14 August 2012

The Olympic Flag is made of Korean Silk

There are so many interesting things about the Olympic Flag that I am bursting with excitement to report that I gave away the punch line in the title. I was astounded that after so many years of researching the Olympic Games that something so elementary, so symbolic could have escaped my attention. Korean silk!!!! Who knew?

As the devoted readers of Hunting White Elephants will no doubt have heard, the London Games are over, save for the three weeks of Paralympics that receive almost no media attention whatsoever. The missile batteries might be coming down off the roofs and tourists will start heading back to London. The party cost British taxpayers more than 11 billion pounds, around 5x over the original budget. Eduardo Paes and the Rio team have learned that lesson well, now refusing to talk about the budget beyond what was presented in the Bid Books in 2009.

We do know that the original budget underwritten by Lula was R$31 billion. Can we go 5x over? Maybe. Part of the problem is identifying what is Olympic and what is World Cup, what is ordinary investment and what is related to the megas. When transportation systems are conveniently directed to serve the Olympics, they are part of the Games project. When they are part of the budget, they are not. Any and all increases in the Gross Product of Rio are attributed to the Games, any increase in water pollution is not. When projects make the numbers tick in the right direction for marketing, yeah Rio 2016! There are no other numbers.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. There is no evidence to suggest that mega-events bring a public return on public investment. To the contrary, this is a regime of public risk for private profit that will use the militarization of urban space to control local populations and extract as much value from the city in the shortest timeframe possible before moving Istanbul for 2020.

Protest brining the 'evicitions trophy' to the mayor
The press conference yesterday was an interesting look into the way the 2016 Olympics will be run. As we received media credentials, we signed up to ask questions only to be informed later that only 5 questions would be allowed because the Governor, Mayor and Snoozman were tired after their flight from London. The questions were typical of the Brazilian media: innocuous, staged, soporific, irresponsible and stupid. The SporTV reporter asked the mayor to explain the emotion of brining the Olympic flag back to Rio. The Globo reporter asked if the mayor was going to bring the actual flag around the city or if they were going to use a replica. This gave him the chance to bring up the medal winning boxers as “security”, highlight the honor guard of the Guarda Municipal (wearing pith helmets), and to suggest that if the Olympic flag needed more security he “would have Cabral call in BOPE.”

The only decent question came from the BAND reporter, who, in response to the stimulation of the protest by the Comitê Popular outside the too-small, low-ceilinged INFAERO conference room (itself a testament to the poverty of investment in public infrastructure) asked about forced removals and the fate of the Vila Autódromo. This clearly irritated the mayor who leaped to his feet, protesting any suggestion that there had been at any time anything but democratic, open discussion with all of the communities removed for Rio’s Olympic project.

Conflating various key phrases of Paes, he said “there have been hundreds of people removed along the trajectory of the Transcarioca in the Zona Norte, middle class people, and no social activists were making a fuss about that because we did things democratically [HWE: removing individual houses is easier than removing whole communities]. We’ve bought land for the people of the Vila Autodromo [HWE: a project that the government had to go back on because the land belonged to one of Paes’ major campaign donors] and everyone is going to live in a nice apartment [HWE: whether or not they want to] only 500 meters from where they are now [HWE: this project is not going to happen]. No one is going to be removed violently [HWE: ask the people in Metrô, Restinga, Vila Harmonia, Recreio II about that!]. Once we deal with this situation we’ll see these political agitators disappear like they always do [HWE: taking a pot shot at his opposition in the coming elections].”

He added, “We need to move on from people resisting progress and cursing the government. This should be a thing of the past.” The elimination of alternative voices in the Olympic Era was well documented in London, another lesson learned. Of course, none of this addresses the wisdom or necessity of projects in and of themselves; project planned by a public relations firm in conjuntion with their governmental, meida and corporate bedfellows. A philandering foursome that goes alem do pornográfico.

There were some other tendencies on display that should be taken note of by journalists and researchers. In the blowing, normative discourses of Cabral, Snoozeman and Paes, there is a continual conflation of two presidents, Dilma and Lula. “O presidente” is Lula, “a presidenta” is Dilma, as if they were both governing at the same time. Lula’s role in bringing the Olympics is never far from the lips of those who drank so profusely from his overflowing cup of charming good-ol-boyism.

This is a closed circle of self-referential and self-interested parties where no contrary or alternative hymns will be sung. Thus, the World Cup slogan, Juntos num só ritmo, can be understood to refer to the larger political project of the Olympics as well as the elimination of alternatives. The Olympics take this to the next level.

On a positive note, after the press conference as the medalists put on display by the government were carrying their own bags to be stuck into a van (instead of the limousine escort afforded their lordships), the protestors from the Comitê Popular engaged them in conversation. All of them were adamant about their support for an Olympics without forced removals and for the production of peaceful and socially inclusive Games.

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