Rio 2016: A case study in mega sporting events, exploitation, and corruption

Rio 2016: A case study in mega sporting events, exploitation, and corruption
Sport fans buy tickets at the 2016 Rio Olympics ticket office in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 20, 2016. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Robert Oulds, Executive Director of ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies
Natalie Mulkerrins

The business case

It is questionable as to whether or not there is a positive effect on tourism and the economy when a country hosts a sporting event or a major cultural mega event. Indeed, some data suggests mega sporting events damage the tourism trade. This could be because the host city, or cities, suffer a loss in visitors and therefore revenue as people stay away thinking the location will be too crowded. Making one place synonymous with just one event will ward-off those who have little or no interest in that specific sporting tournament. Even if it may be one of the greatest shows on earth, such as the summer Olympiad.

It may especially be the case that an event such as a football tournament will discourage those who do not want to partake in the unique atmosphere that such a competition will bring. Indeed, the social nature of a country or a city can not only be changed by the event, but the physical infrastructure will also be affected. Buildings and boulevards that visitors may wish to view will be abstracted or closed off by stadia or racetracks. Additionally, lanes or roads will be reserved for athletes potentially creating undue and unwelcome congestion for other road users; that too can put off visitors for fear of traffic chaos that these events can create.

Unless a host nation is already at the established sport tourism hotspot that regularly host sporting events, or other cultural events such as international expos, and relies on a regular churn of visitors on each occasion, the benefit will therefore come after the event. This comes as part of a broader branding strategy and establishing the infrastructure and service the economy needed for tourism. With the necessary skills and learning put in place to make tourism even more attractive to potential visitors it therefore becomes a practical catalyst for tourism growth. Thus, it can be assumed that in the long run there can be positive effects.

In some cases, it may be a case of more intangible benefits are the real awards. Sponsorship often comes with many of these sporting events as well as ticket sales and that is another benefit that can generate income that can be reinvested in the host nation or city which can be put towards developing a more tourist-based economy. On top of this, soft power can be brought to bear to aid a country. Trade agreements can be won with the dignitaries of foreign companies and corporations who attend the tournament or games. This will indirectly lead to more tourists. Furthermore, visas can be relaxed with treaties allowing easier travel, that change can enable more people to come to a host country and regeneration is another benefit.

Nevertheless, despite the income, it is expensive hosting such an event. It may prove to be a major misallocation of resources, expos and sporting events that are hideously expensive to host. As former London Mayor Ken Livingston suggested that London’s 2012 bid for Olympics was more of a tool to gain funds for the regeneration of the long neglected and rundown Eastend of Britain’s capital city. Whether it is as simple as that, one cannot be too sure. However, it did lead to investment in that part of London that may not have materialised without the event. The Olympics created the political will to focus on creating a deprived part of the city into a centre of focus that would then become revived and rejuvenated, a place where people will want to go for work, leisure, and as a home for their family. There is now improved cultural sites and infrastructure which may have increased the number of visitors. This is especially the case as there is now a pleather of parks and stadiums that regularly welcomes visitors, which simply would not have been there without the commitment to change that the sporting event was clearly a catalyst. However, at times it may result in undesirable outcomes.

The political case

There are reasons why countries engage in sports washing. It is a practice of obscuring human rights abuses. This is something that can turn people off from a country and at best it is about rebranding a country to make it more attractive to visitors. A sporting event puts a place on a map as it raises public consciousness for potential holiday destinations and is often a case that sporting events, whether it be the Grand Prix or other activities, that accompany the introduction of a major new tourism complex go hand in hand.

If a host wants to have an area that is for tourism, they are going to build a new resort and people host a sporting even there to make sure people hear about it. It is a great way of getting PR and an effective way of getting it reported in the newspapers. It also associates famous sports people that would come with the companies, the investment, sponsorship, excitement, and it is often hoped that this rubs off on their new complex. Ultimately, this is something that Saudi Arabia is doing in Jeddah. Similarly, this has been practiced in places such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi. In those regions, as well as London, Rio, or Sochi in Russia which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics, nations use sporting events to try and change public perception, regenerate an area, and make people think that their location is somewhere they can go. Ultimately it can succeed in providing positive results, an event certainly makes many become aware of the venue. Yet success will only usually come if there is long-term commitment to improving the lives of its citizens; this is not always the case.

The social exclusion Games

There were hopes and promises that Rio 2016 would deliver a similar situation. The result of those Olympics was that in the following year Rio had record visitor numbers. However, the long-term benefits did not extend beyond this boost in tourism. Indeed, this Olympiad had an outcome that was very different to the lofty goals espoused by the International Olympic Committee. Whilst the infrastructure for the Games was being constructed there were indeed benefits, ultimately these proved to be illusory in anything but the short term. Gains in employment suffered a sudden reversal after the Games ended. Disappointing job figures were not the only negative outcome.  An unethical agenda was at work.

The cost of the Rio Olympics was prohibition and indebted a nation whose growth was already sluggish in the pre-pandemic period. This situation was worsened by the widespread corruption that accompanied the awarding of infrastructure contacts. The misallocation of resources was exacerbated through the widespread siphoning off of funds that should have been spent on improving the lives of Rio’s denizens. Some were clearly profiting. The redistribution of wealth from the poorest to those with the most power was not just some series of criminal acts, there was a deliberate policy to deprive poor people of opportunities. Locals experienced institutionalized social exclusion which included transport links being cut to dissuade and prevent the poor from reaching the more touristic areas. The Brazilian authorities chose to hide their shame rather than attempt to fix the problems their corrupt economy produced. A wall was built to block off and hide Rio’s Favelas, the slums that are synonymous with their broken society, from tourists, athletes, and other Olympic dignitaries. The price of deliberately excluding the already disadvantaged from the opportunities the Games should bring meant the Rio 2016 Games cost was too high.

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