Welcome back to the Brazil Sports newsletter. This week, Ronaldinho is in trouble with the law once again, and this time it’s serious. Also, we kick off our series on Brazil’s Olympic medal hopes. That, and much more. Enjoy your read!
Ronaldinho arrested in Paraguay
Former World Player of the Year Ronaldinho Gaúcho is currently in a Paraguayan jail cell alongside his brother Assis, in what is sure to be one of the most confusing and surprising sports stories of 2020.
Huh? On Wednesday, Ronaldinho and his brother were staying in a resort near the Paraguayan capital of Asunción, where the ex-player was launching his biography in Spanish and taking part in a project of the “Angelical Fraternity Foundation,” an NGO under investigation for tax evasion and money laundering. That evening, police and prosecutors searched the player’s room, on a tip-off that the pair had entered the country using false documents. Indeed, they found a pair of fake Paraguayan passports with the names and photos of Ronaldinho and Assis, claiming they were naturalized Paraguayan citizens—despite usual passport guidelines, the photo used by the ex-Barcelona star featured him wearing his trademark grin.
Hold on, what? Ronaldinho had had his Brazilian and Spanish passports seized after failing to pay environmental fines, but he had reached an agreement with the authorities last year to settle his debt and retrieve his travel documents. However, the strangest part of this tale is that Ronaldinho wouldn’t even need his passport to enter Paraguay, as the country is part of Mercosur—a simple photo ID would have sufficed.
I‘m lost here… On Thursday, Ronaldinho and Assis went to provide a statement at the Department of Organized Crime of the Paraguayan prosecution service. The ex-player claimed he didn’t realize the passports were fake, and he thought he had “been given [Paraguayan citizenship] as a gift.” Prosecutors confirmed that the ID numbers on the documents belonged to other people, Paraguayan citizens María Isabel Gayoso Esperanza and Apolonia Caballero, who were subsequently taken in for questioning. Despite claiming he was in shock, Ronaldinho took the time to pose for a number of grinning photos alongside police officers and prosecutors.
But, why? Brazilian businessman Wilmondes Lira was also arrested alongside the pair, and he is accused by Ronaldinho’s legal counsel of being responsible for the fake passports. On Friday, Mr. Lira’s defense claimed he was just a middle-man, saying that the documents were requested by “someone connected to Ronaldinho.” His lawyers confirmed that Mr. Lira would give the identity of this missing link to the prosecutors during his testimony. One theory that has been floated regarding the motivation for obtaining a fake Paraguayan passport would be to qualify for an E-2 investor visa to the U.S.—Paraguay is one of the eligible treaty countries for this permit, but Brazil is not.
Then what? Later on Friday, Ronaldinho and Assis went before a guarantees judge to determine whether they would be prosecuted. Paraguayan prosecutors had initially suggested the player be exempt from further action—due to not having a criminal record in the country—but guarantees judge Mirko Valinotti rejected this argument and transferred the case to another prosecutor who swiftly requested the preventive detention of the pair. As of Saturday, Ronaldinho and Assis have been held in an Asunción penitentiary and are awaiting trial.
What next? The chief prosecutor of the case, Osmar Legal, believes that the brothers may have been involved in a number of crimes and has requested the arrest of businesswoman Dalia López, the president of the NGO that brought Ronaldinho to Asunción. A Paraguayan journalist tweeted what appears to be the first image of the former player in prison, with Ronaldinho sporting a vest, shorts, flip-flops, and his inescapable toothy grin. We’ll be keeping an eye on this story to see what dramatic twists it takes next.
Olympic hopes: Pamela Rosa
With the Summer Olympics in Tokyo less than five months away—coronavirus permitting—we begin our series on Brazil’s major medal hopes for the 2020 Games. From dead certs to plucky underdogs, we’ll show you which Brazilian names to look out for on the podiums. First up, a young star gunning for gold in a brand-new Olympic event.
In September of last year, 20-year-old Pâmela Rosa won the World Championship in women’s street skating, held in her home state of São Paulo. Ranked number one in the world, she’ll be hoping to carry on her good form to a gold medal in Tokyo.
