The Dark Side of 2016 Olympics in Rio

The Olympic Flag flies in front of "Christ the Redeemer" statue during a blessing ceremony in Rio de Janeiro
The Olympic Flag flies in front of “Christ the Redeemer” statue during a blessing ceremony in Rio de Janeiro August 19, 2012. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes (BRAZIL – Tags: SPORT OLYMPICS RELIGION)

 

Major sport events such as the World Cup and the Olympics are often seen as a possibility of a country to camouflage domestic problems and represent itself as a great country.

Therefore the upcoming Olympics in Rio are a prime example. Often the domestic policy disregards the involved issues of such a big event.

This blog entry should give you an overview at first about some alleged advantages of the Olympics but the focus is on three main hotspots that effect especially the poorer population of Rio before, while and after the Olympics: The Zika Crisis, the Environmental Crisis and the Housing Crisis.

But one after the other.

What do the hosts of the Olympics anticipate by bringing one of the biggest and most expensive sport events to a city, which has to fight with political corruption, poverty and pollution?

The answer is economic benefit.

  1. Strengthening of Investment in Transport and Infrastructure

Major sporting events like the Olympics need to provide well functioning transport and communication systems. By upgrading the transport links, congestions can be reduced and local business can be improved efficiently. Investing in the infrastructure of a city will have lasting legacy for the whole economy.

  1. Inflow of Visitors from Around the World

The Olympic Games in London 2012 had sold about 6 Mio. tickets and attracted about 500.000 visitors. Similar numbers are also expected in Rio. These foreign tourists stimulate the local economy. Especially local tourist trade, shops and hotels benefit from the influx of the visitors. With Beijing (2008) and Barcelona (1992), the Olympics showed that such an event can lead to a long term growth.

  1. Creation of Jobs

The preparation of a city to host the Olympics mostly starts four years before the event. By investing in building stadiums and hotels and creating an infrastructure, extra jobs are created. This entails positive multiplier effects to the local economy.

  1. Higher Economic Growth

By having a higher investment in the city and an inflow of foreign visitors, the government will have higher tax revenues which can be reinvested and lead to a boost in economic growth.

 So as you can see, the advantages of having a big sport event in a country like Brazil are about increasing the local economy. Whether this increase remains after the games is debatable.

Now we come to the core of this blog post: The problems with which Rio and the whole country has to deal with by preparing the Olympics.

  1. The Zika Crisis

I do not know how you think about it, but in my opinion the Zika virus appeared in media at the beginning of the year but perished in the last weeks/months.

For those who do not know what the Zika virus exactly is: It is a mosquito-borne disease which has been linked to a fetal brain defect in babies born by mothers who are infected with the disease.

At the beginning of the disease, doctors were optimistic that the virus would have no bigger impact on the Olympics. The government made sure that the military and health professionals cleanse Rio and all areas around of mosquitoes. Unfortunately, this impression has changed in the last few weeks. Public health experts urged Olympic officials to postpone the games, because there is a probability to spread Zika around the world.

The fear of Zika is still around and some athletes have already considered not going to the Olympics.

Even if the WHO or the IOC argued that they do not expect Zika to have a major impact on the Games and they have already plans to protect the athletes and fans, Zika will continue to pose a threat to Brazilians.

It will still concern the people in poorer areas in the country. This refers to areas, in which the government is not interested in and also areas that cannot cast a poor light on the main event.

  1. The Environmental Crisis

A permanent problem which comes along with the Olympics in Rio is the pollution of Guanabara Bay, where sailing and swimming events will take place. Last year it was reported that the water is polluted with disease-causing viruses which are directly linked to human sewage. Athletes who had test events there have become ill or suffered MRSA infections.

After erecting temporary ‘eco barriers’ to keep away trash and pollution from the main parts of the Bay, it was assumed that the Bay is safe for the athletes now.

Month later, the IOC has concerned that Guanabara Bay will not be clean for the Games. This alone is a risk to let athletes swim in the water in August. Moreover, this will affect Rio’s residents and environmental efforts long after the Olympics end. Even if the Brazilian politicians and Olympic organizers gain control of the pollution in August, it shows up another failure of bringing the games to Rio.

