Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Thousands of tourists have begun to descend upon Rio de Janeiro for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, notwithstanding the police protest sign saying “Welcome to Hell“.

Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.
Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.

The list of Olympic failures is legion: a golf course despoiling a nature preserve; the forcible eviction of long-term community residents near the Olympic center in Barra da Tijuca; the abject failure of the UPP program touted as a way to clean up crime-ridden favelas; the murder of at least ten police officers each and every month.

Did we mention sewage? The promise to clean up the sewer that is Guanabara Bay was a lie, as was the promise to clean up the sewage in the Lagoa. Even the Olympic Village complex of multi-story residential buildings designed to be luxury housing after the Olympics, is currently uninhabitable because of blocked toilets.

What’s the “legacy” of Rio 2016? One is supposed to be public transportation, as some long-needed options (such as the VLT) to buses and trains are inaugurated. Metrô Line 4, which was supposed to be fully operationally six months ago, will use the “Olympic Family” as guinea pigs to see whether it works. But the completely mismanaged juggling of public bus routes, with no notice of where they go, will befuddle tourists and Cariocas alike. Just don’t ride your bicycle to São Conrado from Leblon.

The transportation legacy ought to include Rio’s horrendous commuter train service — but it doesn’t. Trains are the principal means for poor people to get themselves from their distant suburban communities to their jobs in Rio de Janeiro. As more and more people are removed from gentrified Zona Sul (South Zone) favelas, their residents head west, so the trains get more and more crowded.

The bankruptcy of the State of Rio means that the public health system and the public safety system are even less able to serve the populace than before. The health authorities have announced that no one with health insurance will be taken to a public hospital in an emergency.

The state police get their salaries two weeks late, and don’t even have money to buy paper to put in their printers, so local merchants have been advancing funds for this purpose. In other words, if you’re held up at gunpoint, don’t bother trying to file an official complaint. The authorities point to importation of some 50,000 “security” agents; hopefully, at least some of them have had training in how to use the weapons they’ll be issued.

Another supposed legacy is the purpose-built sports stadia, all of which cost at least double their original estimates. Just like the white elephant football palaces built for the 2014 World Cup, they too will begin to rot and mould away, as they stand unused.

And, finally, let us consider the worst legacy of Rio 2016 — unemployment. All the infrastructure and habitation created lots of construction jobs; but as of September, those jobs will disappear. Once the Games end and the 50,000 security agents go back to their daytime jobs, street crime will increase and the hotels built in seedy downtown and faraway Recreio will soon be largely empty, with no need for staff.

But during August and September, most Cariocas will be glued to the tube, watching the spectacle and pretending that everything will be all right.

The Curmudgeon really truly thought, back in 2012, that Rio might just become a serious place by 2016, because of Rio 2016; sadly, he was wrong.


  1. Best wishes to my friends in Brasil for a successful and exciting Olympic games. Sure Brasil has had problem in preparing for this Herculean task but what country hasn’t since the games have become a bloated, unmanageable mess. One thing the Olympic visitors to Rio can depend on to assure they have a great trip is the beauty of the country and the warmth and hospitality of the Cariocas.Tuda bom!

  2. Lots of Brazilians very jaded by these Olympics and this piece is a perfect encapsulation of that. As a foreigner who’s been here less than six months and last visited before the World Cup I can’t completely appreciate it as life generally is good for me. But what I’ll tell you is that every person I’ve met who came to Brazil for the World Cup loved it and walked away with a great affection for the country especially Rio, the little niggles like in public transportation that are glaring to the average Brazilian are just a footnote for tourists compared to the general warmth and fun of the people here, so a positive is that hopefully the legacy of these games will be many return visits from these visitors.

  3. The Olympics always brings out the best and worst in everyone involved, from the competitors to the organisers and everyone else. The visitors will come for the Olympics but hopefully they will get to see more of Brasil, enjoy what they see and leave happy that they visited such a wonderful place. I am from Australia – have visited Brasil 10 times – and we hosted the Olympics in Sydney in 2000. There were difficulties in the lead up to the games here too but overall the games were a tremendous success. Beware however of the post-games effects: property values drop and tourism numbers fall to below pre-Olympic numbers for two or three years. There is promotional work to do to build up tourism again and hopefully that process has already started. My very best wishes to Brasil for a successful games, despite the difficulties to date.

  4. As a Chicagoan, who has visited Rio many times, “muito obrigado” for winning the Olympics. Our financially and socially broken city could not have afforded this lunacy (either). As Allen Sanderson of the University of Chicago, a noted sports economist, has suggested, maybe the time for Olympics in their present form is over, just as World’s Fairs have essentially passed away. The Metro extension will eventually work properly, and will be a benefit, but this and other infrastructure improvements could have been done anyway.

  5. As an brazilian born US citizen living in Chicago I wish Rio a successful Olympics and hope and pray that all the economic problems will be resolved in short time (that may be wishful thinking). If Juscelino Kubitchek could buid the Country in five years I am sure that Rio can return to glory days of yore.

  6. The Olympics will be done in the Brazilian way, which is good enough for some of them, but not for most Brazilians. To make matters worse, the IMF just recommended raising taxes on Brazilians to get out of this mess. The last thing people need to do to fill the pockets of politicians even more, as the taxes are not getting spent on their intended target. Truth be told, the only way that Brazil gets out of the current mess as a start are three-fold.

    First – Wait for the rebound of oil prices. The country was actually a net creditor for a couple years, which seems astounding today, and when they get the money flowing again – see point 2.

    Second – Corruption must be ruthlessly exposed (if that sounds a little too much like Robespierrian virtue then so be it, but it’s important)

    Third – Cut red tape in starting and running businesses. The culture of work must be instilled in the youth which means a restructuring of the draconian labor laws. Kids in Brazil’s middle and upper class can’t or often won’t get a summer job, as the attitude is that it’s beneath them or businesses can’t afford to hire them, as it’s automatically a full time position (someone correct me if I’m wrong).

    This would also have the effect of putting some of the black-market businesses on the tax roll and allow people to better access the services that they need for more than just basic survival.


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