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Indictment Against FIFA Raises Questions About Nike's History In Brazil


In the 164-page indictment against FIFA, officials and other executives, there's also an allegation against a multinational sportswear company. The document says bribes were paid by the unnamed company to secure a deal with Brazil's national team in 1996. That's the year Nike signed a multimillion-dollar sponsorship contract with Brazil's Soccer Federation. Nike says it's cooperating with U.S. authorities and added that the unsealed documents do not directly allege that it was involved in a kickback scheme. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on Nike's controversial history in Brazil.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: I'm walking into one of the Nike stores in Rio. The famous yellow and green Brazilian national team's soccer jerseys have pride of place. The store clerks are, of course, all wearing them. There are also giant posters of Brazilian soccer stars like Neymar everywhere. No question the message is clearly Nike and Brazilian soccer go hand-in-hand.

MAURICIO SAVARESE: When Nike signs a deal with Brazil with the national team, it becomes this global brand for soccer.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Mauricio Savarese, a Brazilian author who's written extensively on soccer here. Before the 1996 agreement, Nike really wasn't a player in the world's favorite sport. Christopher Gaffney studies soccer the University of Zurich and he explains.

CHRISTOPHER GAFFNEY: So the Brazilian national team became the flagship symbol of Nike's insertion into global soccer. And since then, Nike's soccer division has expanded exponentially.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How exponentially? Nike is now the biggest sportswear company in the world and the company says it brought in $2.3 billion in soccer revenue alone in 2014. Between it and Adidas, which sponsors FIFA, they have a 70 percent share of the soccer gear market. But, Nike's 1996 deal with Brazil came under a lot of scrutiny here when it happened. There was outrage when it became clear how much control Nike had been given. Initially, the company was allowed to organize five international games a year and determine which players would participate. Savarese says when Brazil lost the final in the 1998 World Cup, things really came to a head.

SAVARESE: Brazil's star player at the moment, Ronaldo, was not supposed to play because he had a sort of a seizure. But then, when the teams come out, there is Ronaldo. And many people believed that Nike was making a lot of crashes so that their star kid was on the pitch for the final.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Which led to a congressional inquiry in 2001. Ultimately, Nike wasn't implicated in anything, but at the time, the investigation uncovered a lot of corruption at Brazil's Soccer Federation. Now some of those very same people accused in the Brazil inquiry over a decade ago are the subject of the U.S. indictment. Ultimately, that U.S. indictment doesn't make clear that what it terms sports company A knew about any graft. But the case has raised questions here, says Savarese again about how much power Nike and other sports brands have.

SAVARESE: Sponsoring in football, it is a main source of revenue for most clubs. And most clubs will have Nike undershirts. They also have Nike players on their squads.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rodrigo Mattos is a Brazilian sports reporter, who says Nike is now part of Brazilian football's DNA.

RODRIGO MATTOS: For Nike, it's a very profitable business. They are really important.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And he doesn't think this indictment will knock them out of the game. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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