Rio Olympic Games kick off amid political, societal tensions

Would you say the Olympic Games in Rio may have some political, societal impact, and what kind of impact, on the country taking also into account recent political turmoil? Read few comment.

Kai Michael Kenkel, Assistant Professor, Institute of International Relations, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Associated Researcher, German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA)

The original idea of hosting the Olympic games had been germinating in Rio for a long time, for over a decade at least before the 2016 candidacy was accepted. The idea was to enjoy the economic boost the Games bring and to highlight the country’s international role. The Workers’ Party government at the time was putting forward a foreign policy image based on a notion of soft power around Brazil’s progressive values. The idea was to project a modern, organized country with social mobility for minorities, that had technological advancements and was organizationally sound. But Brazil is a country that has–comparatively speaking–invested very little in infrastructure, in education and in health, and so it has remained economically hostage to commodity prices. Due to chronic underplanning the image now–which has been exaggerated a lot in the foreign press too–has been one of disorganization, high crime, zika, polluted sailing venues and the like. So the media impact has been mixed at best. But this also hides the fact that the actual sporting venues were done on time and at high quality, and the outlying infrastructure is actually quite good. Let’s remember London, Athens and Beijing also had very similar problems.

The Games were given to Brazil at a time when prices were high and the economy was booming, and now they are low and the money isn’t there because of a near-total lack of investment in sustainability by all previous governments. The other factor is corruption. Corruption is endemic in Brazil; the political class as a whole has almost no sense of responsibility towards the will and the good of the people at all. So the impact of the Games for the Brazilian in the street has been similar to the World Cup: billions are spent to host foreigners in facilities whose long-term utility is questionable (at least at this level of investment), while the ordinary people are left with snarled traffic, higher costs, and all the money that was spent on the Games could have flowed into schools, hospitals, ports, roads, social programmes and the like. Crony capitalism has seen billions of dollars of public money skimmed off of major projects by large corporations that befriended politicians, so the rich have benefitted–they are also the only ones who can afford tickets to the Games. The common man will not see so many benefits, and so the impact has above all been very unequal. Brazilians do love sports and big events, and so there will be high interest in the games, but a few gold medals and TV footage of the Christ statue going out into the world, most will tell you, are a hollow substitute for schools, hospitals and accountable governance.

Jeffrey Cason, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Schools, Professor of International Studies and Political Science, Middlebury College

I expect that Brazilian political actors of various tendencies will use the spotlight of the Olympics to increase protests and demonstrations around the country. They will use this international attention to their advantage. At the same time, I don’t think that the Olympics themselves will have much of an independent effect on the resolution of the political turmoil and crisis that Brazil is currently facing. Brazil has some profound political issues that it must confront, and institutionally, it is not very well equipped to manage them. I think that political leaders are hoping that the Olympics will take place with a minimum of controversy, and that they will be able to go back to business as usual. I don’t think it is likely that there will be a strong “Olympics effect” on politics in Brazil.

Marcos Alan S. V. Ferreira, Professor, Departamento de Relações Internacionais, UFPB – Universidade Federal da Paraíba

I feel the everything depends how successful will be the games. Otherwise, will be an impact only in Rio. I am in Rio now, and the city changed a lot! Public transportation are better, security (but this is only for Olympics) and quality of services. Nevertheless, for the most of people continues to be a challenging city, with a lot of people living in the morros and intense criminality rates. For the Brazil, if the games happens without big issues, will improve the image of the country that was very impacted by recent political and economical crisis. Maybe this can enhance the confidence by investors in the country, as we had in the 2000s.

W. Alejandro SanchezInternational Security Analyst

Regarding social impact, it depends on how the Olympics are managed (if there are no incidents/accidents during the opening ceremony for example) and how well the Brazilian athletes perform. Brazil is a very proud nation, particularly when it comes to the sports its athletes excel at, so it would be heartbreaking to not get a decent number of gold medals. Just look at the loss by the national team during the FIFA 2014 World Cup that Brazil organized but they could not win. I am not saying that a bad performance will prompt protests or anarchy, but it will certainly hurt the national morale.

As for the political impact of the games, there have been protests, widespread media coverage, as well as much criticism, regarding the preparations for the Olympics. For me, the major worry has to do with safety in the areas of infrastructure and security. In April, an Olympic bike lane fell, killing two people, while only a couple of days ago, a sailing ramp collapsed too though nobody was injured. Obviously a major concern will be if some other piece of infrastructure collapses while there are many people around it. The other concern is security: I do not mean terrorism but rather protection from criminals such as thieves. The Brazilian police, military and other federal agencies have carried out an amazing deployment throughout the city. However there is always the chance that the athletes, media representatives and attendees in general may be victims of a crime. This already happened in June when an Australian Paralympian was robbed at gunpoint.

In a worst case scenario, if there is a crime wave or a piece of infrastructure falls and injures peopl (or worse), this will have repercussions for the government. The Temer presidency will want to blame President Dilma and the PT, to add to the reasons that they cannot return to power. On the other hand, if the Olympics are incident-free, Temer can say that it was under his leadership that the Olympics were saved.

Matthew Taylor, Associate Professor, School of International Service, American University, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

The Olympics will have a number of important impacts.

Already, they have changed the way Brazilians talk about politics and public services: the public demonstrations of the past 3 years have largely been channeling popular discontent about the choices policymakers have made in allocating public services. Neither the World Cup nor the Olympics look like great choices now that the commodities boom has ended and governments nationwide are facing enormous budget shortfalls.

Politically, it is hard to untangle the current impeachment crisis from public anger about corruption, government over-spending, and poor public services.

Ironically, though, for all of the recent concerns about Zika, terrorism, infrastructure, and the problems of the Olympics, Brazil is likely to throw a great party. Even if the problems with the Olympic venues mean that all the athletes have to sit on the beach instead of compete, Brazilians are likely to be great hosts.

Patricio  NaviaProfessor, Political Science, Universidad Diego Portales, Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies, New York University

The Olympics will not have an impact on political developments in Brazil.  The political crisis that led to the impeachment of President Rousseff and her likely removal from office in a couple of weeks has evolved independently of the Olympic games preparations. To a large extent, this is because the games are always a city, not a national event (unlike the world cup).

Obviously, the political turmoil and the economic crisis have had an effect on the games, but I don’t think you can say the same the other way around. The games have not really had an effect on the political events.  Though if the games are successful, Brazilians for sure will shift their attention away from political developments at least for a couple of weeks.



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