Analysis - Socio-Cultural Interactions

Rio Olympics

Can Brazil Overcome Internal Challenges?

Writer : Dr. Sudfa Mohammed Mahmud

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Rio Olympics

Brazil has witnessed various major developments between 2009, the year Rio de Janeiro was chosen to stage the 2016 Summer Olympics, and 2016, the year the games are taking place. These developments cast a shadow on the country’s political, economic and social situation, as well as Brazil’s credibility as a rising global power.

When Rio de Janeiro won the bid to host the 2016 Olympics, seven years ago, the Brazilian President then, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, said, “the world has recognized that the time has come for Brazil. Today, more than ever, I am proud to be Brazilian. Brazil has gained a global citizenship and international respect.”

Indeed, the success of Rio’s bid over Madrid’s was a reflection of Brazil’s rise as a key economic, political and cultural player on the international scene. It is the first South American country to host the Olympic Games.

Fast forward to 2016, the eyes of millions of people, from around the world, are focused on the South American nation from August 5th until the 21st. While Brazil is struggling to overcome its internal challenges, it is attempting to take the leverage it needs from this major sports event to improve its status, and global image.

Internal challenges

Brazil is facing economic and political challenges, as well as security and health-related threats. These challenges will have implications on  political stability, and social cohesion.

1. Economic crisis

Brazil is suffering from a major economic crisis, with slow growth rates. The country fell into economic recession, similar in many ways to the 1930s Great Depression, entailing inflation, high unemployment, increased poverty rates, and increasing social gaps.

The economic crisis  is largely due to the decline in demand for Brazilian exports, mainly raw materials and agricultural goods, in particular from its main trading partner, China. The problem was further aggravated by economic misadministration. Successive governments failed to benefit from the boom in exports and key goods to develop economic sectors, mainly industries, research and development.

The financial crisis has hit the  Olympics’ host city, Rio de Janeiro, as well. In fact, Rio de Janeiro is one of the cities that have suffered the most from low oil prices, and the Petrobras scandal, which prompted  its governor to  declare, last June, that his city is facing financial disaster.

2. Political Instability

Brazil’s Senate voted, last June, to impeach the elected president, Dilma Rousseff, based on charges of violating the country’s fiscal responsibility laws. Consequently, her term has been suspended for six months.

The origin of the crisis can be traced back to April, 2014, when the Petrobras scandal was exposed. The scandal resulted in investigations about the involvement of numbers of high-level government officials, political party leaders, the House Speaker, the President of the Senate, and many businessmen. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index confirmed these allegations in 2015, and revealed the scale of the damages endured by Petrobras as a result of internal bribery and corruption (no less than USD 2 billion). The report further revealed Brazil’s lowered ranking in the index from 69th place in 2014, to 76th in 2015.

Rousseff’s impeachment divided Brazilians between those who support ending the rule of the left-wing , which brought in by Lula da Silva in 2002, and those who believe that Rousseff was a victim of a ‘parliamentarian coup’ orchestrated by opposition groups, and led by the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party. The latter had been a key partner in the ruling coalition led by the Workers’ Party, before its leader Michel Temer announced its withdrawal from the alliance. Temer had served as vice president before taking on the role of Interim President, as the Brazilian constitution stipulates, until announcing the results of investigations into the Rousseff’s accusation, days following the Olympics end.

However, the division between Brazilians isn’t solely based on Rousseff’s impeachment. It also extends to who shall take credit for the Olympics? Should it be Rousseff or Temer?  Or will the Olympic Games “belong to all of Brazil” as the Sports Minister, Leonardo Picciani, stated?

3. Security Challenges

Security threats add further challenges to Brazil’s already very full plate. Murder and theft rates have risen up. In addition, a terrorist group, calling itself Ansar al-Khilafah Brazil, has pledged its allegiance to ISIS only two weeks before the beginning of the Olympics. As a result, the federal government provided urgent aid to the city of Rio de Janeiro to secure the games. The government has deployed 85,000 police and army members to Rio, which is twice the number of security personnel employed at the London 2012 Olympics.

A police coordination centre including officers from 55 countries has been set-up, making it the largest operation of its kind yet. A separate additional counter-terrorism unit has also been established with officers from seven nations, including the United States, Argentina, and Paraguay.

These measures were put in place as a response to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Munich, and to a threatening message posted by a French Islamist on Twitter stating that Brazil will be the “next target”.

4. Health threats (Zika virus)

The spread of Zika, a mosquito-borne virus, with several cases identified among several pregnant women resulting in an increase in cases of microcephaly among new-borns, has caused a major health crisis for Brazil. Health organisations in the US, Canada and Europe have warned pregnant women from travelling to Brazil. A number of athletes have also decided to refrain from participating in the games as a direct result of the Zika health crisis.

To counter this threat, the Brazilian government announced a plan to limit the spread of the virus, during the Olympics. The government conducted  inspections of sports facilities for the past four months to limit conditions facilitating the spread of mosquitos. These inspection and scanning operations are expected  to continue throughout the games to limit any risks to the health of athletes and visitors. The Ministry of Health also recruited more than 2,000 medics and nurses to work during and after the Olympics. 

The Olympics and improving Brazil’s image

Brazilian officials have high hopes that the Olympics will improve the country’s global image. In this context, countries compete fiercely to host major sports events, such as the Olympics, and are willing to exert lots of effort to be awarded this honour, revealing countries’ willingness to invest large amounts of resources, and utilize all their international relations to win the bid. Such efforts reflect the political, economic and publicity gains from hosting such events.

The hosting country becomes the centre of attention for several weeks, and access the homes of millions of people around the world, through their television sets. Media coverage is enormous, and reports of the country’s political and economic affairs are highly publicized.

This sporting event is also considered a valuable opportunity to showcase a country’s organisational  abilities. Such abilities contribute to improve the country’s image, and increase its credibility on the global level. It is perceived as a nation capable of attracting tourists, trade, and investments. The prestige of being a  host country is no less important than the economic gains to be made.

Brazil is considered a rising power that has always sought to harness its soft power and public diplomacy, including “sports diplomacy”, to reinforce its stance as a major international player. It has a long history of hosting international sports events such as, the 1950 FIFA World Cup, the 2007 Pan American Games, the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, and the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Officials are hoping that the 2016 Rio Olympics will help improve Brazil’s image and integrity, which have been damaged significantly throughout the past two years. Brazil attracted global attention because of the economic and political crises, corruption scandals, protests and social unrest.

Despite the fact that Interim President, Michel Temer, confirmed that his country is prepared to receive the expected 500,000 visitors, the people of Brazil may not share his optimism. A recent poll conducted on 14 and 15 July, 2016, by the polling institute Datafolha revealed that 50% of respondents opposed to Brazil’s hosting the games, most of whom live in the south and south-east, where the host city Rio de Janeiro is located. Sixty-three per cent considered the costs of the Olympics to outweigh its benefits.

Meanwhile, the world is waiting for the outcome of this year’s Olympics to measure Brazil’s success as a nation, determined to overcome its own obstacles and emerge victorious after these trying times.



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