The Olympics opened in Brazil on August 5. The Olympics is portrayed as an opportunity for international cooperation and a chance for the world’s athletes to display their skills and passion. The Olympics are an opportunity for athletes from all over the world to experience competition at the highest level. For many athletes, to compete at the international level is a dream come true.
Unfortunately much of the reality is quite different. Brazil, the host of the games, is in the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. There is a housing shortage, a funding shortage for healthcare, housing and just about everything else that most Brazilian’s want and need. Brazil is also in a political crisis with the president in the process of being impeached and widespread scandals involving half the country’s national elected government officials – many of whom are pushing the impeachment to avoid prosecution.
On top of this, Brazil is suffering from an outbreak of the Zika virus which is carried by mosquitoes. The epidemic has already caused 4700 cases of microcephaly (babies born with birth defects where their heads are much smaller than normal size, causing brain damage). It is serious enough that 152 international health officials wrote an open letter asking that the games not be held this summer in Brazil. With an estimated half a million people traveling to Brazil for the Olympics, a much larger, worldwide epidemic is possible, if people are infected and bring it back to their home countries.
The violence of the poverty-stricken “favelas” or shantytowns has been used as an excuse for an increase in police and military violence against the poor. In May, 40 people were killed by the police, a big jump over the year before. This violence is part of the “preparations” for the Olympics – an excuse to remove the people who live in places where stadiums or new roads are being built. More than 77,000 poor people have been driven from their homes, to make room for these projects. And where people still live, huge Olympic signs hide the poor neighborhoods from the view of the tourists.
It is impossible to cover up the realities the poor of Brazil live with every day. Raw sewage pours into the waters surrounding the cities. And this is the water that athletes will have to compete in. It is polluted with human sewage and filled with dangerous bacteria and viruses. What is being proposed to safeguard the athletes? The swimmers are being told not to open their mouths in the water!
Things are so bad that firemen and police demonstrated at the airport, greeting arriving tourists with signs saying “Welcome to Hell” and telling arriving visitors that they are incapable of protecting them. The government is mobilizing 85,000 police and soldiers to attempt to safeguard the athletes and tourists from ordinary crime and terrorist attacks.
The Olympic preparation and construction has been a banquet for the wealthy, filled with get rich quick schemes, corruption and bribes. The largest share of the $13 billion was spent in a wealthy suburb of Rio where a small group of developers, some of whom are implicated in government corruption schemes, are receiving public subsidies and public land. After the games are over these developers will turn the athletes’ village into luxury condos. A golf course is being built on land that was previously considered an environmental protection zone. Even the new metro and bus lines are not being built with a view toward providing future public transit for poor and working people.
Needless to say many people in Brazil are opposed to the games and there have been many protests. In one area people grabbed the Olympic torch as it went through in part of the opening ceremony and extinguished it. Why? They live in an area with housing shortages, unpaid wages and lack of public services while they watch billions being given to the rich in the name of the Olympics. They are right to protest. The rich have turned the Olympics into one more example of capitalist greed.