16 August 2010

The Olympic Shell Game (O jogo do bicho olímpico)

As I have mentioned in numerous posts and interviews, part of the process of hosting a mega-event is the restructuring of space and re-presenting culture in order to accelerate flows of capital, goods, information, and people. “Inefficiencies” are structured out of the city, “strategic areas” are “regenerated”, and “urban legacies” left behind. City, state, and national governments promise massive urban and social interventions, signing contracts with international sporting federations that take precedence over social contracts with the local population, even though it is the latter group that is footing the bill. The current model of mega-event production is broken. The World Cup and Olympics are guaranteed to leave behind sporting, tourist, and urban infrastructures that have little or no post-event utility, do not attend to the basic needs and priorities of locals, and waste a singular opportunity to shape urban space and culture in a way that will create a more just and livable society. We are in need of Olympic-lessness, not events that are ever bigger and more transformative.

Brazil 2014 and Brazil 2016 will be corrupt, non-transparent mega-events that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars, exacerbate existing socio-economic divides, and leave behind acontextual, redundant, and under-used sporting, tourist, and urban infrastructures. Among the many reasons for this chronicle of a failure foretold is the fact that Brazil receives only 5 million tourist visits a year. Poland receives 15 million. Bulgaria receives 5.2 million. Bulgaria! The obvious solution is to move Brazil closer to North America and Europe, eliminate the tourist visa, or not spend one billion reales in stimulus to construct hotels for which there will be no post-event demand. With that kind of money you could fly in another million tourists. The results from Athens 2004 and South Africa 2010 should be warning enough. Alas, in Brazil the federal government has made it ever easier to build on a massive scale while creating complex legal structures to ensure the total opacity of the process.

In May, President Lula signed into law Provisional Measure 488/2010, giving birth to Empresa Brasileira de Legado Esportivo S.A. - BRASIL 2016 (The Brazilian Sport Legacy Company Ltd. – BRASIL 2016). On the same day, he signed Provisional Measure 489/2010, creating the Autoridade Pública Olímpica – APO (Public Olympic Authority). These two institutions will be directed by the Conselho Público Olímpico (Public Olympic Council -CPO). These new institutions will use the legal measures outlined in the Olympic Act (Lei nº 12.035/2009) along with their exceptional powers to “transform” Rio de Janeiro into an Olympic City. How will this work?

The federal government will pass R$29 billion to the CPO, comprised of the president of the republic, the governor and mayor of Rio de Janeiro “or their representatives”. The CPO can decide whether or not to extend the life spans of the APO and BRASIL 2016 past their 12/31/18 death date (kind of like the mutants in Bladerunner). The CPO will pass the money along to BRASIL 2016, which will then pass it along to the APO, which will then pass it along to contractors that do not have to go through a public bidding process in order to receive contracts with public money. Neither BRASIL 2016 or the APO will be required to hire their employees through the normal legal channels. All goods imported for the Olympic and World Cup projects are exempt from tariff duties (especially aggravating when it will cost me R$275 to liberate my birthday package from the mail room). By the time a contractor starts to work on a project, the money will have passed through three inter-connected yet independent organizations, none of which will have non-governmental auditors. Just to get the APO up and running will cost R$94,8 million. In Brazil, money does actually grow on trees but you have to cut them down to get it.

The APO is responsible for the creation and delivery of the Caderno de Encargos Olímpicos (CAPO – Olympic Projects) which the agency alone defines. These projects are highly varied, and in many cases assume the responsibilities normally undertaken by state agencies. The APO is not required to have liaisons with any state agencies, becoming a form of urban governance unto itself. This ensures that the APO will become the agency that is planning the city for the next generations. Will they hire urban planners? Will the total autonomy from democratic process facilitate the development of strong community relations? Will the lack of accountability in awarding contracts ensure a more transparent expenditure of public funds? Once BRASIL 2016 and the APO expire, to what government agency will citizens be able to turn to register complaints or search for answers? How many of the people who were in charge of the massively over budget, non-transparent 2007 Pan American Games will be directing these agencies? How will these extraordinary powers be used as we get ever closer to opening ceremonies? Will Ricardo Teixeira, president of both the CBF (Brazilian Football Federation) and the LOC (Local Organizing Committee) ensure that public money does not go into his private organization? Will Carlos Nuzman, president of the COB (Brasilian Olympic Committee) and Rio 2016 (which has an uncertain yet continuing role in all this) ensure that his business relationships are not going to benefit from the opacity of the Olympic Structure? Will the government site dedicated to monitoring Olympic Projects (http://www.transparenciaolimpica.com.br/ ) ever have information that is worth looking at?

Perhaps in anticipation of the answers to these questions, the Ministry of Sport is planning on spending between R$15-R$22 million per year to improve its image.

The deployment of provisional measures in addition to the alteration (or suspension) of national, state, and city laws in order to “prepare” Brazil to host sports mega-events highlights the radical nature of these events.
The IOC and FIFA make demands, Brazil bends over backwards to meet them. The clock is running and badly needed investments in health, education, and public transportation get bypassed for new priorities.  The government, in fealty to slick criminals, makes new laws, grants exemptions, and creates a parallel government that will take public money, have little or no accountability (either financial or democratic), and then once the games have passed, will simply disappear. As I mention in my article in the Journal of Latin American Geography, this is similar to what happened during the USAmerican invasion of Iraq with the establishment of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The CPA went in after a total “restructuring” (Shock and Awe), changed all of the laws and then evaporated. Here, the Shock and Awe comes in a different, somewhat less violent form, but the idea is the same: restructure space and culture for the maximization of profit.

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