Brazil can breathe a great sigh of relief. Disaster has been averted. Despite the predictions that Rio de Janeiro was unprepared and with many expecting the Olympic Games to be an embarrassment, Rio 2016 has just about delivered. Sure, it was a little rough around the edges, with some accommodation not quite up to scratch and a few visitors finding themselves the victims of petty crime. But that raw, fresh Olympic experience was the main reason for bringing the games to South America: to give a continent of sport-loving people access to the world’s biggest sporting event.
However, with tonight’s Paralympics closing ceremony, the curtain is finally coming down on Brazil’s time in the international spotlight. Since 2007, Brazil has used the promise of future mega events, namely the World Cup and Olympic Games, to drum up publicity and worldwide attention. But the once positive outlook and a booming economy have been replaced by an impeached president and an alarming corruption scandal. The mega events have now run out, the spotlight has shifted and Brazil has to face this most difficult of chapters all alone.
The vast numbers of empty seats at Olympic venues highlight some of Brazil’s wider problems. Indifference towards unfamiliar sports could explain some of the lacklustre local support, but in truth it reveals the dwindling size of the country’s middle class, either unable or unwilling to pay £70 to watch table tennis quarterfinals. Even Usain Bolt couldn’t fill the athletics stadium.
Perhaps a wider issue that the ticketing situation revealed was the income and racial inequality that continues to permeate Brazilian society. At every venue, shirts of the football club Flamengo, the most widely supported team in Brazil, were hard to come by. Meanwhile, shirts of Fluminense, the club of the elite and infamous for refusing to field black players for many years, were everywhere. The Fluminense demographic are white and wealthy and these people were privileged enough to attend the Olympic spectacle. Put simply, the average Brazilian was not.
In that sense, the Rio 2016 Olympic Games failed to live up to its billing. It was admirable of the IOC to bring the spectacle to this part of the world, but not enough steps were taken to allow the locals to see it. That is a great shame, because Brazilian people are vibrant and excitable, perfect for livening up a sporting event. Brazilians do not suit the sullen and negative mood that is gripping their nation. Their politicians have shot their own country in the foot and have failed to harness the power that mega events can bring. Brazil continues to face uncertain times and for the foreseeable future the country is stuck in a political quagmire. Rio 2016 was a missed opportunity.