Legal threat as bid to reform troubled COB runs into problems
By Callum Murray
A new era of reforms to the statutes of the troubled COB, the Brazilian Olympic Committee, ran into immediate problems yesterday, when a proposal to increase the number of athletes in the general assembly to 15 (one third of members) was defeated in controversial circumstances, provoking a threat of legal action against the COB.
The result meant that the athletes will have just five seats in the assembly, compared with 39 for the national sports confederations. This is still an increase on the previous arrangement, in which the athletes had just one seat.
However, the decision was made only after the vote was tied at 15-15, and the deadlock was broken by disregarding the vote (in favour of an increase to 15 in the number of athletes) of the Brazilian rugby federation, whose president, Eduardo Mufarej, had left the meeting early, having cast his vote.
Paulo Wanderley, the interim president of the COB, had declined to exercise his casting vote, saying later that he wanted to “respect the decision of the assembly.” Wanderley insisted that the COB had “made progress” despite the defeat for the motion to increase athlete participation to one third.
However, Mufarej responded to his vote being disregarded by threatening that the Brazilian rugby federation would take legal action against the COB.
The reforms were provoked by a suspension that was imposed last month on the COB over allegations of corruption and vote-buying in relation to Rio de Janeiro’s hosting of the 2016 Olympic Games, albeit the suspension was later partially lifted by the International Olympic Committee’s executive board.
The IOC had provisionally suspended both Brazil’s IOC honorary member Carlos Nuzman and the COB, the day after news broke that Nuzman, the president of both the Rio 2016 organising committee and of the COB, and Leonardo Gryner, the organising committee’s director general, had been arrested as Brazilian police continued to probe a cash-for-votes the scandal.
The IOC was apparently influenced in its decision to partially lift the suspension by the response of the COB, which, the IOC said, had been “fully cooperative.” The IOC added that the COB “immediately took a series of actions to address the IOC’s concerns.”
At yesterday’s meeting, a new statute was introduced to create an administrative council, which will be responsible for leading the COB.
The function of the council will be to manage the day-to-day activities of the COB. It will have 15 representatives, including the president and vice-president (to be chosen in March), a representative of the IOC, two athletes and two independent people chosen by the assembly.
The election of the new president of the COB is to be made more democratic, by increasing the range of those eligible to stand through scrapping a requirement that candidates should have been a member of the COB for at least five years and should have the support of at least 10 confederations. Now, the candidate must simply be aged over 18 and have the support of three confederations.
The previous system had given rise to allegations of corruption and cronyism.
Alberto Murray Neto, the Brazilian lawyer and former COB member who has been one of its most outspoken critics, said: “Many sports people are protesting and there is a risk that the era of Brazilian Olympic Movement starts with a major lawsuit.
“Apart from that, important new corporate governance rules have been implemented.”
For an exclusive interview with Murray Neto on his long campaign against corruption in Brazilian Olympic sport, click here.
The 75-year-old Nuzman is set to go on trial having been charged with corruption, money laundering, tax evasion and running a criminal organisation. Gryner is facing similar charges to Nuzman.
The pair are among six men to have been charged by Brazilian prosecutors in a probe dubbed ‘Operation Unfair Play’ being conducted in conjunction with US and French police.
The others are Lamine Diack, the former president of track and field's IAAF, his son Papa Massata Diack, Sergio Cabral, the former governor of Rio, and Arthur Cesar de Menezes Soares Filho, a Brazilian businessman.
In September, Nuzman’s home was raided over his suspected involvement amid allegations that Cabral and Soares together paid $2 million to the elder Diack in return for his vote for Rio to host the Olympics.
The payment to Diack was arranged through his now notorious son, according to the prosecutors.