The Promise vs The Reality

A Mega-sporting event, such as the World Cup and the Olympic Games, is not merely an arena for sport competition. Just like how the government of the hosting state often sell it to the public, it creates numerous job opportunities by developing infrastructures, namely stadiums and the Olympic village, promotes the state and its culture to the world to attract tourists, while showcasing the economic strength as a kind of ‘soft power’, bringing pride to countrymen.

Members of the Tokyo 2020 delegation celebrate after Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Olympic Games
Members of the Tokyo 2020 delegation celebrate after Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Olympic Games. (Source: Daily Mail )
From the economic perspective, the 2014 Rio World Cup and the subsequent 2016 Rio Olympics can be described as a ‘double tragedy’ to many Brazilians, as the government reported months prior to the start of the 2016 Olympics a public deficit that was a double of its annual revenue.

The moment that the next hosting country of a mega-sporting event was announced, representatives were always seen embracing each other as they were thrilled by the result. However, residents of the hosting city do not necessarily share the same feeling.

Given the huge cost of hosting a mega sporting event like the World Cup and the Olympics, the government must assess the affordability of the city prior to the bid, and balance the interests of all sides. Infrastructures for mega sporting events are often referred to as ‘white elephant’. In lecture, we have seen photos of ruins of the Olympic Village in Germany, as well as many other abandoned venues of previous mega sporting events around the global. Stadiums constructed serving for mega sporting events had always been some problematic legacies, troubling the local government and local economy in the long run with concerns over low usage and high maintenance expenditure. The cost to host a mega sporting event is so huge that some governments need to borrow money in order to afford it. This is why hosting mega sporting event is considered a showcase of ‘soft power’ in the international arena. Courtney mentioned in lecture that Montreal as the hosting city for the Olympics took decades to pay off all debts, meanwhile the maintenance fee per month for a stadium in Rio built for the 2014 World Cup or 2016 Olympics reaches a quarter of million. Sadly, Rio is one of the cities on earth with the highest wealth disparity between the rich and the poor, which accounts for around 1.5 million over the total city population of 6 million. These poor people live in 1,000 favelas, some visible from the grand stadiums, with poor sanitary condition and controlled by drug cartels. A year prior to the start of the Rio 2016 Olympics, some Brazilians took to streets to protest against their government for its socially, environmentally, and economically disruptive ways to prepare for the Olympic Games. Main concerns among these angry protestors were the displacement of lower-class neighborhoods which involved thousands of family, the contamination of the coastal area that would be used for some events, and the privatization of the Maracanã stadium (Sebastião and Lemos, 2016).

The pitch of the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, where its turf is dry and worn. The iconic stadium hosted the 2016 Olympic Games, but six months later a series of legal battles and abandonment have left this once glorious venue in a state of total decay. Photographer Joao Pina explored the stadium on assignment for CNN.
Once an iconic landmark of Rio de Janeiro, the Maracanã
stadium was rebuilt in 2014 for the 2014 Rio World Cup costing more than 500 million dollars, but was abandoned six months after the end of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. (Source: CNN )


Scholars point out that there’s always been a contradiction in the voice of the state government and that of its population in regard to hosting a mega-sporting event, which Sebastião and Lemos (2016, p. 220) described as ‘an asymmetric interaction between the community and the organization of the mega-event’.

“There is an asymmetric interaction between the community and the organization of the mega-event, …” (Sebastião and Lemos, 2016, p. 220)

2016 Rio Summer Olympics

One of the very essential Olympic spirits of promoting equality, not merely inside but also outside the stadium, is ironically breached when the low-income class in the country is alienated due to the economic losses resulted from hosting mega-sporting events. From the economic perspective, the 2014 Rio World Cup and the subsequent 2016 Rio Olympics can be described as a ‘double tragedy’ to many Brazilians, as the government reported months prior to the start of the 2016 Olympics a public deficit that was a double of its annual revenue. Christopher Gaffney (2010), a researcher from Zurich University, anticipated a heavy debt that would last for a decade for the Brazilian government as the economic consequence of hosting the 2014 and 2016 mega-sporting events. Since a deficit rate this huge was not illegally allowed, the Brazilian government had no way but to officially announce a state of emergency two months before the event. Yet, the big party could by no means be called off and it went on. In fact, it was required by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that the Brazilian government issued a blank cheque for the exceeding costs, paving way to corruption and graft which result in budget overruns (Gaffney, 2010). In order to alleviate the huge economic burden, ticket price of the events is increased which eventually residents will be paying more to enter the brand new stadium built from their taxes. While the stadium would be filled with tourists and local residents from the middle and upper class, the low-income people who  found it hard to afford the ticket were eventually alienated from the event as well as their fellow countrymen with better socio-economic background.

