The Olympic games just wrapped up last night, and the whole world was watching.
The Games draw millions of viewers from around the world, and offer up the most diverse group of athletes you will ever find on American television screens. The coverage is full of inspiring stories, exciting races, and acts of super-powered strength. Sometimes the camera pans out to show the beautiful landscapes, giving a small glance to the local flare of the host city.
What’s often not shown, though, is the turmoil and potential scandal happening behind the scenes, and this year’s Games was not immune to issues. Leading up to the Opening Ceremony was a host of reports on the financial struggles of the host city, Rio de Janeiro, and concerns over the local population’s struggle with the Zika virus.
Still, the coverage was minimal and barely scratched the surface of what was really happening in the background of Rio leading up to the Olympics. Governmental collapse, local displacement, soup kitchen closures, and more; there’s a dark side to the Rio Games and the future of Brazil is in question.
So, what was happening in the background of the Games, and how will Rio look now that the Olympic party has ended?
The government scandal is severely affecting the poor
It’s important to note that when Rio de Janeiro was selected to be the 2016 host city for the Summer Olympics, things were really looking up for Brazil. They had survived the 2008 international financial collapse with only a few scratches and were easily rising in the rankings of richest economies in the world. The financial struggles that they are experiencing today were simply not in the picture, and didn’t begin to develop until 2015 when the accusations rolled out.
Federal investigators in Brazil found through their investigation that one of the largest companies in Brazil, Petróleo, was funneling money from inflated construction prices into the pockets of high-level politicians. The results caused roughly 50 politicians to be exposed in the scandal – including the last and current President – and created a massive loss of finances in the construction, oil, and political sectors of the economy. Since construction, oil, and the Petróleo company were some of the largest job markets in Brazil, this investigation led to a total collapse of the government and massive job loss for Brazilian citizens.
Just months before the Games began, Rio de Janeiro had to declare a financial emergency for the city. The inflation of construction costs and loss of jobs in the sector caused the city to overshoot their budget for building the Olympic structures by nearly 51% over its original plan. Brazil bailed them out, but not before teachers and police officers went weeks without pay. Teachers and police are all paid directly through the government, and with the financial struggles they were the first to be left in the dust.
This caused security issues, as police officers protested their delay in pay. Just weeks before the Games, Rio de Janeiro was looking close to a war zone as criminal activity spiked to an all time high. Officials with the Olympics were worried, and asked to increase security around the Olympic Village and stadiums. Since the complexes were built in the richer areas – to ensure the tourists saw only the “best” of Rio – this led to decreased security in impoverished areas.
Low security and decreased tourist traffic means the majority of Rio de Janeiro is being neglected. Just a month before the Games began, a total of 16 government-run soup kitchens were slated to be closed permanently as the local government funneled their money into other programs.
The poorer communities have been the target of government cuts in Brazil since the Games were first announced. According to the Guardian’s research: “22,059 families have been resettled since 2009, either because of their homes being labelled “at risk” or to make way for transport and other infrastructure projects related to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.” Disputes over ownership of the land has also resulted in little to no financial compensation for the lost houses.
The LGBTQIA community is still fighting for acceptance
Despite the flair of Rio’s Carnival parade, the LGBTQ+ community in Brazil is suffering through tough persecution. The Sochi Olympics were put on display for Putin’s treatment of the Russian LGBTQ+ community in 2014, but little to no coverage has been placed on the Brazilian’s plight for acceptance.
A brief released by the Human Rights Campaign placed a spotlight on the inherent violence towards LGBTQ+ citizens of Brazil. According to the release, transgender women are especially vulnerable to attacks and murder; even as often as one murder per day in the country. Although the LGBTQ+ community has legal rights (gaining same-sex marriage in 2004 and child adoption rights in 2010), the violent acts are still common and often spearheaded by local police. Supporting parties have attempted to pass anti-discrimination bills for years, but all have been rejected on some level by the National Congress. In addition to this, the heavy cross-over of poverty in the LGBTQ+ community increases the risks of brutal attacks for many citizens.
Given all this, what does Rio’s future hold?
Rio de Janeiro’s future is uncertain. As with most Olympic Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) hoped that Games would spike the local economy and provide facilities and jobs for years to come. However, that outcome is looking bleak. Due to the production overshooting the budget by such a large margin, it’s expected that Rio will make back only a fraction of what was put into building the Games.
This, on top of the underpaid police force and abandonment of the poor, means many will be suffering in the sprawling metropolis. It’s no wonder that stories of pickpockets are making headlines during the Games.
These people were displaced, left unprotected, and they are trying to make their way in a country that has left them for dead. That doesn’t make their actions right, but it can help us understand why.
The people of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil are going to be struggling for a few years. We can hope that the promising future the IOC promised Brazil will come to fruition, but at the current time it’s not panning out in their favor.
Now that the Games have wrapped up, the cameras have turned off – but let’s not forget the damage brought by the Games, nor forget the lives of the Rio inhabitants who will be suffering.