Country/area: Brazil

Organisation: CNN BRASIL

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 17 Oct 2020

Credit: José Brito, Allan Santos, Fernanda Antunes and Vital Neto

Project description:

An unprecedented five-month journalistic investigation showed how decades of denounces of sexual abuse in swimming in the United States and Brazil exposed traumas, omissions, poorly conducted investigations and even ended on suspicion of political lobbying. Public documents obtained by the transparency of the bodies were essential to understand and give weight to the reports.

Impact reached:

1 – The State Attorney for Children and Teenagers of the State of Amazonas opened an investigation officially about the complaints against the swimming coach and president of the local Swimming Federation.

2 – The principal technician denounced in Brazil withdrew his candidacy for his re-election as president of the swimming federation for another four years. The series of reports was published 10 days before the vote and he was the only candidate.

3 – Show other victims what sexual abuse is and encourage them not to accept undue advances and report, as the interviewees did.

4 – Shed light on the matter, since the reports had a great repercussion and forced the authorities and even parents of athletes to debate the problem and stay alert.

Techniques/technologies used:

The series of reports resulted in two documentaries with more than 20 minutes each and 10 written reports: one about the reality in the USA and the one in Brazil. In the first part we show the cases of “predated coaches” condemned and suspected of abusing their athletes, how it opened the eyes of the authorities on the problem and, thanks to the transparency of public bodies, such as the FBI, judicial courts and police stations, we were able to obtain unpublished documents showing the rape charge against a Brazilian swimming coach, which led to his banning by USA Swimming – the Brazilian press was unaware of the fact. What was made possible by criminal historys backgrounds provided by authorities, which were the starting point for locating whistleblowers and showing that there is a predatory modus operandis: A coach is accused of abuse by one or more swimmers, then changes clubs or cities and the criminal situation is repeated. With this, we were able to set up a framework of suspicious cases and that the investigated coaches form a possible support network, for working together. In the second part, even without the same transparency of American documents, we show that there is an evident underreporting of official reports of abuse in Brazil, by showing the report of eight former athletes who say they were touched in the private parts and harassed by the coach of swimming and president of the Federation of Aquatic Sports of Amazonas, the maximum representative of the category, in the north of the country.

What was the hardest part of this project?

During the Covid-19 pandemic, in which guidelines only addressed this issue, being able to produce two documentaries with more than 20 minutes each (one without being able to enter the USA due to the sanitary barrier) and another series of 10 reports written for the Digital about the cases, in a recently inaugurated TV station in Brazil, was a real challenge. The subject is very delicate and we needed a lot of credibility, sensitivity and to be well documented to show that it was possible to do the project and, mainly, to convince the victims to talk to me something that neither their parents knew. There has never been a series of reports with such depth in Brazil about the problem in Brazil and at the same time that the pandemic and the search for documents in the USA dictated the pace of the investigation, I was able to analyze the whole project and see where it could expand. I had never done an investigation in the USA and I had to learn how organ structures work, locate the right people to get the papers, know how to order what I needed and where to find it in the hundreds of pages. Detail: I was not able to dedicate myself exclusively to this subject. I had to run this project in parallel, as I had other investigative reports done.

What can others learn from this project?

Other colleagues can learn (and make their future reports better) that despite the difficulty of obtaining documents, official data and statistics, there are stories that need to be told in the middle of swimming. I believe and hope that if journalists continue to compare how other countries leave their data open, the authorities in Brazil can be encouraged to do the same.

Project links: