Even with the biggest sporting event in the world now in the starting blocks, the response to the Olympics from many in Rio de Janeiro is anger and frustration.
At an impoverished neighbourhood not far from the city’s new Olympic Park, raw sewage floats down a stream behind dilapidated housing teeming with children playing by the water, oblivious to the health threat it represents.
“It’s a total con job,” said Mateus Braga, a local resident.
The Olympics, he said, “are so foreigners can come here and enjoy it all, while Brazilians bear the consequence of the government not spending on education, health care or sanitation.”
Somewhere between $10 billion and $12 billion has been spent on the Games in Brazil, but critics say that money should have been spent elsewhere.
In a recent interview with Time, Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes pointed to the construction of several major transport links and the redevelopment of the city’s rundown port as Olympic successes. The Games have not drained the public’s coffers, he told The Associated Press in June, but have instead helped boost investment in Rio.
He did add: “The Olympics were never a panacea for the city of Rio.”
Yet opposition to the Olympics remains so fierce, police were called into action when demonstrators tried to disrupt the torch relay.
Journalist and author Juliana Barbassa isn’t surprised at the public fury.
She’s written extensively about Brazil’s poverty and corruption in the shadow of the Games.
Games sold as ‘a giant urban renewal tool’
“The Olympics were pitched to the people of Rio, sold to the people of Rio, as a giant urban renewal tool, a way to revamp the city,” she said.
“And what we got was a mega world party that cost a whole lot more than just doing those changes on their own.”
Barbassa noted the many thousands of Brazilians displaced by the Games, and two years earlier, by the World Cup of soccer.
Even in the days before the Games opened, demolition crews were knocking down more housing to clear ground near the Olympic Village. Many of the displaced people have been given new housing elsewhere, but few seem happy about it.
A series of new condominium-style buildings will house athletes from around the world this month, but instead of being offered afterward as much-needed housing for the poor, they’re in line to be sold to Rio’s wealthy.
Even the new Olympic golf course continues to irk many. A sport played by almost no one in Brazil, golf is seen by many as a game strictly for the elite.
When plans for the golf course were announced, many denounced it for encroaching on a nature preserve, and the proposed site was slammed as an environmental crime.
Critics pushed for organizers to use one of Rio’s two existing golf courses that could be improved to Olympic quality at a lower cost and without harming sensitive areas, but that proposal was denied.
An existing course was flanked by a slum and a river of raw sewage. The Olympic course is in an area some call Rio’s Miami Beach.
“I think the Olympics [have] made Rio a more unequal city, a more unjust city,” said Barbassa.
“That’s the legacy for the people of Rio.”
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