A Swimmer Leading a Football Nation
The Football World Cup in South Africa is the
main attraction in world sports in 2010, but what
has swimming in common with this sport in
Brazil, the most successful soccer nation on the
planet? The answer can be found at the Clube de
Regatas do Flamengo, a club that boasts one of
the biggest army of fans of the Beautiful Game
around the world – and since January one that is
presided over by a woman: the former Brazilian
Olympic swimmer Patricia Filler Amorim.
This 41 year-old mother of four boys wore the colours of the yellow and green flag at the Olympic Games in Seoul 1988. Today, she is in charge of a club with about 35 million fans – and that’s just in Brazil. The passion for Flamengo is so strong that it is called the “Red and Black Nation” and to be President of this “state” pushed Amorim into the realms of celebrities: she is in constant media focus. In spite of being confident in this new position, Amorim is still uncomfortable with her newfound celebrity status. “When I was a candidate I didn’t think about that! It was better, because if I realised it I would have given up!” she jokes. “More seriously, I’m trying to appear only when it is essential.”
Amorim had already been a pioneer of sports, as a swimmer. As with so many other athletes, she took to the water as a child, following her older sister to the pool - but by the age of 12 she realised that her involvement with sport would last a lifetime. “When I was 12 years old I knew that sports would be my life. I dreamed about the Olympic Games but I couldn’t participate in Los Angeles 1984. This fact was very important to me because it motivated me to fight for best criteria and conditions for the sport and showed me that I had a political vocation. Being a swimmer has taught me to have goals, discipline, and it has shown me what athletes really need. That experience was essential for me, today as a club president. I have total confidence in all my actions and plans.”
Amorim was an elite swimmer at a time when Olympic sports had no sponsors and attracted attention once every four years in Brazil. Amorim had difficulties, as did most of the swimmers on the elite team. She was one of the youngest Brazilian athletes – 14 years old – at the Pan-American Games in 1983. Between 1983 and 1989 she broke 29 South American records and at the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games she became the first woman swimmer to represent Brazil in the race pool in 12 years. She did not make finals but set Brazilian records in the 200m and 400m freestyle.
Amorim ended her swimming career in 1991, when she graduated in Physical Education. She owns three swim schools and in 2000 decided to be a candidate in a regional election. She won and became a councillor in Rio de Janeiro and, so far, is serving her third term in office.
“I decided to run for election as a councillor because I competed in sport. This job taught me a lot! It is a great responsibility because all your decisions have an immediate impact on people’s life. Now I’m mature enough to deal with conflicts and difficult questions.”
Besides football, many Olympic sports are part of most popular Brazilian Club. Footballers such as Zico and Romario are among athletes who have contributed to 115 years of Flamengo’s history and its international fame but Olympic athletes have also played their part, including two time gymnastics world champion Diego Hypolito and the beach volley Olympic champion Jacqueline Silva. Flamengo’s pool was graced by Ricardo Prado (medley world champion in Guayaquil 1982 and silver medallist at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games); Fer - nando Scherer (bronze me - dallist in Atlanta 1996 and Sydney 2000 Olympic Games), while the latest recruit is Cesar Cielo Filho (gold me dallist in Beijing 2008 and world champion in Rome 2009). To im prove participation in national championships, Flamengo often invited Inge de Bruijn (NED) and Yana Klochkova (UKR) to attend the competition.