Yesterday I had the pleasure of interviewing Juca Kfouri, a living legend of Brazilian journalism. As editor of the iconic weekly (now monthly) sports magazine Placar and later of Playboy, Juca worked tirelessly throughout the 1980s and 1990s to investigate and expose corruption in Brazilian sport.
Being an investigative sports journalist in Brazil was a thankless task back then. Brazilian society treated the idea of corruption in sport as a wacky conspiracy theory, most likely due to decades of the public being sheltered from government corruption under the military dictatorship (1964-1985) and its tight grip on information.
This changed in 2001 when Congress opened two separate parliamentary inquiries (CPIs) into corruption in football. The first, in the lower house, aimed at the sponsorship contract between Nike and the Brazilian FA (CBF), leaked to the press in 1999 and suspected of “violating Brazilian sovereignty”. At the same time, another CPI was opened in the Senate, going after club presidents and the CBF itself.
Due to pressure from the so-called “football caucus”, the CPI in the lower house was not approved. Yet the Senate CPI survived and made a host of indictments of 17 important figures in the national game, including then CBF president Ricardo Teixeira, current and ex-presidents of Vasco da Gama, Flamengo, Santos and even national team coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo. None of these accusations were taken any further though, due to what Juca calls the “slow, morose” Brazilian judiciary. The national team’s success in the 2002 World Cup also served to deflect bad press away from the CBF.
It is a widely held opinion that the two CPIs in 2001 were meaningless. Or, to use a Brazilian phrase, that they “ended in pizza”. Juca disagrees.
“The legacy of the CPIs was the level of information that the Brazilian public was exposed to about corruption in Brazilian football. The sessions had record viewing figures on Senate TV.”
“Without a doubt the CPIs wore away at those people, a decay that lasted for more than ten years. Such that, upon hearing of the efforts of the Swiss judiciary and the FBI investigations into Fifa, no-one was surprised. Everyone already knew more or less those involved, they were already named and unmasked in 2001, to the merit of the CPIs.”
According to Juca, the 2001 CPIs opened the public’s eyes to the reality of corruption in sport, thus vindicating his work over the previous two decades.
After the arrest of another former CBF president José Maria Marin in May (currently in a Swiss jail cell and set for extradition to the United States), Brazil’s Senate opened another CPI to investigate the national game, presided over by former international footballer Romário, elected to the upper house in October 2014.
“Romário being the president of the CPI does more harm than good,” Juca tells me. “He doesn’t have the parliamentary experience to deal with the football caucus, he knows he’s being sabotaged but can’t do anything to stop it.”
“The most this CPI can achieve is kicking a dead dog. They might get [current CBF president] Marco Polo Del Nero, they might come down harder on Marin, but they won’t interfere with the structure, which is the real problem.”