Across Brazil’s vast landscape, tens of thousands demonstrated today against corruption running rampant in their government, and implored President Dilma Rousseff to step down from office. Rippling beneath the protest, the fourth this year, is an undercurrent of frustration towards the 2016 Summer Olympics to be hosted in Rio de Janeiro next August.
The continuing construction of Olympic stadiums, housing complexes, and restricted travel lanes has long annoyed millions in the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City). When Rio de Janeiro won the bid to host the 2016 Summer Games in 2009, thousands celebrated on the world-famous Copacabana Beach during the IOC announcement ceremony. At the time, the Rio Olympics bid committee promised a long-lasting legacy to benefit the city (and country) for years to come.
Fast forward five years, to the FIFA 2014 World Cup whose Brazil planners assured the populace of social program and infrastructure improvements. That summer, a Pew Research study found that 72% of Brazilians were dissatisfied with the funding devoted to this spectacle, outlays that could have been devoted to health care, education, and public transportation.
Similar sentiment is now simmering. Last minute Olympics-based construction rules the picturesque Rio de Janeiro landscape – not only emblematic of Brazil’s notorious “plan as you go” modus operandi, but smacking of alleged corruption by hired contractors.
Several corporations are now being investigated for suspected involvement in price fixing and money laundering, corruption that has siphoned limited government funds away from much-needed public initiatives. Further, 20 percent of Brazil’s congress members are under suspicion for bribery and kickback schemes – some linked to Olympics contractor work.
President Rousseff is fending off a drive to impeach her, befitting her single-digit approval rating. Under her leadership, the country’s financial standing has plummeted. Rising inflation and unemployment has many worried that Brazil will descend into a recession.
Due to these ongoing investigations of its funding practices and the suffering economy, the Brazilian government has slowed its backing for infrastructure projects to benefit the Summer Games and beyond. Case in point, on Friday, the Rio de Janeiro transport office announced that a federal payout of $120 million, earmarked for the extended subway system, was overdue.
Further, the Rio Olympics Organizing Committee, whose budget is 40% reliant on public funding, is creatively seeking ways to cut its costs. Rio Committee communications lead Mario Andrada said, that Brazil is grappling with “a perfect storm” of government corruption and financial challenges. “It must and it does affect the games in every respect,” he said in a News.com.au interview.
While another sports spectacle will shine brightly on Brazil, many fear that once more they will suffer in the shadows for years to come, as Rio Olympics bid promises go unfulfilled.
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