Reflections on Rio and the 2016 Olympics

By UM News

Reflections on Rio and the 2016 Olympics

By UM News
UM experts reflect on issues occurring in Rio de Janeiro as the 2016 Summer Olympics play out from August 5 to August 21.

The story lines have been out there. Zika. Polluted waterways. A country in political upheaval. A number of athletes have pulled out of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, citing concerns about Zika. Rowers and sailors are taking precautions against contact with waterways many consider infested with disease. Political and economic issues plague the country.

University of Miami researchers and scholars provide their insights and expertise in discussing the games, the country and concerns.

NOTE TO MEDIA: Please contact Alex Bassil, UM Media Relations at 305-284-1092 or @UnivMiamiNews to set up interviews with the experts.

Brian Arwari, lecturer, Exercise Physiology Program, Department of Kinesiology and Sport Sciences, UM College of Education and Human Development:

Athletes from the USA and other countries had to make the tough decision on whether or not to participate in the Rio Olympics due to the Zika virus and other concerns.

Athletes have jobs with unique characteristics. For example, their teammates are often times both their friends and their direct competitors. An athlete who can’t compete for whatever reason knows they will be immediately replaced. There are very few jobs in the world where someone is literally warming up just in case something happens to you. This is true for every athlete in every game and in every sport.

This however is a special case. The stakes are much higher on both sides. Contracting the Zika virus is not like pulling a muscle. We still don’t fully understand the consequences and they can be life-altering. On the other hand, missing out on the Olympics could be career-ending. Additionally, in the Olympics athletes are competing for themselves, their team, and their country. There are multiple levels of loyalties. An athlete may feel as though he or she is letting down their team or their country. There can also be mixed loyalties. Do you do what is best for you or for your team?

As if this weren’t enough, because this virus is linked to severe birth defects, it may be a bigger concern for female athletes than male athletes. We might possibly see male and female athletes make different decisions.

In all of this uncertainty, one thing is for sure, this is one of those situations which will be used as a case study and classroom example for years to come.

Otávio Bueno, professor and chair, Department of Philosophy, UM College of Arts and Sciences, Editor in Chief of Synthese and a native of Brazil:

I don’t believe in national traits. But if there were any in Brazil, I’d say that it is the lack of sharp boundaries. Things are never just black and white in this country: they inhabit all shades in between. Extremely rich people live side by side with extremely poor ones. Breathtaking levels of poverty are mixed with astounding spending. Public goods are believed not to belong to anyone in particular, and so they are there for the taking. As a result, extremely high levels of corruption, institutionalized and internalized corruption throughout society, are a norm rather than the exception.

But there’s quite a bit of tolerance too. One would often find Brazilians attempting to help others out. After all, there’s always a way around: the famous Brazilian way (“o jeitinho brasileiro”). As a result, people are often bending the rules, doing something else than what they were expected to be doing. The outcome is massive inefficiency. Things take too long and, due to corruption and exploitation, cost too much to get done.

We are experiencing the results of all of this in the current Olympic games. Because rules are not followed, and what is promised need not be followed through exactly as promised (since there’s always a way around), facilities are not ready; Rio de Janeiro, after decades of lack of sustained structural development, is falling apart; social tension and criminality rates are extraordinarily high. None of this, sad as it is, should be surprising given the situation of the country.

Brazilian culture is a mixture of a multitude of traditions: some local, some European, some African and even Asian. All of it done Brazilian-style: blend everything together and create something quite new and unique. There is amazing music, world-class literature, and culinary traditions that are truly out of this world. One can always hope that things will eventually find their way. Somehow.

Arun Sharma, professor of marketing and vice dean for graduate business programs, UM School of Business Administration:

In examining cities that have hosted the Olympics, very little long-term positive impact has been seen.  However, negative impact is frequently seen.  In Montreal, which hosted the Olympics in 1976, it took 30 years to repay the debt on the Olympics stadium.  Some cities like to host the Olympics because it allows them to develop infrastructure and housing that has a long-term impact on the functioning of the city. Some examples are Athens, Beijing and Rio.  

