What to expect from the Rio Olympics’ legacy

Brasil Observer - Aug 15 2016
21/07/2016- Rio de Janeiro- RJ, Brasil- Inauguração dos aros Olímpicos na praia de Copacabana. Foto: Roberto Castro/ME
Inauguration of the Olympic rings on Copacabana beach (Photo: Roberto Castro/ME)

(Leia em Português)


For the first time the Olympic Games will take place in South America, at a time when Brazil is undergoing one of its most serious political and economical crises. What will be left?


By Wagner de Alcântara Aragão

The Rio 2016 Olympic Games take place between 5 and 21 of August in a very different mood from seven years ago, when Rio de Janeiro was chosen as the host city by the International Olympic Committee. If in 2009 the country experienced a process of economic growth and social development, emerging as one of the most prosperous regions of the planet for investment, today an aura of pessimism replaces the utopia.

For the first time the Olympics will be held in South America. But, affected by a severe political crisis that has paralyzed the country since last year and an economic recession that has increased unemployment and reduced national income, the population hasn’t shown excitement with the event.

It is likely, however, that the start of the Games will soften the heart of a considerable part of the nation. It is part of the Brazilians’ nature to distinguish situations, separate problems from good moments. The trend is that there is a warm welcome, such as in the 2014 World Cup.

The legacy expected from the Rio Olympics can be divided into at least two sets. The first is directly related to the purpose of the Games, sports. Is Brazil prepared to do well during the competitions? Has the country understood the importance of sport not only as a commercial product, but also as a tool for education, health and inclusion?

The other relates to the cost-benefit: will the amount spent be offset by job creation and boost economic activities such as tourism, for example? Will the Games infrastructure be used later? Were the interventions on urban mobility and revitalization, which required expropriations of families, made in the service of the community or private interests?



Brazil intends to complete its best campaign in the history of the Olympic Games, finishing in the top ten in the medals table. One cannot expect, however, an overwhelming performance. The country is far from being a sports power, although it has made significant advances in the previous Olympic cycles. However, recent investments indicate a stronger development in the area, and show greater willingness of the government to concentrate efforts manly on the basis of sport.

For over ten years, for example, the government established the Bolsa Atleta program, financial aid that benefits both athletes in training as well as high-performance competitors. The program ended with a recurring problem: talent athletes that needed to give up on sports activities because they had to work to make their lives. Before the Bolsa Atleta, government support was sporadic.

The latest edition of the Pan American Games (in 2015 in Toronto, Canada) demonstrated the relevance of the program. Seven out of ten Brazilian athletes who competed in the Pan American were beneficiaries of the Bolsa Atleta. Also noteworthy was the performance of the Armed Forces and state and public companies such as Furnas, Eletrobrás, Petrobrás, Correios, Caixa Econômica and the Bank of Brazil in sponsoring teams. Since 2007, Brazil has maintained the third position in the overall medals table of the Pan American Games (Rio 2007, Guadalajara 2011 and Toronto 2015).

Besides financial support to athletes and teams, there is the legacy of sports infrastructure built to host competitions. They are training centres, gyms, arenas, water parks and other spaces that give the country material conditions for the training of athletes, as well as the realization of high performance events. It is true that these facilities are concentrated mostly in Rio de Janeiro, which creates an inequality.

There is, however, an important legacy outside the city. In Santos, in the State of São Paulo, investments to house foreign delegations of judo and swimming, for example, will leave facilities in these activities. But it is in the state capital which is perhaps the most iconic heritage of the Olympic Games in Rio: the Paralympic Centre.

The Paralympic Centre of São Paulo has 95,000 square meters of built area and is named as one of the most modern in the world. According to the Ministry of Sport and the Secretary of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of the State of São Paulo, the centre “follows the concept of countries that have important results in adapted sports, such as Ukraine, China and South Korea, and is one of four major centres existing in the world.” It’s the one that houses the largest number of modes – 15 in total.



The Games will leave some marks on the urban infrastructure of Rio de Janeiro. One of the most significant should be on mobility. The competitions are divided into four areas – Barra da Tijuca, Deodoro, Copacabana and Maracana – distant, in some cases, tens of kilometres from each other. This required investment in public transport and opening and revitalization of public spaces.

Not everything, however, came out as promised. Seen as essential for the Games and cited by authorities as the main legacy, the extension of the underground Line 4 was not completed in time. Full delivery of the line extension has been postponed to 2018. Partially, it must be working during the days of competition, but only for the public with tickets for the Games. The same will occur with the BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) Transolímpica between Deodoro and Barra da Tijuca. The BRT Transbrasil (Deodoro to City Center) is not ready.

The emphasis on investment in BRT over modal transport was also questioned. The BRT Transcarioca, for example, opened for the 2014 World Cup, connecting the Tom Jobim International Airport to the West Zone, two years later is already marked by overcrowding buses and excess vehicles.

The expansion of the underground, which has greatest capacity and speed, was minimal. A LRV extension was implemented, but goes through a short path between the revitalized port area and the coach station – serves more as sightseeing than for urban public transport. There weren’t more significant investments in the rail system – only timely interventions to account for the increased demand in the two-week of the Olympics.



The LRV, by the way, became mascot of a significant change brought by the Games: the revitalization of the port area, on the banks of Guanabara Bay. From Mauá Square to the coach station, in place of abandoned sheds what you see today is the emergence of cultural (such as Museum of Tomorrow) and business enterprises.

The elevated Perimetral Avenue was overthrown and aired the region. In recent months, the area turned into a tourist spot; in the Olympic days, shows and other activities will be held there – which should be incorporated into the routine of the city after the Olympics.

The methods that enabled the revitalization, however, received criticism. According to social movements, the government, in favour of real estate speculation, promoted a kind of gentrification, making it impossible to stay in the region for low-income residents who were forced to migrate to the outskirts of the city.

Real estate speculation also guided works in the west zone, in the Barra da Tijuca area where the Olympic Village is siutated, which was built by private developers at the cost of public urban interventions (expropriations to open routes, for example) that caused removal of families occupying irregular areas. Movements fighting for housing and social rights condemned the withdrawal of residents on behalf of a need for legalization.

There are a lot of doubts around the actual costs to enable the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Corruption, overpricing works and suspicious contractual amendments are old practices in Brazil, but recently gained greater visibility and impact. Thus, the collective suspicion around any work or investment – with concrete reasons or not – has contributed to diminished excitement of Brazilians toward the Olympics.

Failure to comply with promises and deadlines reinforces that suspicion. Besides the unfinished works on urban mobility, actions highlighted by the authorities as a legacy in the environmental area were not implemented. Investments in sanitation for the de-pollution of Guanabara Bay, for example, did not materialize.



In public security, the expected legacy is heavily criticized by social organizations. For those who make this criticism, in the name of ensuring order, security forces adopt the brutality and violation of rights. For Amnesty International, Brazil repeated blunders in public security policy and in the use of police force, which became even more explicit in major events like the World Cup in 2014.

According to the organization, in 2009, when Rio was chosen to host the Olympics, the authorities promised to improve security for the entire population. However, over this period, 2,500 people were killed by police in the city and justice was obtained in a minimum number of cases.

According to official information, 65,000 policemen and 20,000 soldiers will make up the security force during the Olympic Games. According to Amnesty International, the plan provides for the sending of this contingent raids and operations in slums, which in the past resulted in an extensive list of human rights violations, whose investigations are still underway.

According to official sources, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games cost R$39 billion. This is equivalent to what Brazil pays per month in debt interest.

Tags: #.