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Olympics will restore Brazil ‘credibility’


The new Minister of Sport Leonardo Picciani gestures during an interview with AFP in his office in Brasilia, on May 18, 2016.  / AFP PHOTO / ANDRESSA ANHOLETE

The new Minister of Sport Leonardo Picciani gestures during an interview with AFP in his office in Brasilia, on May 18, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / ANDRESSA ANHOLETE

With less than three months to go before the Rio Games, Brazil’s new sports minister hopes the Summer Olympics can help restore a national image battered by months of crisis and scandal.

Debate is raging in Brazil over who should take credit if the Games are a success — the country’s suspended president Dilma Rousseff, or her interim replacement and rival, Michel Temer.

But Temer’s newly-named sports minister, Leonardo Picciani, offers another option: let the games belong to all of Brazil.

“It will first of all be the legacy of the Brazilian people,” the 36-year-old told AFP at his office in the capital Brasilia.

Forced aside by the Senate to face impeachment on charges of illegally manipulating government accounts, Rousseff will be removed from power for good if the Senate trial ends with a two-thirds vote against her.

In the meantime, as acting head of state, her vice president Temer will carry out official host duties during the Games.

“Everyone who participated in the organization of these Games should be recognized for the role they played,” Picciani said. “President Temer will play a crucial role, which is the final stage of the work.”

Below is AFP’s full interview with the sports minister:

Q: Brazil is hosting these games during a political firestorm. Will the Games be affected by the controversy?

A: I’m convinced that they won’t. Brazil has demonstrated the strength of its institutions, and even through the political turbulence, it has managed to meet its commitments as host of the Games. The key word invoked by President Temer as he took over the office is “trust.” There is no better opportunity for us to regain our country’s credibility.

Q: Has Temer already spoken with the International Olympic Committee?

A: It was a very positive dialogue. President (Thomas) Bach congratulated President Temer for having underscored the importance of the Olympic games during his very first speech to the nation after taking office. He received assurances from the new government that all of the past obligations will be met.

Q: With less than three months until the start of the Games, what remains to be done?

A: This is the phase of the final fine-tuning. The major work is done or is in the process of being wrapped up.

The work that fell a little bit behind schedule, the velodrome, doesn’t have us worried — it’s 86 percent finished. Practically everything is done. We just have to adjust, prepare and deliver.

Q: The Metro will have its grand opening just four days before the start of the Games. That doesn’t worry you?

A: The state governor, who is overseeing the construction, has guaranteed that the work will be completed and able to fulfill its function. We’re confident.

Q: There have been allegations that some of the work carried out in Rio as part of the games has been wrapped up in the Petrobras corruption scandal. Are the contracts being revised?

A: If there are issues, the investigations will uncover them. In taking up this portfolio, we have an obligation to assess the real situation in the ministry, the contracts in progress, the budgetary situation — and I will do it because it’s an obligation.

During my tenure, I want to increase internal control mechanisms and oversight because that will allow not only protect public resources, but also funding for sports, which is lacking.

Q: You’re a cabinet member, and you voted, as an lawmaker, against the impeachment drive, which Rousseff says is a coup.

A: I don’t think it was a coup. My view about the trial is that I was against the procedure (in Congress) I voted according to my conscience. This wasn’t an election, we were not voting for Dilma or Temer — we were voting on the impeachment procedure.

Q: Was the outcome fair?

A: The decision was agreed upon by a majority. I expressed my view, and the majority view prevailed. My position was voted down.

Q: And as far as the ministry? Was it the portfolio that you wanted?

A: I had no intention of being a minister but I was honored to have been invited by the president to take the post.

Q: Brazil has vowed to be among the top 10 medal winners. Is that a realistic goal?

A: I think so. First of all, as fans, we have confidence in our athletes. I expect we do well in all the events that we have already won medals in, like volleyball, football, swimming, judo, track and field — but I think we also have some surprises in store.

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