Rio 2016: Human rights and sustainability after the Olympics party

November 8, 2016 • EMERGING TRENDS, Americas, Climate Change & Society, World Development

By Jorge Knijnik

Being a host of the Olympics brings in an opportunity of diverse communities’ social engagement. With the help of friends,1 the author discusses the Olympics’ implications for Brazil’s human rights development and its most vulnerable communities.


A bankrupt city.2 Broken environmental promises.3 Street violence.4 Zika. Faulty venues. Poor public transport. As the Rio 2016 Olympics approached, dark clouds surrounded the mega event, casting shadows on the feasibility of the summer competitions.

As the Games began and the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) powerful media army started to promote the amazing performances of top level sportspeople, immunity from their images’ “narcotic” effects was no longer possible. Billions of people around the world watched the competitions in real time. In Rio, if you didn’t call a “favela” (slum in Brazil within urban areas) home, living under the National Forces occupation and having your basic human rights violated on a daily basis; if you had not been evicted from your precarious home to make way for the Olympic circus; and if you had the means to attend the Games, you could be among the Olympic crowds, cheering and partying on the stands.

Despite the human rights violations, as paradoxical as this can be, the sports competitions were also an arena for genuine demonstrations of national culture and pride, community resilience, political protests and the hope of peace.5

Sports mega events, such as the Olympics, are a contradictory and complex phenomena that affect countries, cities, and their citizens’ social lives in multiple ways. Focused political, cultural, economic and environmental questions are necessary to achieve a broader and sustainable6 understanding of these events.7 In this article I address the implications of the Games for the human rights agenda in Brazil, outlining the post-Games political consequences for the most vulnerable Brazilian communities.

Considering Brazil’s MERCOSUL (the sub-regional South American countries’ bloc) leadership in the past decade, and taking into account Brazil’s role as an active leader and the largest advanced democracy within the BRICS8 – the geopolitical bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – have the Games marked the beginning, or the end, of a more democratic era for Brazilian citizens?

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