  1. The Housing Crisis

Now we come to the last and, in my opinion, the biggest shame of the upcoming Olympics in Rio. A fact that shows that money, clout, political influence and representation of a country is much more worth than the poorer residents in Rio. 22.000 families or in other numbers 77.000 people were forcibly evicted in Rio between 2009 and 2015. Just to bring it to your mind, imagine the government of Germany would stand in front of your door in Marburg and would evict every single resident here, if necessary with violence. If you ask them why, they would say: “This is a result of infrastructure projects which are related to the Olympics we will have here in 6 years.” This would be unthinkable but it is reality in Rio.

Of course the Brazilian government argues that it has moved families away from flood-and landside-prone neighborhoods to make them safer, but this does not entitle someone to pull people out of their socioenvironment and home. Not for an event which take place for two weeks. Some favelas have been totally demolished to make way for access roads to the nearby Olympic Park. The government has compensated some of the people who had to leave but this does not recoup the people for relocating them to far-flung neighborhoods on the city’s periphery, far away from their homes.

In conclusion, it can be said that the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio are very questionable. Even though they go along with economic growth, which the country undoubtably could use, the arisen damage seems more extensive in my opinion. Athletes and visitors will not really realize the struggles the poorer residents in Rio have to fight with. They will see a dressed up city which make sure that the problematic areas, diseases and soilings will be hidden. They will not know that Rio, for example, was supposed to upgrade the city’s farvela neighborhoods as part of its Olympic legacy but delayed many of the plans. The following months after the event will show if the government will make efforts for a sustainable good habitat.

References:

Waldron, T. (2016): Everything Is Going Wrong In Brazil Ahead Of The Olympics, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/rio-olympics-2016-brazil-crises_us_573b53e7e4b0646cbeeb02c8,  (access on 15 July 2016).

Zabludovsky, K. (2016): The Zika Virus Disproportionately Affects The Poor And This Is Why, https://www.buzzfeed.com/karlazabludovsky/the-zika-virus-disproportionately-affects-the-poor-and-this?utm_term=.vak4Vg88PB#.ipQj6zggQ1, (access on 15 July 2016).

Harvard Public Health Review (2016): Off the Podium: Why Public Health Concerns for Global Spread of Zika Virus Means That Rio de Janeiro’s 2016 Olympics Games Must Not Proceed, http://harvardpublichealthreview.org/off-the-podium-why-rios-2016-olympic-games-must-not-proceed, (access on 15 July 2016).

Pettinger, T. (2009): Costs and Benefits of the Olympics, http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/29/sport/costs-and-benefits-of-the-olympics, (access on 15 July 2016).

Watts, J. (2016): 100 days until Rio 2016: “It will be a great party, with a garbage legacy”, https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2016/apr/27/rio-2016-olympic-games-100-days-to-go-brazil-controversy-legacy, (access on 15 July 2016).

One thought on “The Dark Side of 2016 Olympics in Rio

  1. I really like your overview about the pro’s and con’s about giving the olympic games to Rio. I agree that such an event boosts the economy and creates infrastructure, but it only holds in the short run. If you have a look at Brazil after the World Cup of 2014, it did not get out of the recession and the country still has to fight against corruption. Your examples with Barcelona and Beijing show that it can work the other way around. But I think the institutional framework is better in these cities and countries and therefore they can benefit in the long run.

    I am very afraid about the ZIKA-virus, because as you said, the topic is not presented in the media, which is a signal that they only want to hide the truth in order to reassure the people. Too much money is in the circle to postpone the Olympics.

    Another tragic example of such an economic booster is South Africa after the World Cup in 2010. They built up huge and modern stadiums that are empty now and nobody knows if they will be ever used that much again.

    Hence, I think that in countries with a weak initial infrastructure and institutional framework, a big event can be an economic aid in the short run, but in order to secure long run economic growth, countries need to invest in properly working institutions.

    … PS: Do you know that there is an application for your smartphone that shows you a map with gun shootouts in Rio? Politicians should think about it and afterwards talk about the sense of giving such a huge sports event to an unsteady city like Rio.

    Like

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