Like other host cities, Rio will see a short-term benefit from the increased spending by Olympics participants and visitors.  However, the long-term effects will be minimal. The publicity surrounding the Olympics is positive for the host city only if there is positive news. In the case of Rio, issues such as crime, polluted waters or Zika virus may arise and create negative publicity for the city. Even if perceptions about the host city are positive, there is not a lasting impact. How many people remember that Athens hosted the 2004 Olympics? There is, however, a positive long-term impact on the citizens of the host city because of the improved infrastructure and a sense of accomplishment.

José Maria Cardoso da Silva, professor, Department of Geography and Regional Studies, UM College of Arts & Sciences and a native of Brazil:

The world needs to move faster towards a more sustainable path, one where ecosystems are protected or restored and inequalities reduced. Recent global support to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and Climate Change Convention are promising, but insufficient. The world needs good examples and leadership by some countries. Brazil, the world’s largest environmental superpower, had three changes to take a global leadership role.

In 2012, Brazil hosted the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) and missed the opportunity to show with good examples and ambitious commitments that sustainable development is a feasible endeavor. 

In 2014, Brazil hosted the FIFA World Cup. The event was supposed to be a green event, but again the government failed to be creative and original and missed another opportunity to show the nation’s commitment to sustainability. For example, even the species that was selected to be the event’s mascot, the three-banded armadillo, did not get its last large habitat patch protected.

Over the next few weeks Brazil will host the Olympic Games. Now, exhausted by the recent political crises, the country will miss another chance to show global leadership on sustainable development. It seems that, though all efforts, the environmental legacy of the Olympic Games is going to be insignificant.

Three significant opportunities in six years to take global leadership on sustainability. All of them missed.

Tracy Devine Guzmán, associate professor of Latin American Studies and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Modern Languages and Literatures, College of Arts and Sciences:

The last (and first) time the Olympics were held in Latin America was 1968. The world’s foremost sports competition commenced in Mexico ten days after the Tlatelolco massacre, when a yet uncertain number of students, protesting widespread social injustice and the massive public investment in the games, were shot and killed by national military and police forces. Hundreds of others were jailed while the authoritarian government of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz sought to put on the country’s best face for the world to see.

In anticipation of the October 12 opening, that year’s Olympic torch relay retraced Columbus’s route to the so-called New World, making its way from Athens to Mexico City via Genoa and the Island of San Salvador. The Black Power salute of U.S. medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the 200-meter award ceremony counts among the many ironies of an event meant to promote peace and yet dedicated to the “discoverer” who inaugurated the Atlantic slave trade.

In October 1968, Brazil was four years into a two-decade long military dictatorship that began with the ouster of a democratically-elected government working to counter many of the colonial legacies that still plague the Americas today: racism, social violence, massive discrepancies of wealth distribution, radically uneven access to education and healthcare services. Although national and international presses continue to express shock over Brazil’s “unpreparedness” to host the 2016 Olympics, it should come as no surprise that the country still faces the challenges of a developing nation with a new and fragile democracy. The Rio games merely shed new light on old problems that have been exacerbated by recent economic and political crises.

Although I have traversed Rio repeatedly during July, the city’s growing security presence does not cease to be jolting. Camouflaged trucks carry armed soldiers along the beaches; police carry automatic weapons on public transportation and at beautiful new tourist sites; military helicopters circle residential neighborhoods—all amidst a nebulous but ever-present specter of  “international terrorism.” And yet, with the games on the horizon in the presence of profound political discord and social unrest, one cannot help but recall that older order in which terror was an instrument of the state itself.

As with most newsworthy matters these days, public opinion about the presence of 85,000 security agents during the 2016 Olympics is deeply split. My unscientific poll among cariocas indicates that while approximately half of the population finds some comfort in the increased police visibility, the other half finds it intensely disturbing. This and other disagreements now play out alongside the undeniable presence of homegrown joy and excitement over the weeks ahead, and a cautious but pervasive hopefulness that somehow “everything will turn out well” despite all of the old and obvious obstacles.