Let’s Not Play Games in Rio, Colltalers
The beauty of Rio de Janeiro has been celebrated in song, dance, and literature. It’s the main cash cow of Brazil’s tourism industry. But in about a month, it may also be exposed as a symbol of Brazilian officials’ despicable disregard for the city’s natural treasuries.
When the 2016 Summer Olympics opens on Aug. 5, the expected half a million visitors may have a disturbing glance of what lies behind the world famous postcards of the gorgeous Guanabara Bay. Hint: they may have to literally cover their noses against the stench.
Two major failures can already be pointed about the preparation for these games, with potential to doom them or at least, mar their success: failure in dealing fairly with community relocation, and lack of environmental measures to address toxic and raw sewage pollution at sites cleared for building its facilities. These two factors may trigger a nightmare of security and health issues for both athletes and the public.
The games, which cap a decade of mega sport events in Brazil, starting in 2007 with the Pan American, and including the 2014 FIFA World Cup, were supposed to crown the country as a destination for world class competitions. Instead, it may be remembered for what clearly won’t be able to deliver: a safe and healthy environment for tourists and visitors, who’ll pay serious cash to attend them.
Part of the blame, if such a rare south-of-equator edition of the Olympics fails to meet expectations, may be entirely circumstantial: a worldwide economic slowdown, which provoked
an unprecedented chain reaction in the Brazilian economy, irked millions into almost three years of non-stop street rallies, and caused a political and institutional crisis that culminated with a presidential impeachment.
By May, when democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff was ousted from office – in an ill-advised legislative coup, according to growing consensus – the project of turning Brazil into a mecca for global sport events was already in shambles, along with over a decade of government policies by then ruling Workers’ Party. The Games seem now reduced down to their dismissible, vanity-driven component.
There’s also the explosion of cases of microcephaly and other serious medical conditions caused by the outbreak of the mosquito-borne Zika virus. It’s become a major public health crisis in Brazil, along with the spreading of other, all too common infectious diseases.
Zika’s vector mosquito, aedes aegypty, however, has already been infecting Brazilians with dengue and yellow fever for decades now. So the crisis wreaking havoc in Brazil is mainly caused by chronic lack of funds for prevention and poor decisions made by health officials.
For such a catastrophic prospect to be looming so large over the event there must have been a prior, long-standing lack of engagement, despite the optimistic rhetoric, by those in charge of completing the facilities, and assuring the physical integrity of everyone involved.
Such lackadaisical attitude is behind the reportedly rampant corruption of politicians, contractors and local authorities, while Rio remains a giant construction lot with no sign that all needed infrastructure and organization will be up and running by the opening ceremony.
Allegations of massive evasion of investments continue to pour in, just as they had before and during the World Cup. Thus, it’s fair to expect that, after Aug. 21, a similar assortment of useless, half-finished structures, will be left behind, but none of the promised potential lasting benefits to disrupted communities, and that were integral to the sales pitch that brought the Games to Brazil in the first place.
Cynics would say that it’s all part of the old Brazil that’s back, the one once run by an authoritarian regime and a cast of technocrats, its picked winners, oblivious to systemic political violence, and always eager to go to bat for a phony public image of a well-adjusted society.
As if to pour some salt on old wounds, some would even volunteer the fact that then, at least, Brazil used to win World Cups. As if in some fantasy recreation of the old order, winning sport tournaments was all that it’d take to make that a nation of contented people.
Somehow this picture of a Brazil that no longer exists must be rejected, as it’s painted by a minority who profits on common despair and refuses to be accountable. Despite the recent string of incredibly questionable decisions, the average Brazilian citizen today is much wiser.
There may not be, unfortunately, rescue for these games, even though crowds will certainly roar and athletes will surely put their best foot forward. There may flaws, and mishaps, and lamentable incidents involving trusting foreign tourist. There will be a few embarrassing moments that will shame decent Brazilians, and momentarily set back the world’s goodwill, all before the medals will be given away.
Then again, it’s time to leave sport metaphors behind, and demand more than trophies, if we’re to have a better nation coming back from dire straits. Because if it does, it’ll won’t be for accolades but for justice as every Brazilian deserves a better country to call his or her own.
Rio is not London, is not Vancouver, or Sydney. Just a few years ago, Brazil itself was closer than it’d ever been of being considered part of the world’s elite nations. It was close but didn’t get to smoke the cigar, which says something about what’s it’s still missing to get there.
With all due respect to sport lovers, tourists, and Brazilian admirers, there are many way more important issues to be addressed right now, including matters of life and death. So if a competition, which was primarily pursued to showcase the country’s image and natural good fortune, eventually fails to convey that high-falutin ideal of competence and progress, so be it. It’ll be different, and better, next time.
As for Zika, help may be on the way. These days, mosquito-transmitted diseases are no longer monopoly of warmer places; the whole world is much warmer now. So they will happen for sure, everywhere, but there’ll be more people invested in fighting their outbreaks.
Finally, make no mistake: there’s great valor in the personal stories of dedication and redemption that always come out of the Olympics. They reassure us of our innate ability to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps and fight to leave a positive mark on this world. Who can argue against that? They’re just not everything that counts, or non athletes would have an even harder time picking themselves up in the morning.
All we can hope is for a safe Olympics, and that deserving winners reach their marks, and nobody gets hurt, and that Daesh and their scum continue to ignore Brazil. Other than that, we most likely won’t be keeping track of the games. Viva the Fourth and be as hot as July. WC