As we lift the lid on what has been happening since Rio hosted these mega-events, we will see a convincing argument against hosting one near you.
These events come with a gargantuan price tag. Local organising committees and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) frequently use a range of misleading figures for how much these events cost, only considering event-related costs, which doesn’t usually include security, stadium construction or the construction of any additional legacy projects.
Rio 2016 organisers say their Games cost only US$4.6 billion, but leading mega-event economist Andrew Zimbalist calculates the figure as more than four times that amount, at around US$20bn.
This spending was planned when Brazil’s economy was on the rise on the back of a commodity boom, but by the time the World Cup and Olympics rolled around the economy was in freefall.
The State of Rio de Janeiro declared bankruptcy a few months before the Olympic Games and the accounts are still in the red. The state, responsible for security, has been unable to pay enough police, leading the governor to call in the army to support the struggling police forces.
But what of the revenues? Surely having such huge events brings in money – spectators, sponsorship, TV rights sales and tourism income – should have compensated for this spending? Unfortunately not. Spectator numbers were so low at the Olympics that organisers slashed ticket prices during the Games to ensure stadiums weren’t embarrassingly empty.
Most of the big money sponsors (Coca Cola, McDonalds, Visa and so on) actually sponsor the IOC and Fifa, meaning money doesn’t go to local organisers who pay the bills.
The same applies to TV rights. While some money goes to the local organisers, the lion’s share is handed to sport’s administrators.
And as for tourism, these mega-events tend to generate as much of a push factor as a pull factor, meaning while some tourists come for the event, others choose not to travel to avoid the crowds. This means that there is relatively little change in net tourism numbers.
So, Rio lost money on hosting World Cup games and the Olympics. But legacy isn’t just about money. It’s about addressing issues across the city and making the host areas more liveable and sustainable.
While many Cariocas – as Rio’s residents are known – struggle to think of any tangible benefits the Olympics and World Cup brought to the city, some point to the new downtown tram system and a new metro line as evidence of improved urban mobility.
But due to cuts to bus lines across the city, research shows that urban mobility has actually decreased, despite the government spending billions on new transport infrastructure.
Rio’s Olympic opening ceremony made a big show of being environmentally friendly. Each of the 11,000 athletes carried in a seed which would be used to plant a forest, offsetting the carbon footprint of the Games, which Rio had promised to do in its bid document.
Unfortunately, offsetting the carbon footprint of the Games would have required at least 34 million trees. In comparison, 11,000 is a pretty pathetic effort. To make matters worse, they have not even been planted yet, as the Rio 2016 organising committee doesn’t have any money left to pay for it.
Rio’s Olympic mayor Eduardo Paes, however, wanted to be judged on how well the Olympics helped to fix existing social problems in the wonderful city, as Rio is known.
The flagship pacification programme aimed at driving trafficking gangs out of the city’s notorious favelas has failed, despite some early successes.
Over-expansion due to the Olympic deadline and the use of army personnel, untrained in community policing, has meant the police are seen by some residents as yet another faction in an urban war – often trusted less than traffickers due to the animosity many police officers feel towards favela residents, the overwhelming majority of whom have no involvement in trafficking.
The military intervention following the state bankruptcy directly caused by the Olympic Games has only made matters worse. There were 6731 murders in Rio in 2017 and this is set to worsen significantly following the election of Jair Bolsonaro as President of Brazil, who ran on a platform of impunity for police.
This policy has replaced the pacification project, which officially ended last week, the failure of which lies partly at the door of the Olympics. The effects of this change are already being felt, including a recent massacre of 13 young people in a police operation and a young black man who died after being restrained in a “sleep hold” by a security guard in a supermarket last week.
While the increased security that the Olympics planned to bring has failed, thousands of residents have been displaced by the event. Around 80,000 people were evicted from their homes in the run up to the Games. Generally speaking, levels of compensation given to these people were low and the homes built for some are low quality. Stories of residents who died shortly after being evicted are common, with the stress of eviction frequently cited as a factor in ill health.
Some, of course, resisted. In Vila Autódromo, adjacent to the Olympic park, 20 families had their right to housing recognised after a bitter struggle, supported by social movements from across the city.
The municipal government agreed to build new homes for those who wanted to remain, as well as infrastructure in the community to enable residents to flourish. The new homes were delivered days before the Olympic Games began, but residents were told they’d have to wait another three months for the completion of infrastructure projects, including a garden, communal building and school. Work on these projects has not yet begun.
There has been little coverage of the way the city has fallen apart. The case of the Future Arena illustrates this point. A stadium based on nomadic, moveable architecture designed to be transformed into four schools after the Games, it gathered a huge amount of coverage before and during the event.
But go to the Olympic park today and it is still there, a monument to the sheer lack of finance for anything in the city. Despite the fanfare during the Games themselves, no major English-language publication has even reported that it hasn’t actually happened yet. Mega-event legacy is a smokescreen deployed to generate public support until people stop watching, while in reality we rarely hear about any lasting benefits beyond the closing ceremonies.