PtG Comment 09.06.2016

The IOC and Brazil: A mutual need for hope

The upcoming Rio 2016 Olympics is like a kiss between two globally famous institutions who are both immersed in a deep political crisis, Both the IOC and Brazil need the inspiration of hope that the other can convey to the world public, write associate professor Katia Rubio and international director Jens Sejer Andersen in this comment piece.

If there is one thing nobody could foresee when the 121st session of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) entrusted the Games of the XXXI Olympiad – better known as the Olympic Summer Games 2016 – to the legendary Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, it was how different the two parties would appear to the world public seven years later, at the eve of the one of the most spectacular global media events.

In early October 2009, both the IOC and Brazil met up for the decisive meeting in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, shining with self-confidence under the autumn sky.

Under the leadership of the aristocratic, soft-toned and deeply uncontroversial Belgian IOC President, Jacques Rogge, the IOC seemed to have overcome those years at the end of the 1990’ies when doping and corruption scandals in conjunction threatened to end the life of the most prestigious among the international sports bodies.

No less than the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon took pride in praising the IOC at this meeting, the IOC’s financial situation was more promising than ever, and a number of the world’s most illustrious cities were competing to host the 2016 games. The IOC even had self-confidence enough to throw one of them, Chicago, away already in the first voting round, although the most powerful political couple on earth, the American president Barack Obama and his First Lady Michelle, had taken time off this Friday 2nd October to cross the Atlantic and fly back again immediately after giving a high-profile recommendation of their home town.

Tough luck for Obama, but an excellent day for another charismatic president, Luiz Inácio ‘Lula’ da Silva, who led the Brazilian delegation that also included the football icon Pelé and the notorious former president of world football, João Havelange.

Not many politicians embodied economic growth peaceful social progress as Lula did in 2009 after six years as a spearhead of Brazilian social reforms and industry “miracle”. Moreover, the personal charm and affability of Lula was a strong asset of the Rio’s bid for the 2016 games, an invaluable complement for those IOC members who were not already convinced by 4-5% annual growth rates in the economy and a booming consumer market as millions of Brazilians were lifted out of poverty to become middle-class citizens.

From optimism to crisis

In 2009 the meeting of between the festive, informal, colourful and soon-to-be-wealthy Brazilian people and the excitement, beauty, perfection and awesome achievement of the Olympic athletes looked like a marriage that could not go wrong.

Seven years later, everything has changed. The Olympic Games may still become a kiss between two globally famous partners, but their public reputation has changed from the wonderful to the worrying.

Brazil is undergoing a deep financial and political crisis with a decreasing national trust in the political institutions, dramatic cutbacks in public expenses – including those for the Olympics – and the destitution of its first female president Dilma Rousseff, one of the least corruption politicians in the history of the country who by a twist of cruelly ironic fate has been suspended by the two parliamentary bodies, the deputies’ chamber and the senate, in which the majority of the members are subject to much more serious allegations of corruptions than the suspended president has ever come close to.

This threat to the well-functioning of one of the biggest democratic countries of the world makes the challenges related to the Olympics dwindle, although they are not small: The serious delays in the construction of several sports facilities, the last-minute cutbacks on the same projects and the opening and closing ceremonies, the doubt if the metro extension will be ready in time for transporting tens of thousands of sports fans, the opening of police investigations into possible corruption in Olympic projects, the apparent lack of interest among Brazilians to buy tickets for the events, and last, but not least, the threat – whether perceived or real – that the outbreak of the Zika virus causes.

Hope and trouble

In the light of the crisis that has conquered Brazil, the IOC President since 2013, Thomas Bach, expressed wishes that the Rio 2016 Olympics “will be in difficult times a message of hope” when the Olympic torch was lighted at a ceremony on 21 April in Olympia, Greece.

However, the Olympic movement has impressive trouble of its own and will also rely on the message of hope that images of happy, dancing, chanting, sun-bathing and sexy Brazilians can convey to the TV audiences worldwide.

These troubles are not only caused by the Brazilians. The troubles will disappear as soon as the last Olympic and Paralympic athlete has boarded the airplane and waved goodbye to the huge statue of ‘Christ the Redeemer’.

The IOC has a long-term need of redemption caused by the impact of the corruption and doping scandals linked to football and FIFA and to the core branding discipline of the Olympics, athletics, and its governing body IAAF. The cocktail of geopolitical rivalry, corruption inside and outside the sporting arena, a pharmaceutical arms race among athletes and a growing global mistrust in the institutions of sport can cause a much more fatal headache than the one many Olympic guests will experience after a sip too much of a caipirinha.

Under the umbrella of the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education (ICSSPE), associate professor Katia Rubio and I have asked a series of insightful authors to describe the status quo for Brazilian society and Brazilian sport as the preparations for the Rio Olympics are nearing its deadline.

The contributions are published in the 70th edition of ICSSPE’s Bulletin to which Play the Game’s readers have exclusive and free access. We invite you to study the overview and pick the articles that are of most interest to you. We hope that you will find the reading inspiring and useful.

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