fact Mr. Teixeira’s favorite sport is horse racing.

world cup brazilian football corruption cbf

João Havelange (L), Ricardo Teixeira (C), Sepp Blatter (R)

Between 1989 and 2012, Mr. Teixeira’s administration was plagued with scandal. Accusations against him range from tax crimes (he allegedly pushed customs services to clear 17 tons of goods – electronics, home appliances, etc – for Brazilian players coming back from a successful World Cup in the U.S.) to racketeering and money laundering.

Mr. Teixeira was accused of taking bribes in exchange for broadcasting rights for Brazil matches, for sponsorship contracts, and even for choosing the venues where the national team would play. Such accusations forced him to leave his post at the CBF in 2012 – although the official reason given was a health condition.

José Maria Marin and Marco Polo Del Nero

Mr. Teixeira’s resignation didn’t change the style of administration. To replace him, the entity chose José Maria Marin, former president of the São Paulo Football Federation and a notorious supporter of the military dictatorship. Three years later, Mr. Marin was arrested in a luxury hotel in Switzerland, along with six other FIFA executives.

Like his predecessor, Mr. Marin was accused of accepting millions of dollars in exchange for broadcasting rights to the World Cup and other tournaments promoted by FIFA. He was extradited to the United States and convicted by a federal court. The charges: wire fraud, money laundering, and racketeering. Now he is jailed in a prison in Brooklyn while he waits for the sentence, likely to be announced in August.

When Mr. Marin was arrested, his vice president at the time, Marco Polo Del Nero, became the new CBF president. Following what seems to be part of the CBF president’s job description, he was also charged by American authorities with money laundering and racketeering in 2015.

In 2017, Mr. Del Nero decided to stop traveling with the national squad and therefore, to represent Brazil in FIFA meetings and international competitions, in order to avoid being arrested by Interpol.

In April 2018, FIFA banned him for life from all football-related activities. His putrid legacy, though, has not disappeared.

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About the author

Maria Martha Bruno

Maria Martha is a journalist with 14 years of experience in politics, arts, and breaking news. She has already collaborated with Al Jazeera, NBC, and CNN, among others. She has also worked as an international correspondent in Buenos Aires.