Discussing the Olympic and Paralympic legacy in Rio de Janeiro (a)

Photo credit: Alline Ourique

This is the part one of two from the blog post "Discussing the Olympic and Paralympic legacy in Rio de Janeiro"

By: Aikaterini Tsakanika

Let’s talk about it!

In an effort to build a network of dialogue and cooperation, the Carioca Design Center (Centro de Carioca de Design -CCD) hosted a ‘get-to-know-us-better’ pre-celebration in its cozy two-floor renovated space at Tiradentes square, in the heat of Rio de Janeiro city. In this gathering, protesters, indigenous people, former volunteers in the Olympic games, teachers, and athletes were all welcomed in an open and inclusive dialogue with representatives from Brazilian, German and international organizations, including the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro, Sports Network for Social Change (REMS), GIZ Brazil, German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB), Fundação Heinrich Böll- Brasil, and RIO+ Centre.

Invited guests opened the floor by making 10 minute introductory comments to steer the debate and the reflection upon the legacy of the mega-events, and particularly of the Olympic and Paralympic games, in Rio de Janeiro, as well as the potential contribution that sports can bring to youth and marginalized groups. The heated conversation, despite the balanced moderation and the friendly atmosphere, revealed the need for the Carioca society to aggregate all information and consolidate better the possible conclusions of the aftermath of the two consecutive mega events that profoundly affected the local society.

Was it a celebration that reaffirmed the socio-economic potential of Brazil as an equal player in the international community, or instead, a downward spiral of events that exposed systematic gaps in governance as well as uncontested social and environmental disputes?

Brazil, being the first “developing” country that hosted the Olympic and Paralympic games, held pride in delivering amazing opening and closure ceremonies as well as keeping track all the complex organisational demands. The legacy and experience of the Brazilian society in organizing massive cultural events encouraged the Cariocas to embrace this new international challenge, showing an unprecedented dedication and commitment both as volunteers and as professionals.

Rio de Janeiro was decorated with Olympic and Paralympic signs, pedestrian pathways were constructed, and parks were renovated across the historical centre of the city, and touristic neighbourhoods, mainly in the harbour area, were revitalized. The new Museu do Amanha also stood as an indisputable jewel for the visitor. The Carioca tram was delivered as a project to transform the urban transport infrastructure connecting the national airport Santos Dumont with the Central bus station. Yet, during the preparation years, many incidents, including the mosquito-borne virus outbreak, the growing political tension in Brazil, the growing public discontent for Brazilian economy and evictions of indigenous people and other social groups from their settlements, shook the image of Brazil in the international forums and raised questions for the management and the delivery status of the infrastructure and environmental projects by the local authorities. The criticism was fuelled mainly in regards to the restoration project of the Guanabara Bay: despite the removal of significant quantities of floating solid waste, the basic sanitation infrastructure of the municipalities, affecting the bay with waste emissions, was not concluded, compromising the health of the athletes that had direct contact with those waters. Raw household sewage and industrial waste under the surface of the city of Rio de Janeiro still find its way into the Guanabara Bay. As was reminded in the Rio 2016+1 round discussions by Baia Viva -a civil society movement-, local fishing communities took most of the burden of the omissions and the misuse of the public and international funds, as to this day they are suffering from contamination due to constant exposure. 

To be continued in part two...

Photos by Alline Ourique.