And what happened to these billion-dollar stadiums afterwards since the closing ceremony, where the president of the IOC claimed “history will talk about a Rio de Janeiro before and a much better Rio de Janeiro after the olympics” (IOC, 2016)? Many are empty and fallen into disrepair due to the maintanance cost that seems too high for the government under heavy debt. Almost two years after the event, the Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi said while the transportation and telecommunication systems of the city are improved thanks to the 2016 Olympic Games’ legacies, he admitted that legacy plans for the venues are not materialized due to political, social, and economic reasons. Whether to maintain and revitalize the venues, or to dismantle and build something else on the site, requires a large amount of money and will only worsen the financial burden of the government and its people. The organizing committee of the international mega-sporting event, the IOC in this case, should learn a lesson in regard to reviewing the legacy plans submitted by the bidding city and, more importantly, its ability to afford hosting the event. This ability should never be merely limited to economic basis, but also the political and social reality of the city.

All these political, social, economic, and environmental problems troubling the city had been existing long before it hosted the mega events, and the fact that it was awarded the hosting city by the organizing committee made it possible for the local community voice to be magnified under global media attention, which imposed a certain level of pressure to the host government. As Gaffney (2010) points out, media coverage of public activism gives community voice and consequently empowers local residents who are marginalized as poor people, protestors, and dissidents. As a result, the asymmetric feature in the relationship between the local community and event organizers is slightly reduced. Besides, another example is that, while Russia was hosting the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, the ‘anti-gay propoganda’ law had sparked an international outcry among LGBT communities and human right activists worldwide. Sponsors of the Sochi Olympics such as Coca-Cola, AT&T, and McDonald’s, showed support to the dissidents implicitly or explicitly, including modifying brand logos with rainbow colors, drawing global media attention and exerting pressure from mainly the Western democratic countries, which are major players of the sport mega-event, on the Russian government (Compton, 2015). During that period of time, a Russian punk band ‘Pussy Riot’ that was arrested and jailed because their performance involved content critical of the Russian President Putin in a public area in Moscow, was eventually released in a general amnesty before the start of the Games as an attempt appeasing critics who bombarded Putin for violation of basic human rights. Despite the empowerment of voice for the local and marginalized community thanks to the media spectacle, which Sebastião and Lemos (2016) describe as a redistribution of ‘power control’, these actions from the community such as protests against the government or the organizing committee have become part of the ‘promotional machinery of the global marketing of events and experiences’ (Compton, 2015, pp. 60). 

Russian punk band ‘Pussy Riot’ being whipped by a member of the Cossack militia. The band members were arrested and jailed for hooliganism for 2 years, after their performance that involved content critical of the Russian President Putin in a public area in Moscow. They were eventually released in a general amnesty before the start of the 2014 Sochi Games.  (Source: The New York Times )

It totally depends on the government’s financial ability to determine if the legacies of the mega-sporting event are to become a long-lasting burden or infrastructures in the city. Although there were always legacy plans agreed between the hosting city and the organizing committee, it may not be able to be materialized to benefit the local community just like in the case of Rio. Of course, that is not always the case as London has successfully revitalized venues built for the 2012 London Olympic Games. This video introduces how stadiums and parks were transformed and the present condition of those sites after 5 years of the Games. While the iconic Maracanã stadium in Rio de Janeiro was abandoned as soon as 6 months after the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, it is premature to predict what will happen to the site 5 years after 2016, but the public money should always address the pressing issues of the people which relate to their basic needs such as poverty, access to water, education, etc.



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