The golden dreams of Brazil at the London Olympic Games appear to be labelled with the same surname – Menezes. Mano, the head coach of the football team who aims for the gold medal, the only one major title still missing in the silverware of A Seleção, is just the most remarkable name. Perhaps the other is that of 22-year-old judoka Sarah, two-time bronze medallist at the World Championships. Alongside teammates Mayra Aguiar and Mariana and Rafaela Silva, she might make history for her native country at the next Olympics.
Introduced by the Japanese emigrants who docked in Santos in 1908 to serve as labour in coffee plantations, judo is practised by nearly two million of Brazilians, making it the nation’s third most popular sport after football and volleyball.
More importantly, it is the one which has given the country the highest number of Olympic medals and for the first time Brazil will be represented in all the 14 categories.
Hopes are high, as head coach Ney Wilson points out. “Our goal is to win four medals and to qualify for a gold medal final with one female athlete”, he states. “We aim so high because numbers suggest us this is an achievable result. Possibly there are pressures around the team, but I can ensure that the athletes are calm and just focused on training.”
In order to make their golden dreams come true, the Brazilians have picked Sheffield for the pre-Olympic camp. “It is a quiet place, full of nature”, Leandro Guilheiro observes. He has won the bronze medal both in Athens and Beijing and now craves a more precious one. “This is the first time I’m preparing for the Olympics without injuries. Therefore, expectations are great. This generation has gone very far, but there are also other young, gifted athletes.”
The Brazilians do not accept any kind of invasion or disturbance during the pre-Games camp. They stay in a peaceful hotel just outside the Steel City and train in the gymnasium based at the Sheffield Hallam University’s Collegiate Campus. The Brazilian delegation includes 50 people among coaches, athletes and staff. “We have already dealt with top-class athletes, but we have never hosted such a massive camp”, head of sports service Dan Porter says. “It is a big privilege and a burden at the same time. The Brazilians want everything to be perfect and we have to care about every single detail. We have provided a 24-hour transport service and chefs trained to cook their traditional food.”
Sheffield has been chosen after a long process. “They first arrived in 2009, following an international competition in Birmingham, and finally decided last autumn”, Ben Brailsford, member of the City Council major events department, recalls. “However, it all began two years earlier. Pelé came here for the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the foundation of Sheffield FC, the oldest football club in the world. We gave him a letter to be handled to the Brazilian Olympic Committee, saying we would like to host their athletes. Look where we have arrived five years later.”
Sheffield seemed to be the right place for preparing such a historical participation in the Games. “After many visits and checks over the last couple of years, we just realised that Sheffield has everything we needed”, Wilson reveals.
The arrival of the Brazilians in the city is not functional only to bring the colours and the joy of South America to this cool, rainy summer. Indeed, their presence has economic implications and not just because 50 people will stay here for almost three weeks. Yorkshire Gold Business Club and UK Trade & Investment, a government department focused on linking British and foreign companies, gave the seminar “Doing business in Brazil”. This was meant to encourage forge partnerships between Yorkshire-based firms and this fast growing country, which has overtaken Great Britain as the world’s sixth largest economy.
As UKTI deputy consul general Richard Turner shows, the key areas of the Brazilian growth are the shipbuilding programme, gas and oil – state-controlled company Petrobras plans to invest $224bn by 2014 – and, of course, sports, as the country will host the football World Cup and the Olympics within the space of two years. “We are speaking of a country with amazing opportunities and a great vitality”, he explains. “However, taxes and bureaucracy could be two big concerns for potential foreign investors.”
It is not just oil and gas, though. Sport plays a major role, as Rio de Janeiro will host the next edition of the Olympics. Business specialist Chris Wall underlines this link between the two countries. “The organisers of both the World Cup and the Games came to England to see the design of the venues, the traffic planning and the commercial viability of our stadia. To them, this is a model to export.” Infrastructures are a particularly relevant issue, as 12 different cities across the country will host the World Cup. “Geography, alongside lack of transparency and short notice, are certainly the most tackling challenge. But this should not discourage British investors. They should just be aware of their value-add and the importance of ‘tropicalising’ the product – that is to say, to deliver it according to local needs.”
Furthermore, the Brazilian government has launched the “Science without borders” programme, with 10,000 scholarships for studying medicine and engineering in the United Kingdom. “We can also offer courses devoted to sports science and management”, Porter says. “As the Brazilians know their judokas have used our facilities, we hope to attract new students.”
From this perspective, Brazilian judokas might quote android Rachel in cult film “Blade Runner” (“I’m not part of the business. I’m the business”). Still, Guilheiro mainly sees benefits. “This is a new era for my country. We have always fought to change the situation and solve problems, for instance the infrastructures. This is a big chance.”
While waiting for concrete roads to be built, an ideal highway to and from Britain seems to have been just traced.