Like previous host cities to the Olympic Games, such as Beijing in 2008, Rio de Janeiro may be considered the next big player in the global arena. Brazil has brought a trifecta of international exposure to South America after being the host city to the 2007 Pan American Games, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and now the 2016 Olympic games. However, after meeting with Rio’s City Hall as well as Professor Christopher Gaffney of Federal Fluminese University during a leadership symposium series throughout Brazil in September 2014, the mayhem behind the camera lens tells a disparate story to the one that will be projected for the entire world to see over the three-week period known as the Olympic Games.
Briefings with Rio’s City Hall and author of the Hunting White Elephants Blog, Christopher Gaffney, took place amidst the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) seventh visit to the game sites. Critics of the Games have highlighted major issues in relation to displacing thousands of local Brazilians, as well as an inability to support infrastructure and failure to promote environmental sustainability. Yet the IOC has applauded the work of President Dilma Roussef and her government in maintaining timely architectural developments in regards to the construction of 68 new hotels for the Games. The Olympic Committee based in Rio have repeatedly shown gratitude toward the sponsors and government amidst the progression of preparations and, like the IOC, has failed to consider the most important aspect of Rio: its people.
The benefits associated with being a host city are most typically in relation to tourism, job creation, community outreach, improved lines of communication and the ability to renovate central infrastructure. However, the horrendous negligence a city may suffer is never considered when bids are taken for the job of host city. A confirmed 13,000 locals are to be displaced as a result of the Olympic Games and a rumored total of 170,000 locals as a result of both the World Cup and Olympics. With the removal of an entire favela* to take place, Brazil’s infrastructure schemes have begun to come under scrutiny. The trifecta has exposed government initiatives as over budget and underperforming.
Upon exploring Brazil and specifically Rio de Janeiro, the people are an exemplary culmination of excited and anxious. This is to be expected, particularly as unlike the recently completed World Cup, a bid for the 2016 Games was out of character for Brazil, a state which won a mere 17 medals in total at London, 2012. Therefore, when considering the agenda behind 2016 one may typically assume the Games were an opportunistic ploy by the former government, and a “driver for political agenda”. Rio’s success in being dubbed the host city is solely a result of the affirmations and pledges made within the highly sought after ‘Bid Book’. Critics of international sporting events such as Gaffney suggest that the document is a pretext for corruption and privatization due to failure to take into consideration the people of Brazil and the city as a whole.
Rio being the host city is undoubtedly a political ploy, however, whether the Games will serve as a mere marketing tool will be a question to be considered as the sun sets on the Closing Ceremony. The history of the Pan American Games and FIFA World Cup do not suggest any extreme improvements on the standards of living in Rio or the surrounding cities. The expectation of improvements for the people of Brazil is almost laughable when considering the Olympic Committee is the same panel of individuals responsible for the 2007 Pan American Games, a series which opened with extreme violence in the streets, failed to address issues relating to health, education and homelessness (despite the perfect opportunity) and furthermore failed to clean up the mess following the destruction of thousands of homes in order to make room for new arenas and hotels.
The city has been promised a full transformation by 5 August 2016, which will have an impact on the population and entire country. However, history suggests much to the contrary. Many of the nation’s plans during the World Cup have failed to come to fruition. This includes new metro lines, renovation of city Highways and placement of the state’s mass proportion of homeless citizens. The funding from the Olympics would have been more beneficial in addressing issues of health care and the education system as opposed to the construction of a Ping Pong stadium.
The reality is, the city is not ready to host an event of such proportions. Events such as the Pan American games and the World Cup required the city to come to a complete stop in order for the development of infrastructure to support the mass influx of tourists. Schooling institutions and work places took leave in order for the public to have access to transport and other resources required for the games.
The criticism behind the speculated benefits to being a host city will continue to be unanswered until the curtains of the arena draw to a close. Once the games pass, the athletes depart and the locals are left with the faded memory of “Rio, 2016”, what will Brazil be left with? Aside from the medals acquired at the games, what will Brazil be known for?
Perhaps the state will seize the opportunity, or to the contrary, they may be engraved in history as the host of a landmark event, but an event that failed in constituting any revolutionary change to its society.
Sonika Kalra, 20 October 2014
*A Brazilian slum area