Six months after the Olympics, Rio is worse off than ever

So-called “legacy projects” lie in ruins all over the city.

This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. CREDIT: AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo
This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. CREDIT: AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo

When the 2016 Summer Olympic Games were awarded to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil back in 2009, there was a lot of talk about the “transformational power of sports.” In fact, the official slogan of the Rio Games was “A New World” — the Olympics were supposed to leave Rio with an improved infrastructure, cleaner water, and more schools, truly allowing the city to establish itself as a player on the world stage.

But Brazil’s oil-dependent economy began to crash a few years before the Games, and political upheaval followed. By the time the Olympic torch was lit, it was clear that the legacy projects Rio once boasted about were a mere pipe dream.

On the surface, the Games were a success, particularly thanks to performances by Usain Bolt, Simone Biles, and Michael Phelps. But a mere six months later, the city is in tatters.

Advertisement

“During the Olympics, the city was really trying hard to keep things together,” Oliver Stuenkel, a Brazilian professor of international relations, told the Independent earlier this month. “But the minute the Olympics were over, the whole thing disintegrated.”

Here’s a look at the true legacy of the 2016 Rio Games.

Abandoned stadiums

The empty, decrepit stadiums that provided the settings for fairy-tale endings just a few months ago are the most concrete examples of Rio’s broken promises.

Advertisement

Earlier this month, Anna Jean Kaiser investigated the aftermath of the Rio Olympics for the New York Times, and what she found wasn’t pretty.

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.

It only gets worse from there.

The Athletes’ Village was supposed to be converted into luxury condominiums after the Olympics were over, but only 10 percent of the units have sold. There was an auction after the Olympics ended for private companies to bid on the Olympic Park, but nobody submitted a bid. So now it’s up to the government to maintain the park, but the government has absolutely no money.

Advertisement

The Aquatics Center and the taekwondo arena were both supposed to be transformed into schools, but they currently sit abandoned and there is no sign that education is coming.

The iconic Maracanã stadium is literally in ruins — the electricity is turned off because it owes $1 million to the electricity company, the field is brown, chairs are uprooted, and television screens are missing. The golf course isn’t accepting new members, the tennis and velodrome arenas are locked because nobody is available to operate them. The warm-up pool is now filled with mosquitoes and dirt.

There aren’t even bathrooms at Olympic Park, making it a very poor tourist destination.

“It’s totally deserted,” 42-year-old Vera Hickmann, 42, told the Times when asked about her trip to the Park. “I had to bring my son over to the plants to go to the bathroom.”

Pollution

One of the boldest— and most important — promises that the Rio Olympic Committee made was to support a “full regeneration” of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, and clean up 80 percent of the sewage in its waters. An undertaking like that would have completely revitalized the Rio water treatment facilities, providing cleaner water for residents for decades to come.

Well, that didn’t come close to happening.

An AP investigation in 2016 found that waters in Rio were 1.7 million times more hazardous than waters on a South Carolina beach. They also contained drug-resistant bacteria. Currently, only 42 percent of Brazil’s beaches have optimal water for bathing, and 29 percent are considered to be in bad or terrible condition.

Advertisement

Thankfully, no Olympians became ill due to the conditions of the water, but they were obviously only there for a short period of time. The water quality is clearly a concern for the residents in Rio, which is bad news considering the money and energy it will take to significantly improve it. The AFP has reported that currently, officials predict that it will take 25 years to clean up the sewage in Guanabara, and that is only if a significant private investment is made.

Police brutality

The Olympics proved the further the divide between poor Brazilians, particularly those living in favelas, and the police officers who are supposed to be protecting them.

According to Amnesty International, there was a 135 percent increase in killings by police officers in the months before the Games. Their latest report, written at the end of last year, confirmed that trend is ongoing, thanks to the continued military presence in the favelas.

“Just kilometers away from the guarded Olympic venues, some of the poorest and most marginalized people of Rio de Janeiro still live under constant fear due to the sustained violent repression of police and other security forces,” Amnesty reported at the end of last year.

“Rio 2016 leaves a shady legacy of a city entrenched with marginalization and discrimination, with a deeply militarized public security approach and a record of human rights violations, where violence remains part of the game.”

Young, black men who live in favelas make up an overwhelming percentage of the killings by police in Rio.

Destroyed economy

Experts estimate that the Olympics cost Brazil around $12 billion; so far, it is not an investment that has paid off.

Since the Olympics, unemployment has doubled, the GDP has fallen 8.4 percent, and the wages and pensions of public employees have been cut by 30 percent. In 2016, when theoretically there would have been more jobs than ever due to the Games, the country’s economy shrank by more than four percent.

There are estimates that the organizers of the Rio Olympic Games still owe $40 million to creditors, and because of the recession, Rio’s new mayor Marcelo Crivella has prohibited all spending.

“This all coincided with the economic recession but in Rio, just like the boom here was more intense because of the Olympics, now the fall is more intense because of the Olympics,” Theresa Williamson, executive director of Catalytic Communities, an organization that provides support to favela communities in Rio, told AAP.

Over 80,000 favela residents were forced to move due to Olympic construction, and many of them are still struggling to find housing today.

“For the most part, they now live in worst situations than they did before — and these were already the poor in a very unequal city,” Williamson said. “People are overwhelmingly not well. Everybody you talk to is struggling in some sense.”