The High Performance Athlete Program (PAAR, per its Portuguese acronym) of the Ministry of Defense of Brazil counts nearly 700 athletes from the Brazilian Navy, Army, and Air Force. In February 2017, the Brazilian Army (EB, per its Portuguese acronym) opened up new spots for athletes wishing to enter the program and join the Brazilian Armed Forces.
Diálogo spoke with EB Major Mauro David Cardoso Martins, head of the Brazilian Armed Forces swim team. Maj. David also heads the EB’s High Performance Athlete Subunit and coordinates PAAR at the Army Physical Education School. The school is part of an outstanding military sports complex for Brazilian athletes, the Army Physical Training Center, located on the very spot where the city of Rio de Janeiro was founded, in the Urca neighborhood.
Diálogo: What lessons did the EB learn about the High Performance Athlete Program after the 2016 Olympics?
Brazilian Army Major Mauro David Cardoso Martins, head of the Brazilian Armed Forces swim team: The objectives of the High Performance Athlete Program are to represent the Brazilian Armed Forces in national and international competitions, contribute to the development of sports domestically, and reinforce the image of our land forces at home and abroad. Within that framework, we believe that all of those objectives were met at the 2016 Olympics, with the participation of 145 EB service members who won 13 of Brazil’s 19 medals at the Rio Games.
Diálogo: At what stage is the program? Were there changes compared to 2016?
Maj. David: Strictly speaking about the Army, the program currently counts 176 athletes in 18 modalities — there are spots for 245 — the same number of service members that the Army had before the 2016 Olympic Games. Our objectives remain the same, and we aim to participate in the 2019 Military World Games and in the 2020 Olympic Games.
Diálogo: Why is it important to EB to keep this program going? And why is it important to the athletes?
Maj. David: EB has always supported national sports. Physical activity is part of the military’s daily routine, which requires good physical and mental condition to be ready for combat. The Army’s High Performance Athlete Program was created in 2009 under this new format, but we’ve always had fine athletes, such as First Lieutenant Guilherme Paraense, the first Brazilian to win a gold medal at the Olympics. That was in 1920, at the Antwerp Games [Belgium]. Let’s not forget that Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or Pelé, was an Army sergeant, as was João Carlos de Oliveira (João do Pulo), a two-time Olympic medalist, among others. For these reasons, we believe in the importance of the program and its continuity. For the athletes, the program is important because it’s an additional means of training to compete at a high level. As military athletes, they enjoy the same benefits as any other service member: compensation, medical and dental treatment, physical therapy, the use of the sports facilities, having their image associated with an institution of credibility and trust, adding their time in the Army to their retirement, and many others.
Diálogo: How does EB come into contact with potential athletes to participate in the program?
Maj. David: Athlete selection is done through a public announcement with four phases: review of the applicant’s sports curriculum, human resources interview, health exam, and physical tests. The Brazilian Army Sports Commission meticulously studies the national and international sports scene and is in direct contact with sports clubs, federations and confederations in an effort to select the best athletes in each modality.
Diálogo: Brazil has been grappling with an unrelenting financial crisis for some years now. Has that affected the program? Who pays the costs?
Maj. David: PAAR has not suffered any personnel cuts and maintains the same number of athletes it had before the 2016 Olympic Games. The funds to pay EB’s PAAR members come from the Brazilian Army High Command. There is also a partnership between the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of Sports to organize the participation in certain international competitions.
Diálogo: Brazil came in first place when it hosted the 2011 Military World Games and second place in 2015, in South Korea. What is the outlook for the 2019 Games?
Maj. David: We hope to finish among the top three in 2019.
Diálogo: Did any country get in touch with EB for help implementing a similar project?
Maj. David: We still haven’t received any requests for that kind of assistance, but we do know that there are many countries with projects similar to ours, such as France, Germany, Italy, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, among others.