THE TURMOIL OF 2016 was difficult to envisage when Rio upset the odds to land hosting rights to this summer’s Olympic Games.
On October 2, 2009, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that the city had emerged victorious from the final round of voting to land sport’s showpiece event, the people of Rio were dancing on the Copacabana. “I confess to you if I die right now, my life would have been worth it,” then president Lula declared at the time.
Today the mood could hardly be more different. A sense of gloom has replaced the euphoria and the anticipation that normally precedes the Games is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps that will change once the circus rolls into town, but the indifference is tangible.
There have been concerns expressed over a host of Olympic facilities. Guanabara Bay, which will host sailing events during the Games, has attracted widespread criticism due to high levels of pollution in the water.
The Rio velodrome, which will stage track cycling events, was only handed over to the local organising committee in late June following a raft of development issues, while delays also affected the construction of the tennis, equestrian and golf venues.
On June 17, the city’s acting governor, Francisco Dornelles declared a state of financial emergency due to an economic downturn. The announcement prompted Brazil’s government to authorise an emergency cash transfer of R2.9bn (€801m/$884m) for the state of Rio to support infrastructure projects and security.
The state’s Official Gazette confirmed the authorisation and, somewhat alarmingly, said the measures were required to avoid “a total collapse in public security, health, education, transport and environmental management.”
Throw in the Zika virus and the ongoing political instability, and it goes without saying that the current state of affairs in Rio is far from ideal ahead of the Games.
J. Justin Woods, a sustainable development scholar and adjunct professor of public administration at Pace University, feels Rio has been exploited as a result of the turmoil it has found itself in.
“The link between all of these crises and the Games has been the ability of the global economic elites to bribe the right people so they can plunder Brazil’s treasury and natural resources,” he tells SportBusiness International.
“Developing nations continue to think hosting mega events is an opportunity to showcase their countries to the world and, in some ways, they can, but they are also opening themselves up to economic exploitation. The return on the investments aren’t justified and we’re starting to see some awareness of this, with protesters successfully defeating the Boston 2024 (Olympic) bid.”
Previous Olympic hosts, namely Atlanta, which staged the Games in 1996, and Athens, the site for the 2004 Games, have struggled to build a post- Games legacy and Woods forecasts a similar fate for Rio.
“The city and state will be saddled with a combination of significant debt, white elephant stadiums and a legacy of environmental degradation and social problems related to the displacement of people, sprawling development and gentrification of the new housing,” he says.
Only recently has Brazil established itself as a go-to country for major sporting events. Rio hosted the Pan American Games multi-sport event in 2007 and served as the hub for Brazil’s staging of the Fifa World Cup in 2014. The country also staged football’s Confederations Cup in 2013. The Pan American Games were widely viewed as a success. The World Cup, too, was well received, in spite of the widescale protests against Fifa, football’s global governing body, that overshadowed the opening few days of the tournament. Rio 2016, however, is unlikely to pass without incident.
“Given that the political and economic situations are worse than they were two years ago, I expect you will see even more protests during the Olympics than we saw during the World Cup,” Woods adds.
The city and state governments have invested billions in making Rio as attractive a proposition as possible to potential investors in the buildup to, during and after the Games. However, the financial benefits felt by the people of Rio themselves are likely to be minimal, according to Woods.
“Mega sporting events almost never have an economic or social benefit to the host nations,” he says. “While host cities and nations are left with the tab, mega sporting events are profitable for the hosting organisations, such as the IOC or Fifa, as well as global corporations, the media and politically-connected developers.”
One of the key legacy projects of Rio 2016 is the extended metro line. However, the service is only due to open on August 1, just four days before the Games’ opening ceremony. Even then the service will only be available to event ticketholders, athletes and members of the media – not the general public.
The full service is expected to be in operation by 2018, although Woods doubts whether there will be a pressing need for the project to be finished once the Games are over.
A recent poll by the O Globo newspaper found that only 49 per cent of Rio residents were in favour of the Olympics. Locals have been left feeling cut adrift – almost literally in the case of those who lived in the favela space that now houses Rio’s Olympic Park.
“The real estate speculators thought Rio would be an even bigger tourist destination without the favelas, so the Olympic development was used to further the goal of eliminating as many impoverished residents and communities as possible from the tourists’ view,” says Woods.
“There is anger over the removal of people and demolition of the favelas for developments related to the Games. Brazilians also see a corrupt government spending massive amounts of money on mega events that don’t improve their lives.”
Amid the plethora of problems that have impacted upon preparations for the Games, there remains the hope that sport itself will provide a release from the turmoil.
Brazil picked up a best-ever 17 medals at London 2012 and a record-breaking total has been set as the target this time around. One of the gold-medal events earmarked is football, with Brazil having prioritised the Games over the recent Copa América tournament in the US.
Football-crazy Brazil is unlikely to lose its appetite for the planet’s most popular sport any time soon. But the growing popularity of sports such as rugby sevens and American football – a São Paulo-based league was launched earlier this year – bodes well for the long-term sporting landscape in the country ahead of the Games.
With this in mind, there is a belief that – at least on a sporting level – the Games will be a success, as Armenio Neto, head of sports at MBA Brazil, points out.
“Brazil is highly-connected with, and passionate about, football, but things are changing and the Olympics will put the spotlight on some sports that can be developed,” he says. “We have seen basketball be reborn, the rise of rugby (sevens) and even an American football league started with great success.”
On 5 August the eyes of the world will be on Rio for the Games’ opening ceremony. But those expecting a spectacle similar to the stunning show Danny Boyle directed to mark the beginning of London 2012 may be disappointed.
Fernando Meirelles, one of the creative directors of this year’s opening ceremony, has confirmed that Rio will spend around a tenth of the estimated $104m London did. Meirelles pointed to other sectors, such as sanitation and education, which would benefit more from such large-scale investment.
To read more about Brazil and its hosting of the Olympic Games click the links below: