After the Sugar High of the Rio Olympics

By: Alexis Lee, News Writer

Back in 2009, Rio de Janeiro was granted the opportunity to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. The Brazilian community was ecstatic and jumped at the lavish opportunity to utilize the event to help improve Rio and transform it into “A New World,” as the slogan of the Rio Games stated. Rio had plans to improve its infrastructure, water quality, and schools. However, there was some turmoil that offset these dreams, and the aftermath couldn’t be any more different from the views seen eight years ago.

After the Rio Games, the arenas were going to be transformed into priceless infrastructure. The canoe slalom course was going to become a public swimming pool, the Athletes’ Village was going to become extravagant condominiums, the Aquatics Center and the taekwondo arena were going to become schools, and all of the other courts and arenas were going to be maintained for public use. The most important goal, though, was to fully regenerate the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon and remove a majority of the sewage from its waters.

Unfortunately, only a few years before the 2016 Olympics, Brazil’s economy began to crash, and Brazil’s dream for the city began to tear away at the seams. “During the Olympics, the city was really trying hard to keep things together,” explained Oliver Stuenkel, a Brazilian professor of international relations. As the games presumed, the city was sliding down a slope approaching ruin, “[The] minute the Olympics were over, the whole thing disintegrated.”

Not even a year later, there are tragic sights of abandonment, devastation, and broken dreams. Anna Jean Kaiser, an investigator for New York Times, saw this all first hand:

Empty Olympic buildings abound, puncturing any uplifting buzz from the competitions last summer. At the Olympic Park, some stadium entrances are boarded up, and screws are scattered on the ground. The handball arena is barricaded with metal bars. The broadcast center remains half disassembled. The warm-up pool is decorated with piles of dirt and puddles.

Deodoro, a neighborhood in Rio’s poor periphery, has the second-largest cluster of Olympic sites. The canoe slalom course was to be converted into a giant public swimming pool. It closed to the public in December. Today, residents fill plastic pools a few hundred feet away.

The “extravagant condominiums” of the Athletes’ Village and Olympic Park did not sell, and the government does not have enough money to maintain it. The future schools had not been transformed, and now they currently sit abandoned. The remaining stadiums do not have anyone to operate them, so they have also remained untouched. Wagner Tolvai, who recently walked through the park with his girlfriend, reported, “The arenas are beautiful, but it’s all abandoned. Everything has stopped. Nobody is here.”

Similarly, the promise for cleaner water for decades to come was broken. It is predicted to take 25 years to clean the water noting its current conditions. However, this is expected to be especially difficult for the city with its collapsed economy. This is unfortunate news for the current residents considering only 42% of the beaches are clean enough for bathing, and 29% is considered to be in hazardous condition. In fact, Rio’s waters are currently tested to be 1.7 million times more hazardous than the water of South Carolina’s beach, which was given a “Long Term No Swim Advisory” by the State Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC).

Alongside all of these issues, there are moral concerns. There are many residents, those forced out of their homes due to construction for the Olympics, still struggling to find new homes. “For the most part, they now live in worse situations than they did before — and these were already the poor in a very unequal city,” Theresa Williamson, executive director of Catalytic Communities, an organization that provides support to favela communities in Rio. “People are overwhelmingly not well. Everybody you talk to is struggling in some sense.” However, it has not stopped at homelessness. Police brutality has been on the rise, especially toward those living in favelas. Killing by police officers increased by 135% just before the 2016 Games, according to Amnesty International.

“The word is out that the Olympics bring problems to your city,” said Jules Boykoff, author of Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics, and it’s no doubt that Rio de Janiero was faced with an abundance of challenges leading into and following the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. However, everyone remains hopeful that this can be the spark to change the future of the Olympics, so in turn, one community does not have to sacrifice their well-being for the benefit of the Games. “They bring great athletes, they bring a lot of excitement, they bring a sugar high. But that’s just empty calories and that’s eventually going to hit you.” Boykoff continued, “[But] we’re seeing in city after city, citizens are asking big and important questions even before they get the Olympics.” However, the leaders of Rio will have to answer to the controversial questions regarding why precautions had not been taken to prevent the city from falling into a heartbreaking sea of emotional, physical, and moral devastation.