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Brazil And The World Lost
On Olympic Games

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Regardless Of The Tremendous Achievements By Athletes, Do The Games Benefit The People Of Brazil Now And Into The Future? The Answer, Unfortunately, Is No

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Aug. 29, 2016 — The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil was not short of memorable moments — from from Simone Manuel’s historic gold medal win in the 100-meter freestyle to Majlinda Kelmendi winning Kosovo’s first Olympic gold medal — but the real legacy of the 2016 Olympics is something much less awe inspiring. For while world-class athletes competed for golds, glory and prize money, many of Brazil’s own citizens suffered as a direct result of the games, which cost the recession-plagued country billions of dollars and offered little more than broken promises and systemic violence to the city’s poorest residents.

The host city spent roughly $4.6 billion on the games, despite an initial budget of $3 billion, on the 2016 Olympics, said Dr. Steven Salaga of Texas A&M’s College of Education and Human Development on the school’s website.

The total budget, including private money, was even greater.

Rio is unlikely to make that money back, despite the economic boon that some claim the Olympics to be. During the last summer games, London lost roughly $14 billion when it hosted the 2012 Olympics, according to “The Illusory Economic Gains from Hosting the Olympics World Cup” published in the journal World Economic.

The majority of this investment went into building new facilities for the games and improving Rio’s infrastructure to support the influx of people the Olympics would bring.

The Rio government long defended this investment by stating that infrastructure improvements would benefit citizens, including the urban poor, long after the games had gone. With the 2016 so close in the rear view, it is difficult to ascertain how much truth there is in those claims, though early sentiments do not look good.

This ostensibly recreational investment is concerning because Brazil has the highest percentage of population living below the poverty line — 21.4 percent (with four percent in extreme poverty — of any nation that has hosted the Olympic events in the past 10 years except Italy, according to figures from the CIA’s World Factbook. Though, it should be noted that these poverty line estimates are from 2012, which means Brazil’s true percentage of citizens living below the poverty line is likely much higher now as the country fights through its worst recession in nearly a century. At the same time, Italy’s percentage of citizens living below the poverty line in 2006 (when it hosted the Winter Olympics in Turin) was likely lower than it was in 2012 as the country struggled (and continues to struggle) through its own recession.

With that in mind, the infrastructure investments made by the city to prepare for the games could have been had a net positive impact if they truly benefited the poorer residents of Rio de Janeiro's Mayor Eduardo Paes claimed on numerous occasions.

However, that does not seem to be the case. For instance, improvements to Rio’s dogged transportation system seemed to have little impact on those living in Rio’s poorest neighborhoods. For instance, the new Metro Line 4 connects the wealthy Barra da Tijuca neighborhood to a popular beach destination and won’t actually be open to any residents until the fall, according to Los Angeles Times reporter Vincent Bevins, who reported from the games.

It has been reported that some improved bus lines will connect poorer areas with previously inaccessible job opportunities, though only time will tell if that results in actualized positive impact.

The most distinct impact of the 2016 Olympics on Rio’s poor may not be when the government ignores them, though. It may actually stem from the increased attention paid by security forces on Rio’s poorest neighborhoods in preparation for, and during, the games.

Ever since Rio officially won the bid for the 2016 Olympics in 2007, security forces in the city have undertaken a “pacification” process in order to stem violence in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, also known as favelas.

However, it appears that violence, specifically police brutality, only increased. While the pacification did initially cause crime and murder rates to trend downwards, those rates began to creep back up in the days leading up the games.

Pacification may be a misnomer because it can actually result in horrific violence. Amnesty International reported that Rio’s security forces have killed 2,500 people in the 7 years leading up to the Olympics, including 100 in 2016 alone. And in a trend that is disturbingly familiar to citizens of this country, the majority of the victims are young black men.

So, what do these factors tell us about the realities of Rio 2016 and future Olympic Games? Mostly that the benefits of such mega-events are not always as cut and dry as they seem on the surface. Sure, these events do force host communities to invest heavily in infrastructure, which can benefit the community at large. Additionally, they can bring positive attention to a city, increase tourism and provide sporting venues for future use, all factors that can translate into jobs and long term economic benefits.

However, it’s easy, in the midst of the glamor of the games, to overlook the fact that those infrastructure improvements, potential jobs and economic benefits may not benefit all citizens equally and can do irreversible harm to the communities that could benefit from the potential impacts the most.

In the future, potential host cities need to examine the full scope, and costs, of hosting the games and how that can affect their cities. For, while hosting the Olympics comes with its fair share of perks, those perks are often superficial and can leave the city footing a large, multi-billion dollar bill, with little tangible improvement to show for it.

Additionally, it shows that safeguards need to be put in place in the event a host city runs into severe economic hardship. The economy of Brazil in 2007 (when Rio made its bid) was in a far better place than it is today. Between winning the bid and hosting the games, Brazil has suffered through one of its worst recessions ever. Much of the blame for the current situation should fall on the politicians who did not have the foresight to see the economic collapse coming or were too blinded by the shine of the games to care.

However, a share of the blame also belongs squarely with the IOC, which is so eager to hand out the games to whichever city throws the most money at the proposal (and potentially at the IOC itself) that it is incentivizing municipalities to make risky bets that could have deleterious long term effects.

And, when that happens, everyone goes home a loser.
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