For two weeks from August 5, the world’s gaze will be trained once more upon Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic Games, as Brazil seeks to build upon its experience of hosting of the 2014 World Cup.
While hopes of experiencing a positive social impact on the back of receiving FIFA’s footballing circus have already faded, do the Brazilian people stand to gain anything from the Olympics this time around?
Boom to bust
When the games were awarded to Rio in 2009, Brazil was in the midst of its well-documented ‘boom’. The country’s GDP was high having doubled in just five years, and the announcement of a second global event coming to Brazil was greeted in a largely positive fashion.
However, Brazil now looks to be struggling with the pressure of hosting two such significant events in just over two years. In the twelve months preceding the football World Cup, mass social movements and anti-government protests marred preparations and shed unwanted light on the destination of tournament funds and perceived police brutality.
The demonstrations that gained traction with ordinary Brazilians then – notably the panelaço pan-thrashing that drowns out the words of increasingly forlorn President Dilma Rousseff – have, if anything, become more common.
Rousseff now faces the once unthinkable possibility of impeachment, as corruption allegations and her disastrous handling of the Petrobras scandal saw her approval ratings plummet to an all-time low exactly one year before the games were due to be held. By September 2015, a poll by Ideia Inteligência had found that 64 percent of Brazilians could not see Rousseff seeing out her term in power.
Brazil in 2016, it seems, is a far from hospitable environment for the world’s premier sporting roadshow. It would appear that the country has far more pressing concerns than a festival of sports in which its people are unlikely to take a great deal of interest. It’s greatest chance of effecting change in Brazil is to serve as a distraction from the problems the nation faces.
In order to do so, the games must be a successful one for Brazilian athletes. While the tangible legacy of the London 2012 games can be contested, the sporting performances of home-nation athletes could not have set a better platform from which to build a long-lasting memory of the event. This could prove to be a major stumbling block for Rio’s Olympics.
Much of the attention shall of course be concentrated in the usually-meaningless Olympic soccer tournament, which Brazil has never previously won. Limited to players under the age of 23 (although allowing for three older competitors in each squad), the seleção is likely to be able to count global superstar and posterboy Neymar Jr. among its number.
However, a win would do little to erase memory of Brazil’s humiliating exit from the 2014 World Cup in their own backyard at the hands of eventual winners Germany; yet there is precious little chance of other sporting successes being celebrated.
The Guardian has tentatively pointed to swimmer César Cielo – the 100 meter and 50 meter freestyle world record holder and owner of Brazil’s only Olympic gold medal in the pool – and 42-year-old sailor Robert Scheidt as other possible success stories.
With Brazilian sporting achievement unlikely to define a games that many no longer want, life in Brazil will return to normal with the closing ceremony on August 24. Even with a victory in the soccer tournament, there is unlikely to be any afterglow of national pride as was felt in London in the last days of the summer of 2012. Life will go on.
Operation Car Wash
Attention will turn once more to Dilma Rousseff and the Petrobras trial – due to take place imminently – as a verdict is reached, possibly sounding the death knell for Rousseff’s second term. A short-term distraction for sure; but the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games will not turn a corner for Brazilian sport or society.
As with the 2014 World Cup, it is likely that an unmanageable portfolio of scantily-populated and underused facilities shall provide the greatest and most haunting legacy for the games. The buildings shall serve as a reminder that when Brazil hosted its two mega events – for which it had won the right to host in times of prosperity – it was not quite ready to make the step onto the world stage. The tax-paying Brazilian people, as in 2014, shall be benefactors but not beneficiaries.