Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – a city instantly recognisable by the glowing statue of Christ the Redeemer which towers over it. At the top of Corcovado Mountain, this statue observes a vibrant city that, along with the capital of Brasilia, provides the heartbeat of this diverse country. This year, it will take more this statue of Christ to watch over the city, as more than 10,000 athletes and hundreds of thousands of fans and spectators make the pilgrimage to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
Brazil is undeniably a violent country. There are an estimated 52,000 murders a year, with approximately 3 murders occurring daily in Rio itself. The constant threat of terrorism at major events around the world has meant that more than 85,000 security forces have been deployed in the city. This number is more than double the approximate 40,000 utilised at the London games of 2012. With the recent outbreak of the Zika virus and the continuation of turmoil and political upheaval that is consuming Brazil’s government and economy, there is no wonder that people are sceptical about the event’s success.
Has Rio made an economically intelligent choice by investing in the games, or is it a decision that will grind their already struggling economy into the dust? When announced as the first South American host city back in 2009, the country’s economy was soaring and Brazilians were proud of the surge of recognition for their rising international reputation. Today, however, according to the Datafolha Research Institute of Sao Paulo, more than half of the Brazilians who were surveyed oppose hosting the Olympics, considering the country has sunk to its lowest economical and political point in a century. And who can blame them? At this stage, the sport-related costs alone are estimated at 4.6 billion USD. This is approximately 51 percent over the original budget. On a whole, the event is estimated to cost around 12 billion USD, a quarter of which is owed by the state. To decide to stage the Olympic Games is undoubtedly a decision to undertake one of the costliest and financially risky mega-projects in existence, and Brazilians now see this as a burden that they really could afford to take on. In June, a state of financial emergency was declared and support was requested just to keep basic services running around the city. Many argue that a 12 billion USD boost to the public services, healthcare systems and social security in Brazil would have been a far better investment than a multitude of stadiums, Olympic housing facilities, and the security costs – all for an event that will be over and done within 2 weeks, but that will leave a debt for possibly decades to come.
Financially Brazil is struggling, however, it experienced economic and social progress between 2003 to 2014 that lifted over 29 million citizens out of poverty. This fact makes its host city status reasonable, considering the decision to host the Games was locked in 7 years ago. While the rate of poverty and inequality reduction has been stagnating since 2015, it is only this year that the political upheaval has reached its peak tension. Beginning in April 2016, Brazil has been engulfed in large political scandals, based on allegations of political corruption that saw President Dilma Rouseff temporarily suspended from office for 180 days. This year, according to UCLA researcher, Perry Anderson, more demonstrators have hit Brazilian streets than the rest of the world combined. The political unrest, however, has received minimal media coverage due to the importance of Rio in 2016.
While this event has not come at the best time for the country, they had all the right intentions. Rousseff positioned the event as an opportunity for Brazil to promote travel to the country and, considering tourism makes up 4 percent of their GPD, there is certainly room for improvement. It is estimated that over 500,000 foreign travellers will make their way to the event and Tourism Minister Henrique Alves has stated that “we all know tourism is a profitable industry of huge importance to the generation of employment and income, to regional development and the country’s growth.”
With such a large influx of people confined to a relatively concentrated area, however, the issue of security comes massively into question. Due to the crime wave in the lead up to the Games, an additional 635 officers – over and beyond the 85,000 forces being employed to secure the Games – have been added to areas that commonly experience shootouts, muggings and gang violence, along with 24-hour supervision of Christ the Redeemer and three surveillance blimps around the city.
It seems to me that the Olympic Games has illuminated many of the serious issues faced by Brazil and arguably Latin America as a whole – epidemic crime rates, frightening public health, security concerns, a stunted economy and a failing political system. Far from the stable democracy and strong economy that Olympic bidders had aimed to showcase back in 2009, the Games will demonstrate a country dealing with severe political dysfunction, but will hopefully remind the world of the issues faced by a region often ignored.
The Summer Games has brought Rio into the eyes of the mainstream media and enlightened the world to the unique problems that are so often overlooked.
Let us hope that that famous statue observes some good prospects in this country’s uncertain future.