A tarnished legacy: looking back on the effects of the 2016 Rio Olympics
“I don’t think Brazil was ready for such an important event…the government put money into something that is not a priority for us.”
As the world watched fireworks electrify the sky above the city of Rio de Janeiro on August 5, 2016, tens of thousands of athletes marched into the renowned Maracanã stadium. Carrying containers of soil with seeds from a Brazilian tree, known as the “Seeds of Hope,” they set these containers inside of a tower. The intent? These seeds were to be planted in order to counterbalance the environmental effect of the Games on the city.
They were never planted. Today, they sit on a farm about 100 km away from Rio.
“Of course, they brought some investments but it’s not what we really needed at the time. We lack education. We lack health programs. We lack safety and all of that is linked to social problems.”
The city of Rio de Janeiro spent $12 billion on the Games and an investigation by the TCU found that 10 sports entities, including Brazil’s Olympic Committee, misused public funds. Former Rio governor Sergio Cabral revealed he paid a $2 million bribe to purchase votes in order to ensure that Rio would host the 2016 Games. He was sentenced to nearly 200 years in jail as part of an anti-corruption initiative called “Operation Car Wash.”
|Today, many restaurants in Pyeongchang are desolate, as the South Korean county doesn't particularly attract a lot of tourists in general. It hosted the Winter Olympics in 2018. Photo credit: Mikensi Romersa/CityLab.|
Marcela Anunciação, a former resident of São Paulo, said the country is not addressing core societal problems.
“I don’t think Brazil was ready for such an important event,” Anunciação said. “We have a lot of political issues right now. The government put money into something that is not a priority for us.”
For Rio de Janeiro and the country as a whole, the negative effects of the Olympic Games will not disappear anytime soon.
The power bill for the Maracanã Stadium, where the famous Brazilian soccer player Pelé scored his 1,000th goal, has not been paid and the stadium is almost a million dollars in debt. Continued upkeep on the vacant Olympic Park, parts of which were supposed to be converted into four public schools, will be around $14 million annually.
The problem is that the city and state of Rio have run out of funds.
“The state of Rio is already broken. The state doesn’t have money to pay public employees like police and professors and this has been happening for a while,” SanFilippo said. “This state is in debt with the federal state. It’s a giant snowball that keeps rolling and it’s only getting worse.”
Some of the venues built for the 2004 Athens Summer Olympics, such as the baseball stadium at the Hellinikon Olympic Complex, now shelter refugees. It cost $11 billion for the Greek capital to host the Games. Photo credit: Thanassis Stavrakis/AP.
In July 2017, Carlos Nuzman, the head of the Rio 2016 Olympic Committee, flew to Switzerland to ask the International Olympic Committee to help pay $40 million of its debt. The IOC refused.
A growing amount of violence has also been plaguing Rio. Earlier this year, the Brazil Forum for Public Security published statistics showing that there are 39 homicides for every 100,000 people. Although some view the lack of funding for Police Pacification Forces as a reason for the surge in violence, the reality is much more complex than that. Both police and security forces during the Rio Olympics committed human rights violations, including murdering eight people in favelas during the Games.
The “Seeds of Hope” still sit on the farm outside of Rio, three years later. It can perhaps be said that they are a metaphor for the unfulfilled promise that the Olympics would revitalize the city for the better, as they were never even given the chance to bloom.
This article was originally published in Recount Magazine.