Now That the Games Are Over, the Real Olympic Drama Begins in Rio

Source: The Nation

The Olympics are over, but they have set the stage for a wider social conflict over the future of the city.

“I am absolutely convinced that history will talk of the Rio de Janeiro before the Games and the much better Rio de Janeiro after the Olympic Games.” — Thomas Bach, President International Olympic Committee

Mr. Bach is delusional. But he is correct about one thing: people will talk about Rio as a city “before” and “after” the Olympics. It just won’t be the conversation of his fantasies conjured inside his Olympic-sized bubble. Now the real story starts in Rio. Now that the 2016 Summer Games have been completed, with the most discussed dramas being empty seats and the lies of an over-privileged swimmer, the real story begins: the story of how badly the Olympics will end up warping the city itself.

For months, Rio has been the subject of international fascination in the Western media: this idea of a magical city on the coast on the precipice of an Olympic-sized catastrophe, with the whole world watching. Journalists looked agape at the 2016 Olympic hosts wrestling with the impeachment/coup of their president, the country’s worst economic crisis in decades, a massive outbreak of the Zika virus, water judged to be loaded with more toxins than a Jersey swamp, and shocking levels of police violence. The media assumed that the narrative would end just this side of Armageddon.

Yet Rio did it. They made it work with the help of the hard, thankless labor of thousands of people building the facilities in hyper-exploitative conditions and directing visitors throughout the city. They pulled off the games without the collapse of a stadium, mass waterborne illnesses, or a widely speculated-upon terror attack. And Brazil even won some gold in the bargain, crowned as best in the world at two of country’s most important sports: men’s soccer and men’s volleyball. The nation’s most visible Olympic hero even hailed from Rio’s own City of God favela: gold medalist judoka Rafaela Silva. It’s almost “Olympic city as Horatio Alger story,” and will no doubt be written as such: Rio may have done it with Scotch tape, smoke and mirrors, but they hosted the damn Olympics.

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