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The Evidence Grows: Rio Olympics Only Gave Host City a Quick Fix

23 Aug, 2017

By: Michael Popke

Has it really been a year since Rio hosted the Summer Olympic Games? For some of us, that may seem like a long time ago. But for many local residents, the city remains the same as always: A mess.

“Violent crime mostly concealed during the Olympics is soaring, tied to Brazil’s deepest economic downturn in 100 years and unpaid policemen leaving in droves,” reports the Associated Press, which recently sent two journalists back to Rio to check in on its post-Olympics progress (or lack thereof). “Brazil’s military has been called in to quell Rio’s untethered violence. Rio barely managed to keep it together for the Olympics, needed a government bailout to hold the Paralympics and then collapsed under a grinding recession and sprawling corruption scandals.

And that’s not all. The site where most venues were located — in a wealthy and white part of the city ­— quickly became a ghost town, with rampant vandalism.

According to the AP report, here is the good, the bad and the ugly in Rio today:

• The Good: “The Olympics left behind a new subway line extension, high-speed bus service and an urban jewel: a renovated port area filled with food stands, musicians and safe street life in a city rife with crime. These probably would not have been built without the prestige of the Olympics.”

• The Bad: “The Olympics left a half-dozen vacant sports arenas in the Olympic Park and 3,600 empty apartments in the boarded-up Olympic Village. Deodoro, a major complex of venues in the impoverished north, is shuttered behind iron gates. A $20-million golf course is struggling to find players and financing.”

• The Ugly: “Rio organizers promised to clean up polluted Guanabara Bay in their winning bid in 2009. During the Olympics, officials used stop-gap measures to keep floating sofas, logs and dead animals from crashing into boats during the sailing events. Since the Olympics, the bankrupt state of Rio de Janeiro has ceased major efforts to clean the bay, its unwelcome stench often drifting along the highway from the international airport.”

That’s a far cry from what International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said in August 2016: “I am absolutely convinced that history …  will talk of the Rio de Janeiro before the games and the much better Rio de Janeiro after the Olympic Games.”

The Rio experience serves as a “warning to every prospective Olympic city,” wrote Dave Zirin, author of eight books on the politics of sports — including Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy — and sports editor for The Nation. “Be afraid. Rio makes the lesson brutally clear: The Olympics are the cutting edge of an unequal and unaccountable global economy, in which the rich and powerful travel the world throwing lavish parties only to pack up and flee when times get tough, forcing everyone else to foot their bill.”

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