Salvadoran Sports Journalist's Investigation Exposes Corruption Thanks to ICFJ Training

Oct 162014

In El Salvador, the sports pages have become beacons of investigative journalism in recent months, thanks largely to sports journalist David Bernal.

In late 2012, Bernal, a reporter at El Gráfico newspaper, received an anonymous letter outlining an illegal diversion of funds made by the head of the National Institute of Sports, Jaime Rodríguez, a longtime soccer player known across the country as “La Chelona,” for his tall height. The letter showed that Rodríguez had diverted US$125,000 of the nearly US$6 million national budget allocated to the country’s top-level athletes to the municipality of Santa Tecla, south of the country’s capital, San Salvador. That money was to be used among national sports federations, such as basketball and gymnastics, and their athletes. According to the letter, Santa Tecla Mayor Oscar Ortíz planned to use the money on infrastructure, to remodel the local soccer stadium.

Screengrab of Bernal's investigation published on El Gráfico.

Bernal knew the diversion was illegal, but he sat on the story for over a year, without the means or knowledge to drive it forward. That changed in February when he participated in a workshop on investigative journalism in San Salvador, hosted by Connectas, a platform for investigative journalists in the Americas, and the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). He arrived with the idea and the reporting he had managed to conduct so far. The workshop was part of the multi-year Investigative Reporting Initiative in the Americas 2013-2017 program, sponsored by ICFJ and Connectas.

Working with experts, including Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Alejandra Xanic, Bernal began to dig deeper into the story, uncovering new angles and organizing his reporting.

As a result of the workshop, El Gráfico published the story "La Chelona’s Last Goal" ("El último gol de 'La Chelona' ”) in print and online on May 5. Media outlets across the country picked up the story. The media continues to question Rodríguez and Ortíz, the former mayor of La Tecla and now El Salvador’s vice president, on the issue.

The story has also sparked government investigations into the corruption. The Court of Auditors of El Salvador as well as the Attorney General's Office are looking into the allegations.

Here, watch Bernal talk about the process of reporting the story and the impact it’s had in El Salvador.

This video was produced, edited and translated by Jessica Weiss.