Professor Ibram Kendi
Sports and Society
The 2016 Rio Olympics and the State of Brazil
Brazil has large populations, sizable natural resources, and a large land mass – the ingredients that make developed and powerful country. So why isn’t it? When it comes to the economic prosperity and success of a country there are a litany of factors influencing it: geopolitics, the global economy, economic and currency policies, etc. Trying to boil down all the problems facing Brazil to one 1000-word paper doesn’t do justice to the reality of the situation but, I’m going to attempt to anyways. The reasons range from historical, to geographical, to social/cultural, to economics. The colonization and successive liberation from Portugal was slow and resourcefully draining. Brazil didn’t achieve independence until 1822. By this time, Portugal had already implemented a system strict social hierarchy and exploited them for much of their resources. This resulted in a late and lackluster attempt at industrialization and created a weak foundation for economic growth. In present times, the Brazilian government has fostered an increasingly malignant bureaucracy rampant with mass corruption on all levels. Just recently, the congress voted to impeach the president, over half of the members of said congress are under federal investigations. This widespread corruption is shockingly evident in the upcoming Olympics. Allegations of bribery of the IOC to host the Olympics to the recently exposure of a corruption scandal in the over two billion dollar projects linked to the Olympics. While it is shocking, corruption is not completely responsible for Brazil’s troubles. Commodity prices, which Brazil is highly dependent on for exports, have crashed, down 50-60% in oil and metals. The corruption is easier when there is less money in circulation. A similar situation in the US parallels this condition. The US government at the end of the 1800’s was notoriously corrupt, recovering from a civil war and heavily in debt, bought and owned by wealthy, shady tycoons. But it was also a period of sustained expansion and rapid industrialization that propelled us into a much more diverse and advanced economy. As the country grew it was able to put controls against corruption (Sherman Act, Clayton Act, etc.) and we saw a decline in corruption. The negative feedback loop – ineffective management leads to increasing bureaucracy which leads to widespread corruption which circumvents bureaucracy which undermines management resulting in economic decline – is what Brazil must work to escape from, whether it be monitoring and eliminating corruption or, similarly to the US, use increasing economic forces as a weapon against corruption .
Rio’s Olympic development, which has included billions in building contracts, had for the most part avoided any corruption controversy. Operation Car Wash investigation, a criminal and corruption investigative organization, the biggest in Brazil’s history, focused on a group of construction companies who allegedly paid large bribes to officials and politicians for overpriced public contracts. In Rio, the Marvelous Port Project, an ambitious plan to develop the slum ports into a business and tourist hub, with redesigned streets, a futuristic Museum of Tomorrow, and a skyscraper Trump Towers, the largest urban office development in the country. But development on many aspects has stalled as the country fell into recession. Emails were found by Brazil’s Federal Police that show that $1 million was paid in cash to an anonymous politician in November 2014, in relation to public works on the Marvelous Port. Police also found evidence that $2.5 million was paid relating to the development of a new subway line for the Olympics. These are just a few of the many cases of corruption and bribery. In just one of the construction companies, documents surfaced listing the names of 316 politicians from 24 parties who apparently received cash from the business.
“The level of organization revealed by these documents is shocking. It would appear that all major public works were commissioned in this way and every major political party seems to have been involved,” –Sylvio Costa, Brazilian watchdog journalist.
Even with all these revelations, it has only led to a mere fraction of 15 arrests. The scandal has rocked Brazil, with President Dilma Rousseff impeached amid public anger that has seen as many as 3 million people protest on the streets. Investigators estimate nearly $3 billion has been paid in bribes. With political and economic gridlock, Brazil is also facing its worst recession since 1901.
Even if you ignore the rampant corruption of the Rio Olympics, it still creating a situation similar to that of the FIFA World Cup held there just two yeas ago. The budget for infrastructure alone has raised 5.9 billion dollars. Twenty-five percent more than planned. For a country that is facing such economic hardship, spending so much money on a two week event is less than ideal. The Rio Olympics are shaping up to be a giant disaster with the outbreak of Zika and a high levels of political unrest. The Brazilian form of currency has lost almost a third of its value this year and unemployment is at almost 10 percent nationally. The pollution has athletes and representatives seriously concerned. Athletes competing in the games will be swimming and boating in water so contaminated that it could lead them to become violently ill. Brazil has a perpetually growing laundry list of problems that need to be addressed and fixed if they want to avoid a disastrous Olympics.
Brazil is a far from the booming, stable country it was in 2009 when it beat out Chicago’s bid to host the Olympic Games. With corruption, political unrest, and economic recession Brazil has deteriorated into a former shell of what once seemed like a promising country. The Brazilian government have seemed to have dug a hole too deep and have taken a task too daunting. Nonetheless, it is still very possible that Brazil will live up to its potential and that this is just a trough in an upward slope. The resources are still there they just need to be harvested and employed by the right people.