The lead up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has been tumultuous for the city. Rio invested billions of dollars to host the Summer Games, yet reports state that the infrastructure will not be ready in time; athletes and attendees are opting out for fear of the Zika virus; and the athletes’ village may be uninhabitable.
Andrew Zimbalist, the Robert A. Woods Professor of Economics at Smith College, and author of “Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and the World Cup,” answered some questions about Rio’s investment in hosting the Olympics and whether, in the end, the benefits will outweigh the costs, risks, and controversies.
No. With costs in excess of $15 billion and revenues of approximately $4 billion, the financial balance is hardly favorable. Boosters will assert that there are long-term benefits in the form of increased tourism, trade and foreign investment, but scholarly research does not sustain these claims.
Indeed, the flood of bad news about corruption, recession, inequality, violence and virulence can only damage Rio’s tourism industry going forward.
Q: Apart from the negative financial consequences, what are some of the other outcomes of hosting the 2016 Games?
In order to make room for Olympic venues and transportation routes, over 77,000 shantytown residents have been evicted, a nature reserve in Barra da Tijuca has been desecrated, and government finances have been thrown into disarray. Teachers have been on strike for months, customs workers, police, and other public servants are threatening to strike. The state governor of Rio declared the situation to calamitous.
However sanitized the games may appear on TV, the hard reality in Rio is utterly tragic.
President-elect Bolsonaro has embraced tough-on-crime measures that egregiously violate basic human rights and eviscerate the rule of law. Responding to Brazil’s 63,880 homicides in 2017, Bolsonaro calls for increasing protection for police officers who kill alleged criminals and arming citizens. He calls for further militarizing urban policing, reducing the age of criminal liability from 18 to 16, reinstating the death penalty, authorizing torture in interrogations and imprisoning more people... Brazil’s police are already notorious for being one of the world’s deadliest in the use of force. In many favelas, Brazil’s retired and current police officers operate illegal militias that extort and control local communities, murdering those who oppose them and engaging in warfare with Brazil’s highly-violent gangs and in social cleansing. Bolsonaro is simply threatening to turn the rest of the police into state-sanctioned thugs.