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News > Brazil

One Year On: Rio de Janeiro's Olympic Legacy Assessed

  • People watch fireworks from the Maracana Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony, from the Mangueira favela.

    People watch fireworks from the Maracana Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony, from the Mangueira favela. | Photo: Reuters

Published 28 July 2017

12 months have passed and Brazil is experiencing an economic recession, unsolved debts and continuing corruption scandals.

At the closing ceremony of the 2016 Games in Brazil, the International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said “history will talk about a Rio de Janeiro before and a much better Rio de Janeiro after.”

But almost one year on, the event's mixed legacy is back in the spotlight.

Corrupution Inflated Brazil's World Cup and Olympic Stadiums

Some of the infrastructure built in the city for the Olympics has benefited Brazilians, including a new subway line extension, high-speed bus service and a renovated port area. 

“For sure it’s better,” Igor Silverio, who lives in a favela near the port, told to the Associated Press. But, he added, he “expected more from the Olympics.”

The games were held mainly in the south and west of the city, areas with wealthy populations. 

Much of the rest of Rio is still a mix of dilapidated factories and substandard houses.

“From my point of view, the Olympics only benefited the foreigners. Local people themselves didn’t get much,” Silverio said. “The security situation isn’t good...I think these are investments that didn’t benefit many local people.”

In the Olympic Park, half a dozen sports arenas remain vacant.

Only 7 percent of the apartments in the 3,600-unit Athletes' Village have reportedly been sold.

Deodoro, a major complex of venues in the impoverished north, is closed up behind iron gates.

Organizers and the International Olympic Committee said Rio needs time to develop these venues, but a federal prosecutor disputed this, saying the Olympic Park “lacked planning on how to use white elephant” sports venues.

Many were built as part of real estate deals which have yet to be finalized.

“Here we see all this money spent,” said Juliana Solaira, a 30-year-old pharmacist who lives across from the park. “Unfortunately, we see most of the arenas are closed. So I think it could have been used in a better way.”

Rio barely managed to keep it together for the Olympics, and needed a government bailout to hold the Paralympics.

Brazil said it spent US$13 billion of public and private funds to organize the Games, but some estimates suggest that figure could be as high as US$20 billion. 

Earlier this month, the IOC declined to help the Rio Olympics organizers pay a debt estimated at US$35-40 million, saying it had already contributed a "record" US $1.53 billion to last year's event.

Contractually, host cities and countries are obligated to pay Olympic debts. Mario Andrada, a spokesman for the Rio organizing committee, said they are moving cautiously to get help from authorities in Brazil and negotiations have reached "a crucial point."

Brazil’s Lula Asks Temer to Resign, Citing Rising Discontent

If the government steps in to help Rio pay creditors, it is sure to anger police, teachers, and other public employees who are already getting paid late under Brazil's deepest recession in decades.

To add to the dilemma, Brazil's President Michel Temer has been charged with corruption by the country's top prosecutor and has a popularity rating of just five percent. 

Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who wept when Rio was awarded the Games, was convicted last month on corruption charges and faces a possible prison term of more than nine years. 

While Rio de Janeiro's former Mayor Eduardo Paes, the local force behind the Olympics, is currently under investigation for allegedly accepting at least US$5 million in payments to facilitate construction projects tied to the games.

All three men deny any wrongdoing.

For Brazil, the most enduring memory of the Games might be the moment when Neymar kissed the ball and then wept with other Brazilians after securing the nation's first men's Olympic football gold medal.

“It’s the only medal that really mattered,” Salvador Gaeta said recently while cycling in the deserted Olympic Park. “Every Brazilian will remember it.”

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