Aug 22, 2016
More than three billion people watched the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Rio on television. There was glitter, samba, fireworks and a parade of stars.
The organizers of this great media circus could care less that Brazil is sinking in a grave economic crisis, with an additional major political crisis. It mattered little to the organizers that the majority of the Brazilian people were opposed to the Olympic Games, and that the Olympic torch was booed in some of the streets of Rio. It mattered little that thousands of poor people living in the favelas, the slums, were thrown into the street without being given new housing, in order to build stadiums, roads to reach them and parking lots.
It mattered little that the State of Rio, which was already bankrupt, was incapable of paying the bill that will inevitably be presented to the population, which had already been hit by the economic crisis. It mattered little that the police and soldiers deployed in the roads were there less to protect the population against an eventual terrorist act than to protect the media circus against the population. All that mattered little: let the show continue. Let the TV audience be drowned in the ads which accompany the most viewed sporting event in the world!
When Brazil was chosen as the sponsor of these games, it was presented as an “emerging country,” one of those big poor countries that were growing economically and supposedly would pull the capitalist economy in crisis toward recovery. But, since then, the crisis hit Brazil with as much violence as the spectacular rate of growth only a few years earlier. That growth only profited the local bourgeoisie and above all the big multinational companies. It hardly improved the conditions of the exploited classes – but the collapse dealt them a heavy blow.
Despite the cheap rhetoric of the privileged class, Brazil remains an underdeveloped country, marked by inequalities and undermined by corruption. The showcase that the Olympic Games is supposed to be didn’t only show sports performances and postcard images of the beaches of Copacabana. It showed unhealthy accommodations in the Olympic Village, with trash floating in the bay where water sports were occurring. How much money was diverted by the little con-men of the bourgeoisie, how much greased the palms of the political leaders at various levels? And above all, how much did the big construction companies take who built the stadiums, the Olympic Village, the subway and the highways? And how much was taken by the banks and the insurance companies behind them?
Sport and performances are for sale, but thousands of big and small businesses pocket the money. And the majority of the poor population of Brazil will pay for it.
The speeches on the ideals which the Olympics are supposed to embody are nothing but hot air. Behind the athletic competition, there was the tinkling of the cash registers.
Politicians have long used sports as the ground for the rivalry between countries, to wave the flag, to sing the national anthem, to push patriotism, to push national unity which they often have trouble getting. It certainly isn’t for the love of sport that politicians went to Rio to lobby to get the 2024 games. It was in their political interests and even more the material interest of their constituents, big construction companies, the TV channels, etc.
The Olympic Games, in this world dominated by capitalism, are above all gigantic trade fairs. Despite their efforts to win, despite their dreams, the athletes who animate the games are only bit players, indispensable for the show, but bit players nevertheless, whose value in the eyes of the sponsors doesn’t exist in their performance alone, but in their images for ads. Besides Michael Phelps and Simone Biles, how many others are used anonymously and are crushed by the commercial machinery?
“Rio 2016: Games to forget the crisis,” one daily paper headlined. But we can’t forget, not in Brazil, nor throughout the world, which is bombarded with sports images, while the crisis rages, increasing poverty, and exacerbating the barbarism of war. But the way the Olympics are run adds an even more nasty side to capitalism, since sports could be such a good thing, something indispensable to the flourishing of each individual, if they weren’t spoiled like all other human activities by a social organization where money is king.