Brazil picks new sports minister after graft scandal

Updated: 2011-10-28 11:43


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* Effort to appease coalition, speed World Cup work

BRASILIA - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff appointed a lawmaker of Brazil's Communist Party as the country's new sports minister on Thursday, a day after the previous minister quit over corruption allegations.

Aldo Rebelo, a congressman with a nationalistic streak, will take up the role at a crucial time as the country prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Brazil picks new sports minister after graft scandal

Aldo Rebelo, former president of Chamber of Deputies of Brazil, in this 2006 file photo. [Photo/Xinhua]

He belongs to the Communist Party of Brazil, as does his predecessor Orlando Silva, who resigned on Wednesday after being accused of arranging up to 40 million reais ($23 million) in government contract kickbacks to benefit himself and his party, which is a member of Rousseff's ruling coalition.

Silva was the sixth minister to step down this year and the fifth who did so over ethics breaches. His departure was an embarrassment for the government as it struggles with delays and cost overruns for the World Cup soccer tournament.

The string of resignations in Rousseff's first year in office has raised questions about her judgment. But her relatively swift reaction to the scandals also has bolstered her reputation as a stern manager who does not tolerate corruption, lifting her popularity among Brazil's expanding middle class.

Rebelo's appointment aims to appease a sometimes unruly governing coalition and restore international confidence by speeding up preparations for the World Cup and Olympics.

"The government is so behind schedule with World Cup preparations that it will be difficult for the new minister to reverse this mistrust that has been formed abroad," said Jose Moises, a political scientist at the University of Sao Paulo.

Rebelo, the former head of the chamber of deputies and an ally of Rousseff's popular predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is respected among opposition legislators and known for taking on tough tasks.

Corruption crusader

Rebelo will be tasked with smoothing tense relations between the government and soccer authorities and ensuring that infrastructure projects, such as stadiums and transport projects, are ready in time for the global showpiece.

Rousseff has dug her heels in over some of world soccer body FIFA's requests for the tournament, including that half-price ticket rights for those 65 and older be overruled.

She has also cooled relations with Ricardo Teixeira, the head of Brazil's soccer federation and the local World Cup organizing committee. He is facing a police investigation and several allegations of corruption.

Rebelo led a congressional inquiry in 2000 into allegations of corruption against the national soccer body that Teixeira leads, though some reports say he now has warmer relations with the Brazilian soccer boss.

Rebelo said his past as a crusader against corruption in Brazilian soccer won't color his relations with the World Cup organizing committee.

"I will maintain a position of cooperation and independence," he told reporters in Brasilia on Thursday.