RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The week after the 2012 London Olympics, there is still some afterglow, and especially for Rio who is feeling the heat of hosting the 2016 Games. As far as how Brazil’s athletes did in London, it was a combination of new steps forward, with the first gold medal in gymnastics and first silver in boxing, and some disappointment, as men’s football (soccer) only took silver.
Only in Brazil would a silver be a disappointment in football, but living here in the context it is easier to understand. First of all, Brazil is the team that has won the most FIFA World Cups (five), considered the most important tournament in the sport.
In addition, in two years time, Brazil will host the next (2014) World Cup, and the sense is that Brazil has to win. I don’t know, or want to know what happens if they don’t. After the Olympic silver there were calls for the coach to be fired and all kinds of reproach for the first Brazilian team to make it into the Olympic finals in 24 years (but have never won).
However for Rio the 2016 Olympics is not just about the sporting competition and medal race, as they have been 23rd and 22nd in the last two Summer Games, it is about being a good host.
I participated in a panel discussion on BBC Radio on Monday with some other journalist, and although I hate being recorded and speak painfully slow (especially for radio), it was a great chance to take stock of the situation. The main concerns for the city’s ability to prepare seem to be infrastructure and security. We are generally pretty optimistic at The Rio Times, and in both these areas we see progress happening very fast.
For infrastructure, the Metro subway to Barra da Tijuca is perhaps the most important project, as it will connect the city to the 45-60 minute away neighborhood which will host over fifty percent of the games. There are several Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) roadways also being started to connect the other neighborhoods around the city.
It is too soon to say these are on track to be completed in time or not, but they have been started, some have been opened, and that seems like a good sign. Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the transportation area is that the SP-RJ high speed train got side-lined.
For security, just last month there were gun battles between police and drug gangs, with casualties on all sides, including civilian. The city has more resources to bring to the field though, and Zona Norte (North Zone) is the focus now, as an area with less affluent neighborhoods and many more favelas.
Even with the high level of violence and urban poverty in many of these communities, the city’s favelas as a whole seem to have changed a lot since 2008 when the Police Pacification Unit (UPP) program started. Four years from now it is hard to imagine the favela streets will not be cleared of machine-gun wielding gangs… at least on the streets.
I’ve only lived in Rio full time for 3.5 years (traveling here since 2002), and although there is plenty to criticize, the changes in quality of life for the majority of citizens appear positive. What is encouraging about the progress for the 2016 Olympics is that these infrastructure and security programs should continue to improve that quality of life in Rio after the event comes and goes.
It is easy to be optimistic in the morning, but optimism is not the same as naïveté, it is the hope to triumph over adversity, sentiments I believe Brazilians know well. We wrote an article about this new song for the city’s hosting of the 2016 Olympic Games, in case you missed it, give a listen.