Post-Olympics Brazil: 13 Medals for Brazil as an Omen?


2016-08-22 By Kenneth Maxwell

The most negative expectations for the Rio Olympic Games did not materialize.

Zika did not impact tourists or athletes as expected (at least not so far). The number of foreign visitors was less than anticipated, though those that came to Rio enjoyed the competitions. Many stadiums were often only half full, but the spectators who did make it applauded noisily.

And the direst warnings over security, health threats, polluted sea water, and generalized disorganization, did not come to pass.

Despite rain and high winds the games ended spectacularly with a joyful and colorful festival of Rio Carnaval and fireworks at the famous Maracana stadium. The “Cariocas,” as the residents of Rio de Janeiro are known, certainly know how to organize a very good party.

And they did so.

Great Britain came in second in the medal count, after the United States, and ahead of China. It was an amazing performance. It was the best for Great Britain since 1908.

And it owed much to allocation of British Lottery funding to elite British sports. At the closing ceremony the British team wore flashing footware, their shoes with sparkling soles which flashed red, white and blue. A spokeswoman for British prime minister Teresa May, said there would be no limit on the honors given for the Olympic champions.

A time perhaps when the British honors system will be used to actually reward talented sporting achievement and not political cronies!

The US triumph, however, which saw 121 medals won, was tarnished by the behavior of drunken members of the US swimming team, who got involved in a fracas on their way back to the Olympic park after a late night party. They lied about what happened. They claimed armed robbers held them up. In fact they had vandalized a gas station bathroom.

But the one thing Brazil is good at is surveillance.

It quickly became “l’Affaire Lochte” and fed into Brazilian preconceptions about the (bad and arrogant) behavior of the US in general.

CCTV cameras soon revealed the truth about the whole sorry affair. But this was not before damage had been done to the reputation of the US contingent as a whole, despite the later apologies.

And it tended to overshadow the major achievement of Michael Phelps for example, and the overall successes of the US team in Rio.

The great multiple gold medal winning Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt, however, endeared himself to Brazilian public with his athletic success, his grace, and his good humor. This will be his last Olympic Games, and international athletics will miss him mightily.

But on the whole the Rio Olympic Games were a success.

The upcoming para-Olympic games may be a different story.  Already promised funding has been cut. Stadiums promised are already being “de-commissioned.” Tickets have not sold. And currently it is doubtful even if some of the para-Olympic participants from the poorer nations will be able to afford to attend.

Fireworks came at the end of the Olympics but this weekend fireworks of a political nature will occur. Credit Photo: © Ricardo Moraes / Reuters
Fireworks came at the end of the Olympics but this weekend fireworks of a political nature will occur. Credit Photo: © Ricardo Moraes / Reuters

For Brazil the Olympics have certainly produced some benefits. There was improved infrastructure in Rio in terms of transportation links for example in the down town area, and a new metro link, and the reconstruction of the old port area into a new tourist destination with the new museum of the future.

And in the soccer competition, Brazil won on penalties against Germany, erasing their humiliating loss to Germany in the World Cup by seven to one two years ago. Though Neymar, the Brazilian star (who like many Brazilian soccer stars plays abroad for Barcelona), and who was the captain of the Brazilian national squad, got into a bad tempered contretemps with spectators as he left the pitch. And he wore a prominent “Jesus” bandana, which broke Olympic rules against the overt profession of faith.

Overall Brazil came in thirteenth in the medal count, which was not a bad result.

That is if it were not for the ominous number “thirteen.” Brazilians tend to be superstitious. And unfortunately as the euphoria evaporates, as it undoubtedly will, there are very hard political, and economic, and fiscal realities ahead, not only for Rio, but also for Brazil as a whole.

And, as has been the pattern with Olympic Games elsewhere, including in London four years ago, the euphoria is likely to be ephemeral.

Public finances remain fragile, especially in Rio, where the salaries of many public employees have not been paid, and are likely to be further delayed. The billionaire who built the Olympic park and “village” expecting to cash in by selling off the apartments in what he calls his new “Isla pura” (“pure island”), is struggling to make sales in his now empty buildings.

And without an improvement in the real economy, the last months of 2016 are also likely to be difficult.

The ever-widening corruption scandals enveloping the state petroleum giant, Petrobras, and the workers party, and the leading construction companies, and numerous politicians, and businessmen, will continue to expand, as judge Moro’s anti-corruption operation continues to uncover and convict more culprits. None of which will soon help Brazil find its feet again in the near term.

And this coming weekend after three months and 13 days since her temporary suspension from office, the impeachment trail of Dilma Rousseff will begin in the Brazilian senate under the chairmanship of Supreme Court chief justice Ricardo Lewandowski.

This coming Thursday, (August 27th) the Senate will hear witnesses. The final judgment will then take place on Saturday (August 28th), or into the weekend if need be.

On Sunday demonstrations by “social movements” in support of Dilma are scheduled for Brasilia. It is very unlikely she will be exonerated. There needs to be a vote of two thirds of the senate and already the pro-impeachment forces think they have sufficient votes to carry the day.

But it will be a very messy and complicated outcome.

Dilma, whatever her faults as a political leader, and they are many, will not go away quietly, and she can claim, with some justification, that she is the victim of a “constitutional coup.”

She intends to appear personally to defend herself. But her successful impeachment will remove the workers party (PT) entirely from power. Ending in effect their rule over two terms under president Lula, and one and a half terms under president Dilma Rousseff.

Acting president Michel Temer, who will then become president, is an old time political operator from the centrist PMDB. But he is not much more popular than the president he replaces.

And in a shift of alliances he will have to work closely with the PSDB which lost the last presidential election to Dilma, and which now provides Temer’s very ambitious foreign minister, Jose Serra, a previous presidential candidate for the PSDB, who is the former São Paulo governor, and is a politician notorious for his own perennial presidential ambitions.

But there will at least be some political clarity after the impeachment vote in the Brazilian senate next weekend.

And with the formal removal of Dilma Rousseff from the office, the newly installed President Michel Temer, will be able to travel abroad while the president of the lower house of congress, Rodrigo Maia, will substitute for him while he is out of the country.

President Temer will have two years to make good on his promises of economic and political reform before the next presidential elections.

But one thing is certain: With the Olympic Games over, Brazil still faces a very rocky political and economic road ahead.

And while the old problems have been temporarily on hold: Now they will be back with a vengeance.