Rio 2016 Olympics: Sporting legacy or social catastrophe?

  • Rio De Janeiro, AP
  • Updated: Dec 16, 2015 13:16 IST
A file photo of the Olympic rings in Rio De Janeiro. (AP Photo)

The 2016 Olympic Games are just around the corner, but according to a Rio de Janeiro urban planner, the grand event will widen the gap between the wealthy and the poor in the already socially stratified city.

Orlando Santos Jr. of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro helped research a 190-page report that cites abuses linked to the games and questions the legacy for most of Rio’s 12 million residents.

“Rio is already a very unequal city,” Santos told The Associated Press. “After the games it will be even more unfair and segregated. There will be more wealth in a few areas, but no improvement for most people.”

However, a Rio city government spokeswoman contested the findings, but said city officials had not seen the entire report and declined to comment.

In an email, the city said transportation projects being built for the Olympics — a new subway line extension and high-speed buses — would speed commuting time.

The city said “due to the Olympics” Rio de Janeiro has been able to improve education, health care and housing. It has repeatedly said that out of the total games’ budget of 38.7 billion reals ($10 billion), 57 percent is private money and only 43 percent public.

The report titled “Rio 2016 Olympics: The Exclusion Games” suggests areas the Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee should monitor.

The report coincides with President Thomas Bach saying last week the IOC would start auditing money it hands out to sports organizations, including the $1.5 billion it is giving to Rio organizers to prepare South America’s first games.

The white paper by “The Popular Committee for the Cup and Olympics” touches on games-related security, police violence, transportation, spending and housing.

A few highlights:


The report disputes the city government’s contention that most of them money for the Olympics is from private sources. It concludes that 62 percent is government money and cites documents from the Olympic Public Authority, an agency comprising all three levels of government set up to oversee games’ spending.

The report says the private sector is paying less than 38 percent of the costs of the games — not 57 percent as Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes contends.

The residents of a slum in Rio De Janeiro playing football. (AP Photo)

It says the city’s accounting involves “omission of costs directly associated” with holding the games.

“In the current financing structure created by the IOC, the Olympics are not good at promoting social fairness,” Santos said. “They (the IOC) are a billion-dollar business, which is OK. But the business has to serve a wider interest of Brazilian people.”


Citing information provided by the Rio city hall, the report says 22,059 families have lost their homes (a total of 77,206 people) between 2009-2015 from infrastructure projects related to last year’s World Cup and the Olympics. The report estimates “at least 4,120 families have been removed and 2,486 remain under threat of removal by reasons directly or indirectly related to the Olympic project.”

The city hall says most displacements are unrelated to the big sports events.

“In the recent era the Olympics have been used as basically a steamroller to roll over marginalized communities,” said American political scientist Jules Boykoff, who has written three books on the Olympics and is in Rio on a Fulbright research fellowship.

“We’ve seen it in prior places like Beijing, London and to a certain degree in Vancouver as well,” Boykoff added. “This has become a bit of an Olympic tradition.”

The report said real estate prices near the Olympic Park in suburban Barra da Tijuca have increased by at least 200 percent, pulling in speculators and pushing out long-time residents.


Boykoff, who contributed to the report, suggested the IOC should give away free Olympic tickets as a gesture of inclusion.

Mayor Paes promised a year ago to buy 1.2 million of the 7.5 million tickets to be issued for the games and distribute them to schools and poor children. He made the pledge after the 2014 World Cup when Brazil’s poor were excluded by high ticket prices.

“We are trying to do something more democratic,” Paes said at the time.

A man rides his bike past graffiti that reads 'Come on Phelps' in Rio de Janeiro. (Reuters)

Paes has been praised by the IOC and is widely believed to have presidential aspirations.

The promise has not been kept, and the city hall did not reply to several requests from AP for comment.

Selling the 7.5 million tickets is a vital source of revenue for the 7.4 billion real ($2 billion) operating budget.

To their credit, Rio organizers have tried to make tickets affordable for local residents.


Track and field is king at the Olympics. But the sport will leave very little legacy in Rio.

The report notes that Rio’s main track and field training facility — the Celio de Barros Stadium — has been closed since 2013 and will not be reopened before the Olympics.

The running track in central Rio has been torn up and used as a parking lot.

Brazil is expected to do poorly in track and field at the Olympics.

The main sporting legacy will be three sports halls, a velodrome, tennis center and golf course built in suburban Barra da Tijuca, the heart of the games.

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