Why the Olympics Are Good for Brazil

Tonight the world will watch the opening ceremonies of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. There has been a lot of commentary on the damage hosting the Games has done to Brazil, on the lack of preparedness, and on the risks posed to the atheletes by crime, Zika, and pollution. But in this guest post, sociologist Robert Gay, author of Bruno: Conversations with a Brazilian Drug Dealer, offers a more positive outlook.

robert_gayIn early July I was interviewed live by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about the forthcoming Rio Olympics. Predictably, the show’s host asked me about the effect of the political crisis—I said there would be none—the readiness of the infrastructure—I said that everything, well almost everything, would be up and running—the threat of violence—I said that while the threat of violence always exists, the place would be swarming with public security personnel—and, of course, the danger posed by Zika—which I said was overblown.

978-0-8223-5849-7_prIt seems like every Olympics faces its own challenges, no matter where it is to be held. This is after all a mega global sporting event that—when all is said and done—costs billions of dollars that could be spent on improved access to education, housing and health care, among others. It is important point out, however, that it was the awarding of the Olympics in 2009 that prompted the authorities to adopt a very different public security. Before 2009 the authorities would go into low-income neighborhoods controlled by criminal elements, kill as many people as possible and then withdraw, a tactic known in military circles as “mowing the lawn.” Since then—and no doubt with the Olympics in mind—the authorities have adopted a different model based on the occupation of criminal held neighborhoods based on the establishment of Police Pacification Units (UPPs) that provide a permanent police presence.

Now, the model is by no means perfect AND it costs A LOT of money. But, if you talk to people who live in such areas they will tell you that their lives are MUCH better than they were before. So, aside from the brand new metro lines that connect upscale neighborhoods, and the swanky stadiums that no one will ever use, maybe something good DID already come out of this Olympics!

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