With the 2014 FIFA World Cup right around the corner and the 2016 Summer Olympics shortly thereafter, the city of Rio de Janiero in Brazil has been making significant strides to clean itself up and prepare for the estimated 79% increase in international visitors for the games. These preparations include over USD $25 billion to renovate Rio’s Maracana stadium, build a futuristic Olympic Park, improve tourism, and intensify police and security. The poorest areas of Rio have seen significantly positive changes such as the reduction of crime, increased tourism, and the development of restaurants, music venues, and dance clubs. However, as seen in prior instances of global-event preparation, there are always cases of neglect, where the most vulnerable areas of society bear the burden. In the case of Rio, the poorest of the poor are the focal point in preparation for the events, for better and for worse.
The most symbolic and strategic move to clean up the city in preparation for the 2014 World Cup came just a few weeks ago when Google removed the word ‘favela’ from Rio de Janiero’s Google Map. In Rio, ‘favela’ is used in reference to the underdeveloped slum-like communities on the outskirts of the city, which are a popular destination for guided-tours for Western visitors. The change reportedly happened after some controversial pressure from the Rio tourist board and city hall who argued that crime is down thanks to aggressive police raids and that these communities are over-emphasized on the map as compared to other conventional communities. Critics of Google’s decision say that it may hide the dangers of these areas from World Cup visitors. But more importantly, the symbolic removal of ‘favela’ suggests that these areas are no longer riddled with crime or widespread poverty, which certainly is not yet the case.
According to Rio’s Popular Committee for the World Cup and Olympics, an organization that seeks to address crime in time for these events, “The virtual removal is part of a city project that tries to hide poverty and the poor as much in virtual environments as in reality, with forced removals.” This suggests that in the shadow of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic games the struggles of the favela communities will be hidden instead of properly addressed.
Although no official forced evictions have happened (as of yet) in preparation for the 2014 World Cup, some indigenous groups have expressed concern. The Brazilian indigenous tribe Aldeia Maracana has protested at the site of the newly renovated Maracana football stadium because of the planned demolition of a highly revered indigenous museum. Moreover, indigenous communities have settled on land that lies only meters away from the new stadium and as preparations go full-throttle they fear imminent eviction. As of yet, the government and construction companies have not responded to these concerns.
Of course, Brazil is only the most recent example of forced eviction for the sake of entertainment. Another well-known case was the 2008 Beijing Olympics evictions that caused worldwide protests and demonstrations by participants in the games. According to a report on the 2008 Beijing Olympics by the Center on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE), these evictions highlighted the important role of the International Olympics Committee (IOC) who, “…was aware of existing housing rights violations…Yet, with this knowledge, the IOC awarded the Games to Beijing.” COHRE maintains that in order to prevent such gross violations of rights in association with world-renowned events, the IOC must take steps to prevent these types of violations in the future.
But the IOC isn’t the only committee which needs to take responsibility for actions preceding major entertainment events. Only last year, Baku, Azerbaijan hosted Eurovision, building a new futuristic venue known as Baku Crystal Hall, all for the purpose of one televised event. Human Rights Watch released a report revealing the middle-of-the-night evictions of hundreds of people, which raises the question: Shouldn’t the European Broadcasting Union, host of Eurovision, take the same responsibility as the IOC?
In Brazil, one inevitable issue is the grand plan for the 2016 Olympic Park that will demolish several favelas and cast out thousands of people. It is estimated that nearly 170,000 people may face eviction. In the favelas, those targeted for eviction do not find out until their homes are marked to be removed. In an interview with The New York Times Christopher Gaffney, a professor at Rio’s Fluminense Federal University, discussed these human rights injustices saying, “We’re seeing an insidious pattern of trampling on the rights of the poor and cost overruns that are a nightmare.” However, the government and authorities maintain that these evictions are lawful and when determined to be “necessary” families receive compensation and housing. Regardless, unlike in the removal of families in preparation for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the threatened favela communities in Rio are refusing to stand down. They have reached out to international media, caused a stir on social-media sites, and some have even refused to leave, leaving them to live in the rubble left in the wake of the bulldozed neighborhoods.
As the 2016 Olympic Games approach, the Brazilian government’s tactics in addressing the community’s resistance will be closely monitored by the IOC and the world. To right the wrongs from the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the IOC must take this opportunity to prevent violations from reoccurring in Brazil’s own preparations for the Olympics. For Brazil, under the spotlight of the upcoming games, how the government and authorities react to the resistance of evictions and violations of rights will likely be a strong determinant of their legitimacy and future position as an emerging leader in the world.