The Olympic games can be a mixed blessing for host cities. Sure, they can theoretically stimulate the local economy, bring tourism and international attention, but only the last of these is a definite.
On the other hand, many Olympics go way over budget (London), create massive debt (Barcelona) and even contribute to a national crisis (Athens). Overall the Olympics may be bad economics.
There is also a variety of issues that — while obviously benefiting developers, politicians and others with vested interests — may make hosting the Olympics a poor deal for the people of a city. Not to mention there is the environmental cost.
Rio de Janeiro’s winning bid may be a loss
For Brazil, the aim of hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics may be to highlight Rio de Janeiro as the jewel of the “Country of the Future”, but there is a downside that is rearing its ugly head.
The first South American city to host the games has already met with harsh criticism from the International Olympic Committee, with the IOS vice president calling preparations “the worst” he has ever seen. Recent police deaths and general unrest between Rio’s law enforcement — known for its corruption and high rates of violence — and poorer residents has seen an increase. Many in the city are against spending tax dollars on large sporting events such as the summer games and (especially) last year’s FIFA World Cup.
One such example is the efforts of construction firm Odebrecht — together with Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes — to clear areas near the Olympic Park of poor residents.
Up to 90% of the residents of the low-income area of Vila Autódromo have already left.
Jane Nascimento de Oliveira, of the few who has so far managed to stay put, is quoted in the Guardian:
Some say I am being greedy, but I have personal and political reasons for holding out. My aim is to make the government look at themselves and to show humility to the people. I’m still learning my rights, but I know enough to get in their way. If the state forces me to give up my home for public works, why do I have to lose out?
Olympic-sized environmental costs?
Environmental damage accredited to development for the games includes deforestation of parts of the Atlantic Forest — home to rare plants and animals — in order to build new golf courses. Mayor Paes counters the argument that the Olympic construction is destroying forest reserves by claiming the land is already degraded and that there will be significant reforestation to follow.
Then there is the shocking and embarrassing state of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, the planned site for the games’ rowing and canoeing competitions. Massive amounts of dead fish and decaying organic matter have made the lagoon both look and smell particularly awful. The lagoon’s tributaries have also been tested and found to contain harmful antibiotic-resistant superbacteria.
While the polluted water is not a result of Olympic development, you’d think a clean up would precede the games. However, even the mayor has admitted that the lagoon will likely remain polluted throughout the competition.
It looks like it might even get worse. The lagoon is considered a “permanently protected area”. This status has lead a Federal Judge to suspend all works at the site — including the construction of stands, seats, bathrooms, snack bars and shops — until it can be determined that there are sufficient protective measures.