09 November 2010

A slice of the conference paper

The following is a slice of the paper I presented at the International Conference Mega-Events and the City. If you would like a full-text copy, please email me. More coming soon!

Sporting mega-events (SMEs) such as the FIFA World Cup, Olympics and Paralympics have increasingly profound effects on their host cities and countries.  The political, cultural, and economic logics that govern SMEs are as complex as the urban and social impacts of the events themselves.   During the hotly contested and wholly global competition to capture SMEs, candidate cities and nations present highly specific representations of urban space and culture to international sports federations. The “selection”, “winning”, “conquest”, or “right to host” a mega-event results in a legally binding contract that obliges an organizing committee to deliver on the promises made in the bidding process. SME bids are, by their very nature, discursively driven representations of a possible urban future. Once the contracts are signed and the projects begin, discourses of development, transformation, security, and sport take physical form on the landscape increasing their impacts as the Olympic city[1] grows. The Olympic contract becomes the driving force behind the innumerable transformations that “prepare” a host for a SME and requires the cooperation and support of local government.

Rio de Janeiro and Brazil are at the epicenter of global SME production. The list is impressive and extensive: 2007 Pan American Games, 2011 World Military Games, 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, 2014 FIFA World Cup, 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics. Brazil’s relative economic strength and its concomitant increase in global political capital have been strengthened by charismatic political leadership, a historically strong presence within international sport federations[2], and the construction of domestic political consensus. The successful pursuit of SMEs in Rio de Janeiro is no accident, but is both a tactic and practice that work to install a model of social and economic development in a particular kind of urban space.  The current model of SME production is conditioned by the exigencies of international sport federations and their corporate partners.  The spatial paradigms that SMEs demand are not yet present in Rio. In preparation for the events, Rio de Janeiro is undergoing political, economic, social, and urban interventions that will have lasting effects on the city.

The localized euphoria surrounding the production (and consumption) of a SME is stimulated and amplified by the very forces that bring it into reality: politicians, corporations, national and international sports federations, media conglomerates, marketing and public relations firms. The dominant narratives of a SME are of celebrating shared cultural values (“globalization”), the construction of a better society through sport (“transformation”), the valorization of the local in the global marketplace (“brand recognition”), and the “unique opportunity” of a SME to bring about lasting changes to urban space and culture (“legacy”). The accelerating flows of capital, media, goods, and people that define the current era of globalization have ensured ever expanding audiences and consumers of SMEs. This acceleration has also increased the scope and scale of interventions required at the urban scale. The end goal of local SME boosters is to bring more of those flows to the host, but in order to accomplish this goal various infrastructures must be pieced together. These infrastructures must attend to the spatial and temporal demands of the SME[3] and also to the more uncertain demands of global capital (Cammack 2009).  The interventions required to host an SME are nearly impossible to describe in their entirety as the processes and results involve intersecting vectors that operate unevenly over many years. Despite the profound local impacts of SMEs, the processes, tactics, institutions, and logics that produce them are not well known.

The process of reshaping urban space in an Olympic City (OC) begins many years before the event itself, with a tactical projection of images and spatial tropes that represent the future OC to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). The spatial imaginaries of the candidate OC are contained within the Olympic Bid Book (OBB). The OBB combines with video, celebrity, and political presentations to sell the Olympic Project to local, national, and global audiences. The spatial imaginary of the OBB attends to the highly selective demands of the IOC but also reflects the desires (and socio-spatial exigencies) of local elites in their dogged pursuit of cultural, political, and economic capital. These extensive and limited, simplified and complex imaginaries draw from and place demands on urban space, its residents, and visitors. Critical geographic analysis provides tools for “reading” the urban futures projected by the OBB. 

Video Discourse Analysis
The discursive structure deployed in the Rio 2016 OBB was reinforced through a global media campaign to sell the Olympic Project to international audiences. In the case of Rio de Janeiro we can identify a distinct evolution of Olympic videos. Earlier videos (2007, 2008) were comparatively simple, technical representations of the “Olympic potential” of Rio de Janeiro. They showed the bare bones of Rio’s OS: transportation infrastructure, sport installations, hotels, security. As the video projects evolved, they became much more technical, digitized, and fragmented.  The final video (2009) shows almost no Olympic Spaces as such, but plays on emotions, the iconography of landscape, and the “natural disposition” of Rio de Janeiro to host the Olympic Games. The images, music, and sound are overwhelmingly emotional, generating strong affectation in even the most calloused observer.  It will be instructive to analyze more profoundly this video in order to identify the spaces and places, techniques and tactics that Rio 2016 used in its Olympic campaign.


In the final and “winning” Rio 2016 video we see a stylized representation of a highly fragmented and selected urbanism. The motifs of music, leisure, water, mountains, bright colors, and collective emotion dominate the four minute video. The movements of sport occur within a context of soft urbanism that plays host to the rhythms and sensuality of samba, manufacturing a sense of harmony between the cultural, urban, and physical worlds. Importantly, the video shows the tele-visual potential of the city while demonstrating that Rio de Janeiro already possesses the requisite cultural characteristics that will attract international tourists and global capital. Logically, no Olympic promotional video would show the dark underbelly of urban life, yet the images selected for the video encompass a staggeringly limited area of the city, playing on the iconography of landscape and culture with every scene.
The choreography of geography and culture shown in the Rio 2016 video follows a limited and repetitive sequence. Following the action scene by scene we are presented with the following physical and cultural scenes (with points indicated on map)[1]:



The highly fragmented and repetitive representation of urban space and culture plays on a generalized understanding of Rio de Janeiro as a city that has a certain “disposition” towards sport and leisure. The hugely circumscribed geography of the video reinforces a touristic and voyeuristic imaginary of “Rio de Janeiro” strategically employing the city’s natural beauty (human and physical, not architectural) and “naturalized” cultures (sport, samba, beach, football) to sell Rio’s Olympic project.


[1] http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=pt-BR&msa=0&msid=108089938923734461423.00048f7353efc5ac12b0f&ll=-22.898948,-43.255234&spn=0.330815,0.676346&t=h&z=11



[1] For the sake of simplicity I will refer to the mega-event city as an “Olympic city”, with the understanding that the impacts of a mega-event are as variable as the event itself.
[2] The Brazilian João Havelange was president of FIFA from 1974-1998 and is also a long standing member of the IOC. For more on the relationships between FIFA and the IOC see Jennings.
[3] The transformation of urban space occurs within the limited temporal framework of the event. SME facilities should be completed within one year and six months before the event so that they can be tested for performance. The assumption is that structures will begin to lose the sense of “newness” if they are completed too early. Thus, the spatial is linked to the temporal and the two combine to create Olympic places. For more on the relationships between space and place see Massey (Massey, 2006).

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