SPORTS

Former head of Brazil volleyball says he acted in body's 'best interest' amid corruption probe

12/13/2014 11:21 EST | Updated 02/12/2015 05:59 EST
RIO DE JANEIRO - Ary Graca, the former head of the Brazilian Volleyball Confederation, says he acted "in the best interests" of the body despite allegations of corruption and malfeasance.

Graca is being investigated by a federal anti-corruption agency, which has cited financial "irregularities" in a 50-page document and alleges he channeled millions to companies controlled by his friends and relatives.

Graca stepped down from his role at the CBV earlier this year but remains president of the Switzerland-based FIVB, the world governing body of the sport. He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The brewing scandal is touching Rio de Janeiro's 2016 Olympics.

The CBV, which has been threatened with legal action from Graca, said Friday it would not hold a FIBV-sponsored Olympic test event in Rio in July, as scheduled. The test events are seen as crucial to the efficient running of the Olympics, which will open Aug. 5, 2016.

Volleyball is probably the second-most popular sport in Brazil, and ties to the Olympics run deep.

The head of Rio's Olympic organizing committee is Carlos Nuzman, a former president of the CBV who built the sport into a local powerhouse. An International Olympic Committee member, he is not accused of any wrongdoing in the report issued by Brazil's Comptroller General's office, known as the CGU.

In a statement Friday, the FIVB said it was aware of the allegations against Graca.

The FIVB said "it is important to point out that Ary Graca, and others accused, have rigorously and consistently denied any wrongdoing and have openly explained how, at all times, they acted in the best interests of Brazilian volleyball."

The statement said Brazilian volleyball had benefited from about 350 million Brazilian reals ($140 million) in "commercial services" under Graca's leadership.

"As the president and others from the former CBV management team have mounted legal proceedings against the organizations and individuals for making false accusations, it is not appropriate for the FIVB to comment further on these matters until all investigations and legal action have been completed," the FIVB said.

A top player on Brazil's men's national volleyball team said players feel "betrayed" by Graca.

"Most of the players have the same feeling of betrayal," player Murilo Endres said in an interview Friday with ESPN in Brazil. "We have dedicated our time, our sweat, our knees, our shoulders, our ankles to this person and, unfortunately, we were betrayed by him. Indignation and betrayal summarize our feelings. But we will go after this, so it does not go unpunished."

It is not clear if Brazil's court system will act on the findings of the anti-corruption body.

The CGU said the volleyball confederation under Graca misappropriated about $11 million in sponsorship income, channeling it to companies controlled by Graca's friends and relatives. State-run Banco do Brasil said Thursday it was halting sponsorship payments to the confederation.

In a statement Thursday, the volleyball confederation said it was under new management and had put in place "responsible governance, and above all, ethics." It said it had made its accounts available to supervisory authorities and had set up a permanent internal audit.

"What we want, what the volleyball community wants, is morality in the sport," coach Bernado Rezende said. "The people on the courts are suffering with this. I, myself, had health problems because of all of this that is happening. We are on the courts, playing, fighting, and we see things like this."

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Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP

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