The Rio 2016 Olympic Games are a representation of the many opportunities lost by Brazil.
Brazil—that is, Rio—is about to host what is perhaps the most important event of the multi-billion-dollar global industry that we call sports. You know, the Olympic Games, that exciting TV show that is broadcast every four years, and that always tries to encourage us to believe that sponsors like Coca-Cola and MasterCard are hoping for a multicultural and meritocratic world where everyone loves each other.
As a naive media celebration of a globalized, capitalistic and peaceful post-war world, the Olympics are clearly decaying. Apart from the professionals (most of them high on performance-enhancing drugs, as you are probably already aware) and those that will make money out of the event, Brazil doesn’t seem to be particularly excited.
This is the upshot of many large-scale cultural undercurrents. The erosion of the idea of representation and the ubiquity of the media are two of them. When people still believed that a given sportsman somehow represented them (rather than a trainers’ brand), or had to watch the same TV channel due to the sheer lack of options, the Olympics could pass as the peak of the civilized nobility, an important and grandiose feat that brought the entire world together into a stadium. Now, Rio 2016, as was London 2012, will be another component of the irritating white noise which emerges from our infinitely mediatized reality—surely it is more visible than other elements, but it remains forgettable.
But it is not only that. There is something especially discomforting about the games this time around. The Olympics will take place in a country that appears ashamed to host them. Brazilians do not seem to want the scrutiny of the world, apparently afraid of what outsiders will see. Consider this New York Times op-ed by a Brazilian writer. Instead of using official information, she decided to go for a stroll in Rio. The conclusion is depressing: “The Olympic Games in Rio are an unnatural disaster.”
There are so many problems. First, there’s the lack of money. Second, some of the construction jobs look shaky at best. Third, there is the old and shameful violence. And, finally, there’s an attempt to “clean up” the streets, which translates into expelling homeless populations—which is impossible because there are too many homeless people in Rio.
This is not news, of course. Something similar happened during the 2014 World Cup when, on top of all the existing problems, there were violent street demonstrations against the event that were criminally repressed by policemen under the orders of then-president Dilma Rousseff. But, back then, the country seemed different. The protesters were widely seen as vandals that were supposedly destroying the country’s image. Indeed, up to the moment of the surreal loss to Germany, things were not that bad, we thought. Brazil was going to win the championship, the economy was considered to be functioning well enough, and our democracy was in decent shape. Now, two years later, the public doesn’t even feel that protesting is a worthwhile pursuit. The national morale has disappeared under the acute economic ordeal, as well as the political polarization.
This is not to say that the games will be an actual disaster—at least if one understands “disaster” as something that will prevent them from taking place. Governments always make sure that some minimal control is established, at least over the course of the month of the games and within a tourist bubble. In a sense, these events are designed to succeed at a practical level. Too much money and corporate interests have been invested for them to fail. But it’s important to understand that, on a conceptual level, the The New York Times opinion piece is correct. When compared to everything that the games could be, the Olympics already are a disaster of a different, and more abstract, order.
*[This article was originally published by Plus55.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Photo Credit: luoman