The game behind the Olympics
Every two years, summer and winter, the world marvels at the logistical masterpiece known as the Olympics. NBC shows the festivities and the eyes of the globe are fixated on the host city and country.
Before this year’s games, concerns overtook the narrative. The Zika virus and polluted waters were making headlines. Political turmoil and unpaid police also gave cause for concern. The fear and questions reached a crescendo when media outlets such as the Washington Post and CNBC in May were wondering if Rio de Janeiro should still host the Games.
When the Olympics were awarded to Rio on Oct. 2, 2009, there were videos of celebrations on Copacabana Beach. However, the scene on the beach was not the sentiment felt across the country. In speaking to Igor Malaquais, a 27-year-old native Brazilian NCC student, he unveiled another side of the story.
“No, I don’t remember any celebrations. The media tries to show like we are supposed to be proud of it. Many people I talked to weren’t excited [for the games],” he said, shaking his head. Malaquais continued, “The media in Brazil is very manipulated. Most of the things that pass on TV, people just buy it.”
At the time Brazil was awarded the games, the economy was on an upswing. Gross Domestic Product was growing at 2.5 percent in the first quarter. It was projected to grow up to 3.5 percent by year’s end according to an article from The Economist published March 2009.
The economic boon was partially a result of promises made by the country’s biggest state-owned oil company, Petrobras. The company had launched a five year, $174 billion project to produce oil that was off-shore and 200 feet down. Scandals rocked the Brazilian oil giant, including bribes that were being skimmed off the top of inflated company contracts.
The now impeached, former President Dilma Rousseff was chairperson on Petrobras’ board and the country’s energy minster during the scandal.
Despite wide-spread suffering, Brazil spent $15 billion on the Olympics, equivalent to 48.7 billion real (BRL).
Rio’s police, unpaid for quite some time, were reported by multiple outlets to have held a banner to greet visitors at the airport that read, “Welcome to Hell.”
According to the IOC’s website, Rio was awarded a 6.4 in the evaluation process out of a possible 10. Candidates like Chicago and Madrid, who were denied by the committee scored 7.1 and 8.0 respectively.
The most recent scandal is surrounding the bid for 2020, awarded to Tokyo. According to The Guardian an investigation has been launched into mysterious payments timed around the bid process to an account linked to the IOC.
Amid the cloud of corruption surrounding the IOC and the Brazilian government, IOC President, Thomas Bach proclaimed at the closing ceremony, “History will talk about a Rio de Janeiro before and a much better Rio de Janeiro after.”
“The IOC, they try to manipulate the same as the Brazilian government. They aren’t telling the truth. They are there to get their money and leave,” Malaquais said, “It’s ridiculous… The legacy of the Olympics isn’t that big as they say. Most of the places, the only legacy they leave is the stadiums. And most of the time it’s left unused.”
Legacy. It’s a big word thrown around by the IOC in defense of the billions spent to put together these games.
For Villa Autodromo, the legacy of these games will be the 4000 families forced from their homes to make room for the Olympic Park. For these communities, while they exist at or near the poverty line, there is a sense of community and family that can’t be bought, sold, or transplanted. In a report from “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” Brazilian Special Forces forced people from their homes, sometimes violently.
In total, 70,000 residents were forced from their homes as the games were used as a catalyst of gentrification. The land surrounding the Olympic Park skyrocketed in value; and subsequently land developers took advantage of the boon.
The legacy written by Aaron Gordon of Vice News was how the Olympics took place in a bubble constructed inside Rio. Gordon described the walls around the park with the Rio 2016 logo to keep up appearances. He mentioned the constant military presence, the trucks parked outside his hotel, day and night, with guns on the back.
Pacification is also part of the legacy of these games. Tear gas was used as a first response to quell the protests as reported by NPR News. People took to the streets against a corrupt government and the symbol of the corruption, the Olympic Games.
The games, despite the shortcomings, did have silver linings. For instance, the Arena of the Future was a pre-fabricated building. It will be taken down and rebuilt as four separate schools in Rio that will serve 500 students per location; and a high-speed rail built that will be added to the existing transportation system in Rio that will open to the public in September.
As for the legacy of these games, Malaquias had this to say.
“The IOC may say, ‘Look what we built.’ They didn’t make it. It was our government and people with taxpayer’s dollars. It’s about what they leave for the people.”
$15 billion was spent on these games, money that potentially could have gone to infrastructure and government. The true legacy of these games is for history and evidence to decide.