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Abandonment and Exclusion: The Rio 2016 Games’ Primary Legacy

A Year Since the Games

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According to the Rio Olympics Public Authority: “Legacy is a set of infrastructure works (including sports infrastructure) and public policies in the areas of mobility, environment, urban upgrades, education, and culture that are underway and were accelerated and/or made viable by the fact of the city of Rio de Janeiro hosting the 2016 Games.”

Exactly one year before the Olympic Games began, Rio’s mayor at the time—Eduardo Paes—was in Guadalupe, in the city’s North Zone. The reason for the visit was a debate promoted by community cinema Ponto Cine to discuss the Games’ legacy for the region with residents of the area. The cinema’s 73 seats were filled with people who at that time were already hoping for better days. The mayor’s visit was crucial to clarify questions related to the mega-project that promised a series of positive changes in suburban life. Tired of local violence, of crowded buses in terrible condition, and faced with innumerable problems, the residents saw a light at the end of the tunnel in that discussion.

In his explanation the mayor affirmed: “The Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games are the opportunity for this city to transform itself.” And did it? Well, depending on the point of view. In fact, there has been a transformation in Rio that is undeniable. The question is, for whom?

In Deodoro, where the Parque Radical and the Arena da Juventude (Youth Arena) were constructed, the change never came. With more than 500,000 square meters, the Parque Radical—which had a budget close to R$700 million—hosted the competitions in BMX, slalom canoeing, and mountain biking. Despite being one of the legacies, the place has deteriorated and has been closed since the end of 2016. The current city administration has promised to reopen the place but the wait has been prolonged since February. The arena was strategically built in the region with the objective of increasing sports participation among youth in local communities, something which has still not happened.

In August 2015, when the meeting was held, the region was already being referred to as one of the most dangerous in the city. Of course, there was concern about this. None of the organizers wanted a member of the so-called “Olympic Family” to witness an assault with ten or fifteen men (or sometimes minors) armed with rifles on Avenida Brasil. Or worse, to be a victim themselves. Many operations were undertaken in an attempt to increase the sense of security. That year, a record statistic drew attention in the “Marvelous City.” The detainment of adolescents was at its highest rate since 2005. According to the Institute for Public Security (ISP-RJ) study, over 10,000 adolescents were sent to the socio-educational system. That same year, cargo thefts was a major problem, and despite the measures taken, the numbers continue to show that things are becoming worse. No other outcome could have been expected.

In 2016, or the “Olympic year,” there was a record number of cargo thefts. There were 9,870 cases registered, the highest rate in 24 years. These data are from the Institute of Public Security in Rio de Janeiro.

The violence—a consequence of the lack of security in this region coupled with the lack of investment—is frequent. No wonder we always have the worst numbers. Just like the athletes who are trying to break records, Rio de Janeiro seems to be doing basically the same thing. The difference is that Rio does so with negative records. Regarding legacy, maybe that is all we have.

August 21, 2017, for example, was registered as the day when the highest number of students had their classes canceled. According to the Municipal Secretary of Education, 27,000 children and adolescents were negatively effected. This sad number is the result of a police mega-operation that relied on the armed forces and occurred in seven favelas of the North Zone. At least 20% of these students were in the regions of Costa Barros and Guadalupe. The numbers are terrifying. Also, according to the information obtained from the Secretary, of the 107 school days this year, there were only eight days when schools functioned normally. In total, 381 schools were closed for at least one day, affecting 129,165 students.

These are children and youth who should be at the park or the sports arenas, constructed alongside their houses. Adolescents that should be practicing sports and enjoying what their parents, hardworking laborers, paid for with great sacrifice. Students that should be training in the arenas to win medals. But more than that, they should be becoming people who are honest and concerned about their community. Not like the politicians who are pushing us away from a better society.

Thankfully, in the North Zone we learned (by necessity) to create our own tools for sociocultural transformation. One example is Ponto Cine, the cinema that organized the debate with Eduardo Paes. This cinema, yes, follows the same path as Olympic athletes. They give blood. They fight with guts and determination. At the end, the medal is the smiles on the faces of the children and teens who frequent the space. In fact, you should know that the Ponto Cine holds a world record for the number of national screenings. There is no cinema on the planet that has screened more Brazilian productions than this one. This is only to name one of its incredible achievements.

Invited to participate in the debate along with the mayor and other colleagues, I suggested the creation of cultural projects that could speak to youth in the region. We heard from Eduardo Paes that a cinema project (which I had suggested) would not be the solution to high crime rates. I agreed quickly, because it is not possible for any social project to create the barriers that could prevent the entry of arms and drugs into favelas. That is the job of the State. As for us, we have the difficult role of reducing the damage caused by the failures of those in power.

Arguing that we’re not dealing with a problem limited to just the city but one that affects the whole country, Eduardo Paes said that it would be necessary to understand the “root of the problem” before taking on the challenge of confronting it, and that there are social questions which need to be discussed. Regarding his government, the mayor said he believed that with the implementation of full-day school schedules, the students would spend the whole day at school, involved in diverse activities of education, sports, and leisure.

Renan Schuindt was born in Costa Barros favela in Rio’s North Zone. As a journalist, he has worked as a producer for TV Band and a reporter for Rádio BandNews FM. In addition to being the coordinator of Cine Costa Barros, he is the director of Outro Lado Produções, which produces audiovisual projects with a focus on the cultures of peripheral areas.