Rio 2016 Olympic Games

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Like the 2014 FIFA World Cup before it, will stupendously expensive white elephants be Rio 2016’s legacy?

On the eve of the 2016 Olympics, protests have flared up again in Rio. When it comes to sporting events in Brazil, this is becoming a habit. The Olympic construction project has been plagued by delays, prompting the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to step in. “We have become very concerned,” said IOC vice-president John Coates after an inspection in 2014. The Olympics is now on track to be delivered, though still not without controversy – namely around polluted water. For both international commentators and the Brazilian public, it’s hard to shake the feeling of history repeating itself.

Own goals

On Thursday 20 June 2013, the streets of Brazil filled with more than a million protesters, spread across 100 cities. The Brazilian people were angry at everything: the state of public services, police brutality and the amount of taxpayers’ money that had been spent on the upcoming FIFA World Cup. Public feeling about the tournament had hit rock bottom. The cost of building the 12 stadiums required to hold the event had spiralled out of control. Promised infrastructure projects had been delayed. To make matters worse, unscrupulous landlords near the stadiums had raised their rents to the extent that people could no longer afford to live there, forcing them to live in makeshift slums nearby. “We were hoodwinked,” said Amir Somoggi, a finance and marketing consultant who works with some of Brazil’s biggest football clubs. “They said the World Cup would help Brazil take a huge leap forwards in terms of public transport, but all they did was the stadiums.”

The 12 arenas ended up costing 8.44bn reals (£1.97bn), considerably more than the 5.6bn reals (£1.3bn) originally estimated. Most expensive was the redevelopment of the National Stadium in Brasília, which cost 1.44bn reals (£336m), nearly twice its original estimate, and three times the cost of some of the stadiums that were completely rebuilt. “The venues cost much more than they should have,” said Somoggi. “They went for pharaonic projects, and we got left with white elephants.”

The final insult

A rise in bus fares tipped the Brazilian public over the edge. The protests continued right up to the weeks before the tournament, when protesters tried to block the roads leading to the stadiums. “They are giving priority to soccer and forgetting about the Brazilian people,” said nurse Rita de Cassia, who was forced to leave her small apartment when her landlord doubled the rent. As the tournament itself got going, protests started to fizzle out, due to a combination of government concessions and the distraction of the event itself. “We are Brazilians, and football is the culture of our country,” said Rio resident Carla Vilardo. “Now is not the time to protest.” But the World Cup has left scars that may never heal. Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, said of the lessons he’s learned: “Don’t ever in your life do a World Cup and an Olympic Games at the same time. I am not cut out to be a masochist.”

Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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