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Reporter's Notebook: The View From Rio

Rio's Olympic beach volleyball venue is on Copacabana beach.
Marcio Jose Sanchez
Rio's Olympic beach volleyball venue is on Copacabana beach.

No one would want to throw the biggest party in the world if they were in the middle of divorce, broke and being audited.

That's pretty much the situation Brazil finds itself in right now, during the Summer Olympic Games.

President Dilma Rousseff is in the midst of being impeached. Her trial starts in a few days, after the end of the games. The country is going through a historic recession, and budgets are being repeatedly slashed. And the largest corruption investigation in Latin American history has taken down politicians and captains of industry alike.

The latest targets are Rousseff and former President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, both of whom are being investigated for "obstruction of justice."

So — all things considered — Brazil has hosted an OK Olympics so far.

Zika turned out not to be a thing. It's winter, and nary amosquito has been seen close to Olympic venues.

An overwhelming security operation — the biggest in Olympic history — has meant that violence hasn't been a big issue for visitors and residents in areas near the Olympic venues. Fears of terrorism haven't been borne out, either.

Organizational challenges have plagued the games, from empty stadiums for some events to long lines at other venues and Olympic village accommodations that weren't quite ready in some cases as athletes began arriving before the games. But the energy and emotion in the stands and on the fields of play have largely overshadowed the snafus — at least for the visiting press.

There's been a great deal of debate about whether the pre-Olympics fears were overblown. Various editorials from foreign journalists and news outlets have defended plucky Brazil for undertaking this mega-event under difficult conditions.

But for many reporters who live here, like me, those opinion pieces are missing the point.

The question isn't whether Brazil can throw a good Olympics. It's whether the Olympics are good for Brazil.

So far, it's not clear they are.

During the games, violence in Brazil's impoverished communities has gone up, and experts say that is directly linked to the Olympics.

The Rio Olympic Committee is urgently looking for a bailout so it can put on the Paralympic Games next. Brazil's taxpayers will, more likely than not, foot the bill.

In July, work was still going on to construct a subway expansion in Rio de Janeiro before the Summer Games began. The new subway will be one of the benefits to outlast the Olympics.
Silvia Izquierdo / AP
In July, work was still going on to construct a subway expansion in Rio de Janeiro before the Summer Games began. The new subway will be one of the benefits to outlast the Olympics.

This is happening while hospitals are in a state of emergency, the state of Rio de Janeiro is in a declared state of financial catastrophe, and high schools are being occupied by students because of the dire condition of education.

Many Brazilians I have spoken to are enjoying the games. They are proud of their city and their country, and they want the Olympics to go well — not only for themselves but for the visitors who have come here.

A question, though, lingers over all of this: What happens after the Olympics are over?

Numerous reports have shown that hosting a sporting mega-event costs a great deal and grants very few benefits for the host country. In the case of one white-elephant stadium from the soccer World Cup, which Brazil hosted in 2014, "The debt for this ziggurat has piled high and requires siphoning off money intended for schools and hospitals," the New York Times reported.

The International Olympic Committee, on the other hand, has reaped record-setting revenue due to lucrative TV deals while facing complaints that it hasn't done enoughto help Brazil. And Wednesday, the top European IOC official was detained by Brazilian police for allegedly scalping tickets. The IOC has a long and unsavory history of corruption and this won't help its image.

The redevelopment of Rio's port area has been lauded, though critics say a lot of the investment benefited the wealthy at the expense of the poor. There is no question, though, that Rio's desperately needed transportation upgrades, which were linked to the Olympics, will be a boon for this sparkling city by the sea.

But once the athletes have gone and the party is over, what will the Olympics have really cost Brazil?

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.
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