Humble beginnings. Pâmela started skating when she was nine years old, when she begged her mother to buy her a board after a new skate park opened up in her home town of São José dos Campos. Pâmela says her mother eventually relented but had to delay paying the family’s electricity bills in order to afford it.
Competition at home. In order to win in Tokyo, however, her biggest competition will come from her fellow Brazilians, and there is a real chance that the country could grab gold, silver, and bronze in the women’s street event. World number two is Rayssa Leal, the 12-year-old skating prodigy from Maranhão who was nominated for the Laureus Award earlier this year. Fellow Brazilian Leticia Bufoni is the former number one but is recovering from injury.
What else you should know
- Copa Libertadores. Despite last week’s newsletter predicting some potential banana skins for Brazilian sides in their first Copa Libertadores group stage games, six of seven clubs were victorious. Internacional and Grêmio were the standouts in their tricky Group E matches. Inter saw off Universidad Católica 3-0 at home, while Grêmio went away to Cali and beat América 2-0. The bitter rivals face off against one another on Thursday. The only unsuccessful Brazilian side was São Paulo, who fell to a 2-1 loss against Binacional in the altitude of the Peruvian Andes.
- National team 1. National team coach Tite called up his 24-man squad for Brazil’s first two World Cup qualifiers at the end of the month, against Bolivia and Peru. The big news was the inclusion of three attackers from Brazilian and South American champions Flamengo, with the side currently firing on all cylinders. Gabriel Barbosa and Bruno Henrique could be handed starting berths for the Bolivia game—for which Manchester City’s Gabriel Jesus is suspended—and Flamengo playmaker Everton Ribeiro will also be hopeful for some playing time. The major absence is Liverpool goalkeeper Allison, who is out through injury.
- National team 2. Brazil’s women’s team are in northern France for a friendly tournament, taking on the Netherlands, France, and Canada. The excursion kicked off with a 0-0 draw against the Dutch in what was a solid performance against accomplished opposition. On Saturday, Brazil fell 1-0 to the hosts France, in what was the first defeat of the national side’s new Swedish coach Pia Sundhage. Brazil will now face Canada on Tuesday afternoon, going after second place.
- National team 3. Along with the senior men’s side, Brazil also picked their Olympic squad for an upcoming round of friendlies. However, it is unclear exactly who, where, and when they will be playing. Fears over the coronavirus outbreak saw friendlies against Saudi Arabia and Egypt canceled, and the Brazilian football confederation are trying to find potential replacement opposition. Among the big names called up include Real Madrid duo Vinicius Junior and Reinier, as well as Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli.
- Women’s World Cup. As we mentioned last week, Brazil has put its hat in the ring to host the 2023 Women’s World Cup. On Monday, the national football confederation presented its bid to UEFA but made one crucial mistake: no female representatives were included in the Brazilian delegation. New York Times journalist Tariq Panja pointed out that Brazil’s bidding rivals didn’t do much better: the Australia/New Zealand delegation included two men and one woman, and Colombia sent only one male representative. Japan, however, gave its presentation with a three-person delegation including two women.
- No B, please. Ahead of Saturday’s derby between Atlético Mineiro and Cruzeiro, military police in Belo Horizonte banned fans from the home team from entering the stadium with flags or banners referencing the letter “B,” after Cruzeiro were relegated to Série B at the end of last season. Of course, Atlético ran out 3-1 winners, and then declared on social media that “*elo Horizonte is ours!”
- Sponsored by irony. São Paulo club Corinthians announced that online debt renegotiation company Serasa Limpa Nome will be one of its new shirt sponsors for this season. The company proposes to help consumers “clean” their credit scores if they have previously damaged their credit ratings due to debt. Ironically, Corinthians are listed by credit reporting agency Serasa as having bad credit, as were 16 other top-flight Brazilian clubs last year.
- UFC 248. Saturday was a good night for Brazilian MMA fighters at UFC 248 in Nevada, with promising middleweight Rodolfo Vieira picking up another win with a first-round submission on Russia’s Saparbek Safarov. Vieira is a jiu-jitsu master and is now 7-0 since making the transition to MMA. On the main card, Alex “Cowboy” Oliveira got back to winning ways with a split decision win over Max Griffin in their welterweight bout.