The depth of anger over the social cleansing of Brazil for the Olympics burst out last week as the ceremonial torch passed though the coastal town of Angra dos Reis. Protesters, angry over unpaid wages, housing shortages and service cuts, seized the torch and extinguished it.
It is one example of the fury about what the games means to ordinary people. The poor have been unceremoniously evicted while the rich are subsidised.
In the posh Bairro Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Olympic Village is “a high-end gated community in waiting”, according to journalist David Goldblatt.
And even posher (and more profitable) homes for the rich are being developed around the Olympic golf course.
For big construction firms, the Olympics is a godsend. Rio is awash with other fabulously profitable developments, such as the refurbishment of the dock district at Porto Maravilha.
It has little to do with the games, but everything to do with gigantic profits for huge companies. These are generously subsidised by working class people’s taxes. Around a third of the cost of the games comes from private financing. The rest comes from the pockets of the poor.
The rapid bus transport system and the metro are permanent legacies, but they are mainly designed to ferry rich people between rich areas.
Residents of the Rua Ipadu, Sao Sebastiao and Vila Uniao de Curicica favelas in Rio’s West Zone were forcibly removed in order to make way for it.
They were given few options. Evictions started in 2014. Some people were offered compensation—but not enough money to buy a property in the region. Others agreed to leave in exchange for a new apartment.
“At the time of expropriation, the city promised they would pay, but our problem was that they didn’t put anything in writing,” said Jorge Valdevino. He is a representative of the Colonia Juliano Moreira Condominium, where 96 families were relocated.
Six months ago some residents began receiving collection letters from Banco do Brasil, which financed the construction of the condominium, informing them they owe over £17,000.
An estimated 77,000 people have been made homeless. Vila Autodromo in western Rio was substantially destroyed earlier this year, despite a four year campaign by the 600 families who lived there.
When the bulldozers flattened the homes of fisherfolk and construction workers, Rio’s mayor defended the action, saying their land was needed for an access road.
Twenty five families are still there, living among fetid water and construction waste. One resident explained, “The city is planned for the rich. The poor who built the city do not have a right to it.”
The games are being held against the backdrop of Brazil’s worst economic crisis since the 1930s. They are costing £3.5 billion, an over-run of 51 percent.
There has been a constitutional coup against the Workers’ Party president Dilma Rousseff, backed by the judiciary, pro-business parties and the massively powerful Brazilian media.
Rousseff remains suspended pending impeachment. Her successor is the corrupt Michel Temer, who was banned from standing for office for eight years for previous violations.
As secretary of security in Sao Paolo, Temer acquired a reputation for the brutal use of the police against social movements.
He is insisting on a neoliberal austerity programme that cuts workers’ rights and government spending on health and education. It will open up Brazil to new free trade deals with the US, Asia and the European Union.
Meanwhile Rio’s favelas are not included on official maps of the city prepared for the games.
The enormous Olympic signage on Rio’s motorways, especially from the airport, is used to hide the poor neighbourhoods from the eyes of visitors.
The sinister “pacification programme” for the favelas—a combination of social cleansing, police repression and very limited reform—has largely failed.
The Popular Committee on the World Cup and Olympics has issued a 190-page dossier detailing human rights violations carried out in the course of Olympic construction.
It makes 16 demands. They include the right to protest and the release of prisoners, the provision of housing on all surplus land from public developments and free public transport.
The dossier also calls for an end to the removal of street children by the security forces. It dubs the Rio Olympics “The Exclusion Games”.
On 5 July hundreds of Brazilians gathered in front of the Rio de Janeiro state legislative assembly to protest against the human rights violations related to the Olympics.
The demonstration was organised by The People without Fear and Rio 2016—The Exclusion Games, two groups of residents and their supporters.
They said, “There’s money to finance the mega-event, meanwhile the salaries of public sector workers are delayed and the public’s basic services are cut.”
The next day another protest highlighted the Brazilian government’s cuts to health and education. It was attended by many public sector workers including teachers that have struck for better conditions and pay.
The day after that students from Rio de Janeiro State University marched and debated the issues related to the games.
Demonstrations are already being organised for this week, with five days of protests planned in the run-up to the opening ceremony.
As Socialist Worker went to press, thousands of people were gathering for a protest called “Let’s extinguish the torch in Rio”. A large protest is set for the day of the opening ceremony.
There may be records set at Rio on the track or field or in the pool.
As far as waste, corruption, repression and profit making are concerned, the Brazil games will be up there with all the champions of past Olympics.
The Olympics is driven from the top - but can reflect the base of society too
E ven before the Olympic flame was lit in Rio, political tussles had broken out between the major competitors.
Russia became the first country in history to have its athletics team banned from the Olympics after a ruling by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
A further 19 rowers were banned last week for similar doping allegations.
“If somebody is trying to politicise this, that’s a big mistake,” warned Russian president Vladimir Putin. The IAAF hit back claiming that “politics did not have a part” in the decision.
Sharp words aside, both Putin and the IAAF’s implication is that sport and politics shouldn’t mix. However, the history of the Olympics and modern sport under capitalism, shows this is bunkum.
As socialist writer George Orwell wrote in 1945, “At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. It is war minus the shooting.”
The modern Olympic Games were set up in 1894 by French nationalist Baron de Coubertin, who quit in 1928 when women were allowed to compete.
While he promoted the games as internationalist, they were used to build nationalism from the beginning.
After the imperialist bloodbath of the First World War, the losing nations were banned and Belgium was awarded all the medals.
When Nazi Germany was allowed to host the Olympics in 1936, Adolf Hitler opened the games as part of a “Nordic ceremony” celebrating “white supremacy”.
The modern Olympics has always walked a fraught tightrope between nationalism and internationalism.
That’s partly because as capitalism developed, it sought to organise sport in its own image of competition and professionalism.
Orwell argued, “Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. It is not possible to play simply for fun and exercise.”
But there has also been resistance during the Olympics, such as when US black medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos did the Black Power salute.
That’s partly because sport is a popular and collective activity.
While the Olympics are driven from the top, they can also reflect what’s going on at the base of society.
- The Games—a global history of the Olympics by David Goldblatt
- Capitalism and Sport edited by Michael Lavalette
- A historic turning point in Brazil by Eduardo Albuquerque
- Rio 2016 “Exclusion Games”
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