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Summary: A Conversation on the Rio Olympics - Faster, Higher, Stronger

Panel on the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

L to R: Mori Taheripour, Brian Winter, Luis Fernandes, Eric Farnsworth (Christine V. Gomes)

August 05, 2015

Speakers:

  • Luis Fernandes, Former Deputy Minister of Sports of Brazil and Government Coordinator for the 2014 FIFA World Cup
  • Brian Winter, Editor-in-Chief, Americas Quarterly and Co-Author of Why Soccer Matters with Pelé released for the 2014 FIFA World Cup
  • Mori Taheripour, Co-Founder and Affiliated Faculty, Wharton Sports Business Initiative (WSBI) and Former Senior Advisor for Sport for Development at USAID
  • Eric Farnsworth, Vice President, Americas Society/Council of the Americas (moderator)

On August 4, Council of the Americas hosted a discussion on the Rio de Janeiro Olympics set to begin a year from now. Speakers assessed the implications of these games on the broader Olympic movement, as well as the ongoing local concerns about health, infrastructure, transportation, security, and economic development that have circulated in the media. COA’s Eric Farnsworth moderated the panel of key actors and experts of the Rio Olympics that featured Luis Fernandes, Brian Winter, and Mori Taheripour, the co-founder of the Wharton Sports Business Initiative. 

Always darkest before the dawn

With Brazil locked in the grips of an economic crisis and rocked by a nationwide corruption scandal, hosting the 31st Olympiad may not seem ideal. When the Olympics were awarded to Rio de Janeiro in 2010 amid strong economic gains, hopes were “unreasonably high” said Brian Winter. Despite this, the speakers maintained optimistic, yet realistic, views of both the progress of Rio preparations and the immediate and long term impact of the games. Local support for the games may have tempered, but Luis Fernandes noted the historic opportunity the Olympics is providing to transform, integrate, and revitalize a city while improving the livelihoods of its citizens. Fernandes pointed to accomplishments thus far, such as the expansion of hotel room space, the on-schedule construction of transportation upgrades, and enhanced security tactics learned while hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2007 Pan American Games. Some challenges, such as the pollution of Guanabara Bay, remain without long-term solutions, though Fernandes assured there would be short-term measures taken to ensure athletes' safety.

Rio Olympics Infographic

Taheripour described the games in Brazil as “legacy games,” for which success should be measured by the empowerment of the people rather than the money spent. The games’ budget amounts to $2.7 billion directly and $9.5 billion in indirect social investments from both public and private sources, according to Fernandes. If the large amount of funds spent results in high quality job creation and citizens’ concerns can be voiced openly, then a positive legacy is foreseeable in Taheripour’s eyes. Fernandes noted that one of the major lessons from the 2014 World Cup was that local communities used the international spotlight to voice issues, in turn requiring improved communication and representation by public officials.

The Games in Rio mark a transitional moment for the Olympic movement

When the Games finally do begin in Rio on August 5, 2016, it will mark the first time the Olympic torch has been lit in a South American country. It will also come at a time when the international community is increasingly scrutinizing the ambitious spending plans required by the Olympic bidding process. According to Fernandes, Brazil’s organizers have conducted “tense and firm negotiations with the [International Olympic Committee]” in an effort to “contain costs” and remove uneccessary requirements that host cities must be meet. 

For greater transparency, Taheripour suggested that the concerns of the people be reflected through a more democratic bidding process. Such concerns will certainly emerge in Brazil, according to Winter, as an uncomfortable spotlight will be placed on crime, the poor living conditions in favelas, and inequality. Yet Fernandes, Winter, and Taheripour all believe this spotlight will be crucial for Brazil to tranform the nationalism produced by the Olympic spirit into positive developments.