October 15 - Brazil are fielding one of their strongest contingencies ever for the Pan American Games, which opened here last night, as a direct reflection of the country's Ministry of Sports development plan to turn them into a leading sporting power by the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

A total of 522 Brazilian athletes are participating in the Pan American Games this month which is more than any other country, including the United States.

Of those athletes, 38 per cent have at some point received financial support from the Ministry of Sports Athlete Scholarship programme meaning that the Brazilian Government has invested over $4 million (£2.3 million/€2.8 million) into the athletes participating here.

Brazil will be looking to better their third place finish at the last Pan American Games in Rio in 2007 with Minister of Sports Orlando Silva saying that the country not only wants to become a major sporting power by the 2016 Olympics but remain one after the Games.

"Although the work we're doing to improve our athletic programme will come to fruition and be seen around the world at the 2016 Games, our plan will have an impact far beyond 2016," said Silva.

"By putting in these initiatives and working on improving our programme like we never have before, we see Brazil developing into one of the world's premier sports programs for the long term."

A key part of the plan is the Athlete Scholarship programme which was set up in 2005 and is now the largest financial support programme for individual sports in the world.

In total, the programme has seen the Federal Government assist nearly 14,000 Brazilian sportsmen and women by directly investing $224 million (£142 million/€161 million) into the project.

Key examples of the success of the programme have seen Athlete Scholarship recipient Fabiana Beltrame (pictured), the rower who will compete in the Pan American Games, take gold for Brazil in September at the 2011 World Rowing Championships in Bled in Slovenia in the single scull event.

In June of this year, Beltrame also won a stage of the rowing World Cup to become the first Brazilian athlete in history to do so.

Further success from the rowing star and her compatriots here would see Brazil achieve an important part of their long-term goal in the build-up to 2016.

"This is not a Government plan, but rather a state policy, along the lines of those built in the areas of health and education, which were formulated after taking into consideration the demands of the society and soliciting the direct input of the involved parties," added Silva.

-Tom degun

Source: www.insidethegames.biz