In two and a half years of administration, President Jair Bolsonaro (no party) weakened public sports policies in Brazil. The assessment is made by specialists and managers heard by the Brazil in fact. The successive changes of command at the head of the Special Secretariat for Sport are seen as a reflection of the militarization and rigging promoted by the federal government.
The agency is responsible for Bolsa Atleta, an individual sponsorship program promoted by the Executive since 2005, during the government of former president Lula (PT), which is responsible for financing 80% of Brazilian competitors.
In 14 years, the program has distributed more than R$ 1.1 billion, creating conditions for athletes to dedicate themselves to local, South American, Pan American, World, Olympic and Paralympic competitions.
In 2016, when the Olympics were held in Rio de Janeiro, 77% of athletes received the benefit, considered essential for athletes to support themselves, especially in the early stages of their careers.
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Bolsa Atleta is, as shown on the website Olympic look, for 10 years without readjustment in the benefits paid. Athletes in the student and youth categories, for example, used to buy at least one basic food basket and pay the monthly transportation fee with the R$ 370 offered by the government. Today, the value does not pay for half a basic food basket in São Paulo.
The article interviewed, on condition of anonymity, a federal public servant who works in contact with the agency and an expert on the subject. The positions of congressmen who took a stand on the subject in recent months were also heard.
The lack of a Ministry of Sports in the federal government, as the current administration extinguished the administrative structure, is one of the main points of criticism. The folder existed between 1995 and January 2019, when it was incorporated into the Ministry of Citizenship by determination of Bolsonaro.
“It is possible to make an analogy of Bolsonaro’s sports policies with what happened at the Ministry of Health during the pandemic. It is true that the government boycotted the fight against the coronavirus and militarized the folder, but it is also right to say that the SUS [Sistema Único de Saúde] it is a policy that has remained firm, serving the population,” says Pedro Cavalcanti, a researcher on public sports policies at the University of São Paulo (USP).
“In the case of sports, Bolsa Atleta shows an expressive result in the Brazilian Olympic team, despite the insufficient budget and no adjustment at all, the absurd extinction of the ministry and the austerity applied by the government in the program”, says the historian.
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The new Special Secretariat for Sports has already had three members. The first two were fired for their resistance to nominating people nominated by people close to the president. The first to command the ministry was General Marco Aurélio Costa Vieira. He was dismissed after 107 days in office, in April 2019.
At the time, according to information published by State Agency, the reason for his departure was the government’s intention to put João Manoel Santos Souza, from Maranhão, son of former senator João Alberto, who presides over the Maranhão MDB, the same party as the then minister of Citizenship Osmar Terra, at the head of the portfolio. The appointment, however, did not materialize.
On April 29, 2019, Bolsonaro appointed General Décio Brasil as Special Secretary for Sports. In February of the following year, the military was also dismissed.
In an interview with Folha de São Paulo, Décio Brasil attributed his resignation to the fact that he had resisted the appointment of Marcelo Magalhães to the position of head of the Governance Office of the Olympic Legacy. Magalhães is Flávio Bolsonaro’s best man at the wedding.
“I think the main reason was the fact that I was reluctant to nominate Marcelo Magalhães for the office in Rio—Governance Office of Legado Olímpico, the body that manages the Parque Olímpico da Barra. Perhaps this has displeased the president, because my resignation was already accompanied by his nomination to my position”, said the general.
Magalhães himself was appointed as the federal government’s new Special Secretary for Sports in February 2020. The nomination and dismissal were signed by Bolsonaro and by Onyx Lorenzoni, who was heading the Ministry of Citizenship after Osmar Terra’s departure.
Deputies press for ministry
Since the ministry’s extinction, Bolsonaro has signaled a few times for its reactivation. The most recent was in January 2021, at an event with athletes at the Palácio do Planalto, in Brasília. At the time, he mentioned the possibility of electing Arthur Lira (PP-AL) and Rodrigo Pacheco (DEM-MG) to command the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, respectively – which took place the following month.
“If there is a climate in parliament, it seems that the two people we have sympathy with should be elected, we will no longer have an agenda. We can take a lot forward and who knows, maybe even resurface ministries,” said the president. The promise, as is known, did not materialize and has not even been debated since then.
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In June of this year, members of the recently installed special commission of the Chamber of Deputies on sport resumed the debate on the subject in parliament. The committee’s president, Deputy Celina Leão (PP-DF), is in favor of recreating the folder.
“Sports public policy cannot be a second-level policy. It was a setback not to have a ministry. It must be a first-rate policy, as important as infrastructure, health, and other issues that are dealt with by the Executive as a mechanism for the country’s development”, said the congressman.
Deputy Renildo Calheiros (PCdoB-PE) highlighted that the existence of a Ministry of Sports leads to the creation of secretariats in states and municipalities, with specific attention to the sector.
“There is a speech according to which, by reducing the number of ministries, you save. That’s not true, since every ministry has to have someone responsible for that area. But it doesn’t have autonomy, it doesn’t have its own budget, it doesn’t have status,” said Calheiros.
I veto aid
Bolsonaro’s management in sports during the pandemic was also harshly criticized for vetoes made to Bill 2824/2020, which was approved by the National Congress to help professionals in the sports sector during the pandemic.
The text of the proposal foresaw, among other things, the release of emergency aid with three installments in the amount of R$ 600 for athletes and other workers in the area who are experiencing difficulties.
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From the wording of PL 2824/2020 made in Congress, the head of the Executive also removed points such as the increase from 1% to 2% of the deduction limit required for donations and sponsorships related to the Sports Incentive Law.
The president also vetoed an article that reactivated the Program for the Modernization of Management and Fiscal Responsibility in Football (Profut), created in 2015 to allow the renegotiation of debts of sports clubs with the Union. The government said the proposal was “unfeasible” and it would not bring the “expected financial relief” by the entities.
Edition: Rebeca Cavalcante