While there’s been no shortage of media coverage emphasizing the immense sacrifices Olympic athletes from across the globe have had to make in order to participate in the Games, there is one group of people whose sacrifices that of the Olympic athletes pales in comparison to. The poor and dispossessed residents of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas whose lives have been turned upside down to make way for the Olympic Games and the World Cup have had their voices lost in all the pomp and pageantry of the Olympic Ceremonies, and it’s their lives more than anyone else’s that will continue being affected long after the Games of the XXXI Olympiad have come to a close.
Consider the following facts:
- Last year, a report from the city government of Rio de Janeiro stated that at least 22,059 families had to be resettled since 2009 “due to homes being labeled as ‘at risk,’ and/or – the more likely culprit – to facilitate transportation and infrastructural projects ahead of the Olympic Games.”
- An estimated 35,000-70,000 people have been displaced due to the construction and buildup in and around Rio to support hosting the Games. Often the government has used means of “force and intimidation” to see to it that homes were evacuated. One 88 year-old woman was forced to leave behind the home in which she had dwelled for 75 years.
- According to Ceasefire Magazine’s 2012 report, a majority of the evicted “have been forced to move upwards of 60 kilometers away from the city center. This inevitably leads to higher utility costs, greater difficulty in finding educational opportunities, and less functional transportation and health systems.”
- The Olympic Games alone have cost the government of Brazil some $12 billion.
- According to demonstrators from the Vila Autodromo Favela in 2015, “the Games are being used as an excuse to clear the area for luxury apartments that will be sold at a high premium after the event.” This is in line with Ceasefire’s contention that the Olympic Games are used as a pretext by governments around the world and the wealthy elite who control them to displace, relocate and dispossess those who hold little economic and political power. Regardless of the country, says David Goldblatt, author of The Games: a global history of the Olympics, it’s always the poorest people in the host cities who suffer and bear most of the brunt when it comes to the extraordinary costs and sacrifices required to host the Games. And in the words of professor of political science at Pacific University Jules Boycoff, “The Olympics have long provided local developers and politicians with an alibi to steamroll already marginalized communities.”
- The favela pacification program instituted in preparation of the Olympic Games (and before that the World Cup) resulted in an increased amount of police and army violence against youth in the favelas, particularly Black youth. In fact children as young as 10-13 years of age have been killed at the hands of Brazilian police. According to Abison Olatunji of the Union of Collective Pan-Africanists, “Every 23 minutes, a black youth is brutally murdered in Brazil. This is ethnic cleaning as State policy.”
- The NGO Terre des Hommes collected stories from some of the affected youth, including that of a 13 year old “who was hit by a bullet while playing marbles after the army moved in to the Complexo de Maré favela complex ahead of the World Cup.”
- The Economist reports that “more than half the people in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas (slums) are black. The comparable figure in the city’s richer districts is just 7%.” While on the surface it appears that racism has always been less insidious in Brazil than in the United States (for example, Brazil has no history of miscegenation laws), that there is a white male hierarchy is undeniable. This is true even though Brazil is, according to the latest census numbers, 51% black or mixed race and 52% female.
Overall, in the opinon of the Comité Popula group, “the social costs of mega-events outweigh the benefits, which are skewered towards the ‘wealthier’ parts of the city.” And after reviewing the cited stats and statistics above, who could argue? The Olympic Games are being used for some rather nefarious purposes in city after city every four years by politicians and the bourgeoisie they represent. This is not to say that the Olympic Games should be abolished, but that the International Olympic Committee should be looking into ways to hold their events without thousands of people having to pay the price by being brutally dispossessed. If the IOC can’t figure out a way to do this, then it’s time to seriously start considering abolition as the most logical course of action to take.