Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Yesterday one of the Curmudgeon’s friends wrote him from the USA: “I feel for you. The hassle of hosting the Olympics. I don’t know why anyone would want to agree to such a thing; it certainly would not be the people who actually live there.”
The Curmudgeon responded that he was wrong: the people who actually live here supported the bid to host the Games — in fact, the people of Rio rejoiced!
One reason is that, when the bid was made and accepted, Brazil was in full-fledged growth mode. For the first time in almost a century, the Mayor, Governor and President were all part of the same political coalition, so money could be found at all levels of government. Moreover, the “pre-salt” oil boom was beginning and Rio was far and away the biggest beneficiary.
Another reason was that Rio’s bid contained a promise to leave a legacy after the Games ended, and Cariocas, eternally springing hopefully, thought to themselves, that this time, finally, it might, just might, happen.
The promised legacy included cleaning up Guanabara Bay — but that didn’t happen.
The legacy also included improving urban mobility—and that did happen. Rio now has a new VLT, a new Metrô Line 4, several BRT lines, tunnels rather than elevated highways — even the super-crowded suburban trains have been upgraded. Downtown is now a much airier and lighter place than it was.
On the other hand, over 22,000 people were removed from their community dwellings to faraway western places. The UPP system designed to make the favelas safe has failed, as the number of civilians killed by police (and vice versa) has grown exponentially.
All the Olympic infrastructure was completed at the last minute — some with structural defects — at prices well over budget. [Please do not bike to São Conrado from Leblon without wearing an inflatable life vest.]
No one in Rio is excited about a “legacy” public golf course, because almost no one in Rio can afford to play golf. The housing built for the Rio 2016 athletes will be converted into dwelling places almost no one in Rio can afford – nothing was built for hoi polloi.
Did we mention that Cariocas remember the “legacy” of the Pan American Games hosted here in 2007? Less than a decade later, not a single sports facility built for that event was suitable for the Olympic games. The high-rise complex designed for lower-middle-class housing has become a white elephant, built over a swamp that was never properly drained.
Seven years ago, the Olympic Games of Rio 2016 were supposed to be the final building block in Brazil’s campaign to be recognized as “a serious country”. Sadly, most people here (including The Curmudgeon) just don’t believe in that any more.
Given the political and economic crises, coupled with the vast corruption being uncovered, there’s a generalized sense of regret that Brazil, once again, just missed the boat.
Put another way, many Cariocas feel trapped in a leaky boat, navigating turbulent and polluted waters.
But we resist. The Curmudgeon submits that F. Scott Fitzgerald described Rio 2016 for Cariocas far more elegantly in The Great Gatsby: “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”