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Five years past, Rio de Janeiro still on a chase to find Olympic Legacy

2021 Jul 14, 7:03, RIO DE JANEIRO
The International Olympic Committee is hoping to reach more young people with a strategy for virtual sports and gaming.

With the Olympics about to kick off in Tokyo, the prior host is struggling to make good on legacy promises.

Brazil’s government is providing assurances that Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Park venues won’t be abandoned, while City Hall rebuilds a beleaguered bus system and is again pledging to create schools from the dismantled Arena of the Future.

Recreational spaces in areas that previously had none were welcome, as was Rio’s revamped port area with new tunnels and museums, even if it didn’t lure hoped-for residents or companies. And the demolition of an elevated highway allowed for sweeping views of the Guanabara Bay where sailing competitions took place, but its waters weren’t cleaned of sewage, as had been promised. There are fresh commitments to finally do so.

The postcard city’s bid for the Olympics drew inspiration from Barcelona’s urban renewal with the 1992 games. There are reasons Rio’s golden dream didn’t fully pan out, some justifiable: the nation suffered its worst recession in a century.

Others are indefensible. Prosecutors found corruption in subway works; the Olympics-era governor is in jail for that and other offenses. An incomplete station is a pit containing millions of gallons of water.

Even if Rio resuscitates its legacy, it will be too late to convince the International Olympic Committee to return to a model in which the games drive development.

Of all promises, public transport was billed as potentially most transformative for the city’s 6.5 million residents. Rio proposed a “High-Performance Transport Ring” that would extend the limited subway and create dedicated bus-rapid transit (BRT) lanes.

Five new stations linked the subway with the BRT system, which soon had hundreds of thousands of daily passengers. But the upside of the new infrastructure was more than offset by the elimination and rerouting of dozens of standard bus lines; by 2017, average access to jobs and schools by public transport dipped from three years earlier, according to a University of Oxford team led by Brazilian researcher Rafael Pereira.

Rio’s Olympics cost $13.5 billion, according to the government’s accounting watchdog and using a 2016 exchange rate. A study by Oxford scholars published in September found average sports-related hosting costs are $12 billion, with non-sports costs typically several times more. Japan expects the Tokyo games to cost at least $15 billion without building nearly as much as Rio.


Mayara da Cruz is from Taquara, a neighborhood from which ordinary buses used to depart in all directions. She complains their substitution for jam-packed BRTs means she has to make connections that increase transit time to everywhere in the city -- except Barra da Tijuca, home of the Olympic Park.

Da Cruz has been coming to the Olympic Park twice a week for her daughter’s gymnastics classes since the city-run arena reopened this year. On June 29, she watched her child tumbling while dozens of others played volleyball and learned jiu-jitsu. Enrollment in the arena’s activities has surpassed 800 kids and teens.

“She’s loving it,” said da Cruz, 32. “Tuesdays and Thursdays are the days she’s most excited because she has these classes.”

Paes said City Hall will launch a tender before Tokyo for the long-overdue dismantling of two temporary arenas, including the handball stadium that will be transformed into four public schools, which he said his predecessor neglected to do.

Crivella’s press office said Paes hadn’t earmarked any money for the works nor was any available during the multi-year recession.

The four park venues administered by Brazil’s Citizenship Ministry host occasional competitions, like the Pan American Gymnastics Championship last month. The next major event is the Brazilian School Games, in October, with 6,200 athletes. Few cyclists use the velodrome’s Siberian pinewood floor to train and Brazil didn’t field a single competitor for Tokyo, despite promises the facility would be an incubator.

The Citizenship Ministry’s press office said in an emailed response to questions that it has established partnerships with several Brazilian sports bodies to host events and that it is crafting a plan to better use the venues. It will be published “as soon as it is finished.”

“Rio’s Olympic Park pains my heart. Sometimes a thing or two happens there, but it’s very bad, there wasn’t a realistic plan for it,” Andrew Parsons, president of the International Paralympic Committee, told the AP. “I think cities need to go through profound transformations, but the moment in which sporting venues led those changes is now over.”

In June 2019, the IOC approved proposals to change the bidding process, including the creation of commissions with the power to control host selection. Several cities from developing countries contemplating bids for the 2032 Olympics didn’t present bids, and Australia’s Brisbane jumped ahead with the blessing of many IOC members.

Parsons, of the Paralympics, said many Brazilian confederations slipped financially after the games. Some “nearly collapsed” as sponsorship dried up in the recession.

State development bank BNDES withdrew support for canoeing and state-run oil company Petrobras did the same for boxing, fencing, weightlifting, taekwondo, and judo. Both companies’ headquarters are in Rio. State bank Caixa Economica Federal recently restored funding for track & field, gymnastics, and the Paralympics after contracts lapsed last year, and started sponsoring skateboarding. But three of those four contracts are just one-year deals.

“The Brazilian Olympic Committee failed at projecting beyond 2016,” said Parsons, adding the same isn’t true for Paralympics, which benefited from greater awareness.


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