Sports

Brazil probes bribery allegations around 2001 national team

FIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke at a Brazil stadium building site. — Reuters picFIFA general secretary Jerome Valcke at a Brazil stadium building site. — Reuters pic

Luciano Bivar, a three-time president of northeastern side Sport, last week said he paid an unspecified sum to ensure midfielder Leomar got capped at international level.

"You need to be careful with football executives because many of them are there to do business, not to help their team," Bivar said in one interview. "We have used that kind of measure. We pushed Leomar into the national team. We paid a commission for him to play in the team."

He did not say who he paid or reveal any other details of the alleged transaction.

Bivar had a professional relationship with Emerson Leao, Brazil's manager at the time. Leao had managed Bivar's club, Sport, before being appointed Brazil coach.

Leao called Leomar into the squad for the Confederations Cup tournament in Japan and Korea. He played four times in that competition and also made an appearance in a World Cup qualifier against Peru, a year later.

Questions over the appropriateness of Leomar's call-up were raised at the time but such disagreements over selections are common in Brazil.

Although rumours have long circulated that some players were called up in such a manner, this is the first time a top official has openly said such deals took place.

The scheme was based on the idea that players with Brazilian caps are worth more on the transfer market than uncapped colleagues.

Coincidentally or not, Leomar was transferred to South Korean side Jeonbuk Motors the year after he made his Brazil debut.

Concrete evidence

Prosecutor Paulo Schmitt said he opened an inquiry after Bivar "affirmed categorically that there are corruption schemes in operation to ensure athletes serve in the Brazilian national side".

He said he would seek to question both Leao and his assistant coach Antonio Lopes, as well as search for concrete evidence of wrongdoing.

Both could be banned from the sport for two years if found guilty. Bivar could also face sanctions if the allegations are deemed to be unfounded. If they are proven, criminal procedures could follow, Schmitt told Reuters.

Leao and Lopes denied the allegations and challenged Bivar to provide proof. Leomar said he had no knowledge of any such schemes.

Schmitt said: "I want to believe that there is a certain bravado behind this. I don't want to believe it happened. But we have to investigate, we can't leave this as a 'he said, she said' situation."

Brazil's 1994 World Cup winner Romario, one of the sharpest critics of the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF), said Bivar's comments "prove what we've been hearing for a long time" and he called on others to come forward and present evidence.

The former Barcelona and Vasco da Gama striker, now a congressman, called for a parliamentary inquiry into the CBF.

Critics like Romario say the CBF is one of Brazil's most poorly managed institutions. The organisation's former president Ricardo Teixeira resigned last year citing health reasons. His departure followed a wave of corruption allegations.

The CBF's planning for the World Cup, which will be held in Brazil next year, has been criticised for being late and over budget. — Reuters