Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court announced yesterday that it will investigate claims that Orlando Silva, Brazil’s sports minister, embezzled millions of dollars in public funds. The court has demanded that Silva and his ministry hand over relevant documents within 10 days.
The allegations took form when the influential Brazilian magazine Veja published a report earlier this month in which a former military office accused Silva of embezzlement from a government program that promotes sports for low-income youth. The kickbacks, in turn, were purportedly dumped into the coffers of Silva’s party, Partido Comunista Brasileiro (Brazilian Communist Party), which belongs to President Dilma Rousseff’s coalition.
This charge of corruption comes at a particularly sensitive time as Brazil steps up preparations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The event kicks off in less than 1,000 days and the responsibilities for its smooth operation fall under Silva’s portfolio. This is not the first setback as Brazil plans for the mega-event; last month, a federal judge ordered a halt to construction of a new terminal at São Paulo-Guaralhos International Airport because Infraero, Brazil’s airport authority, did not institute a formal bidding process for the contract. Also, in July, Alfredo Nascimento, then-minister of transportation, resigned from office due to alleged corruption although he denied culpability.
Since Rousseff took office in January 2011, Nascimento and other cabinet officials—the chief of staff, minister of agriculture and minister of tourism—have been forced to resign. Nevertheless, Rouseff enjoys a 71 percent popularity rating.
On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting this week, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) held a panel discussion about “sports for development:” using sports as a catalyst for social development. Featuring 8-time All-star baseball pitcher Pedro Martínez, NBA defensive star Dikembe Motumbo, and speed-skating Olympian Johann Koss, the panel touched on the ways sports contribute to development. Among them were: facilitating social inclusion, building youth leadership skills, connecting youth to job training programs, and empowering women and girls.
One particularly interesting component of sports for development—especially in light of the discussions this week at the UN General Assembly— is the role sports can play in peace-building. One theme echoed among participants at Tuesday’s event was the universality of sports. Longtime ESPN reporter Jeremy Schapp said sports aren’t just about elite athletes competing at the highest levels, but rather the millions of children “who play in playgrounds and ball fields everywhere [and share] a passion to play.” Johann Koss, CEO of Right to Play, a Canada-based sport-for-development organization, said his organization was founded on the principle that “all children have a fundamental right to play.” Donald Steinberg, deputy administrator of USAID, told the story of kids he met at a refugee camp in Ethiopia who so craved the experience of play that they made soccer balls out of rags and used what little energy they had to score goals.
The universal quality of sports lends them a unique power to bridge social, political, economic and cultural divides, and to foster peace between individuals and groups in conflict. Sports promote shared identity and humanization of the “other”; individuals and groups who might otherwise approach one another with a lack of trust, hostility and/or violence learn about what they have in common and build relationships as they work toward a shared goal.
Major League Baseball (MLB) all-star Albert Pujols hosted a celebrity golf tournament this week in Missouri to benefit his Pujols Family Foundation and its work in helping families in need in his native country, the Dominican Republic. The foundation and the baseball star are featured in the Summer 2011 issue of Americas Quarterly, released today and available in all Barnes & Noble bookstores on August 15.
Established in 2005, the Pujols Family Foundation helps families and children with Down syndrome and other disabilities or life-threatening illnesses. It also alleviates poverty in the Dominican Republic.
Pujols highlighted the importance of the tournament, noting that the money raised will enable his foundation to “do a lot of great things like going down to the Dominican Republic with doctors and dentists” through mission trips. The Pujols Family Foundation also helped build a baseball field and start a youth league in the Dominican Republic a couple of years ago. When speaking of his home country, Pujols reflected, “Every time I go down there I bring a different memory back. Even though I grew up down there and I know some of the area, it still touches me every time I go down there. Giving back, it’s pretty special.”
Other star athletes featured in the new AQ include Mia Hamm, Lorena Ochoa, Lionel Messi, Tony Gonzalez, and Marta Vieira. Read exclusive interviews with them in Good Sports.
I wrote an op-ed in the Miami Herald today in reference to an article by Andres Schipani ("Ping-Pong Diplomacy") in the Summer 2011 Americas Quarterly to be released on August 10 and available in Barnes & Noble stores beginning August 15.
In the summer of 1989, U.S. yachtsmen sailed the Black Sea Regatta after the Soviet Odessa Sports Club had participated in the Liberty Cup Yacht Race around the Statue of Liberty. The exchange was one of hundreds of sports-related exchanges between the Cold War enemies that included hockey, tennis, baseball and diving before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In contrast, no such policy — until now — has taken off with Cuba.
Sports have always been an effective tool for fostering cross-cultural awareness and breaking down ideological stereotypes. Consider this: Between 1955 and 1985 the U.S. State Department issued on average 1,700 visas a year to Soviet athletes, artists, scientists and students in a policy of “soft power” diplomacy.
In the same vein, the now-famous ping-pong diplomacy launched by President Richard Nixon with China started with a table tennis match. Those early efforts undermined the communist governments’ efforts to isolate their citizens and were instrumental in building trust between citizens — and effectively weakened control of governments over their citizens.
The full text of this morning's editorial can be accessed here.
Christopher Sabatini is editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly and senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.
As the NFL lockout nears an end, its resolution will almost certainly redistribute income from incoming rookies to veteran players. The same could be the case in impending Major League Baseball (MLB) negotiations, where the interests of Caribbean youth might be sacrificed to those of the league and its current players.
Historically, top NFL draft picks yet to play a down received larger contracts than players who had proved themselves over seasons of bone-crushing, concussion-inducing play. But as owners and players negotiated distribution of the players’ share of revenue, the 224 collegians drafted by NFL teams—who had no seat at the table—found their collective self-interests ignored. Instead, the new contract will include a rookie salary scale limiting their pay.
A similar scenario could unfold in baseball. The issue is whether Caribbean youth will be included in the annual player draft. Currently, only players in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico reaching the age at which their high school classes graduate are draft-eligible. Extending the draft internationally would include youth from the Caribbean, baseball’s most fertile recruiting grounds.
Dominicans alone hold a tenth of all major league roster spots and a quarter of those in the minor leagues. Foreign-born players, overwhelmingly Latinos, constitute over 27 percent of all major leaguers and about half of all minor leaguers.