The Games could come as a welcome respite to so much tragedy, in Rio and beyond Rio. They may inspire unity, sportsmanship and optimism, rare just now. They may pass relatively unnoticed, as the country noisily seeks solutions to political, social and economic gridlock. Or, the way things are going, God forbid, even worse catastrophes than have already befallen the Marvelous City could come to pass.
After last week’s holiday cycling path collapse, killing at least two, locals managed to laugh in the darkest manner: someone online suggested that ISIS could ignore Rio 2016 and just let events play out naturally.
An Olympic official, asked a few weeks ago about the general lack of enthusiasm, said cities always experience a last-minute mood change, he’s seen it over and over again. OK, London in 2012 was still reeling from the 2008 recession, unthinkable when the city was chosen in 2005. But did it have zika, chicungunya and H1N1? Did it have Olympic contractors in jail? Did the UK not know who would be the president presiding over the opening ceremony? Was the country deeply divided, its institutions challenged? Was there uncertainty over completion of a financially troublesome metro line meant to get people to the Olympic Park? Was London hard hit by low petroleum prices, unable to pay teachers, police, retirees, health workers? Was its public safety program crumbling? Was crime on the rise? At the risk of having forgotten some awful item, this blogger will give it a rest here; maybe London wasn’t like this. Maybe Athens was.
Oh, there’s the new bus rationalization plan, which has left thousands in transportation limbo (and an unknown number of drivers and fare-takers, jobless). Not even locals can figure out how to get from A to B. How will tourists? Transportation is an Olympic legacy, by the way.
Looking ahead, the one almost certain Olympic prediction is that we should have fewer mosquitoes; it’ll be full winter and they prefer warmer climes. Unless climate change pokes up its unruly head…
Beyond insects, it’s helpful to think of the moment as a clumsy meeting of social inclusion and the internet with traditional social and political structures, in the middle of Brazil’s worst recession since 1929. Some observers think the traditional structures will triumph over a changing populace. Others point to emerging social and political movements and the pressure they’re bringing to bear. It’s like baking a cake with the usual ingredients, except the butter comes from goat milk, the eggs were laid by geese and the flour is wormy. How long to bake it, under what temperature? What ever will it taste like? Will it be a cake you’d want to put candles in and sing over?
Yes, the congressmen revealed their ridiculous — and dangerous– humanity, as they voted on impeachment. But this inspired thousands, if not millions, to question, at last, the longtime Brazilian penchant for family and friends over the common good. This preference is central to the game that has long kept traditional structures in place, reserving the best for elites. Rebuilding these into something more democratic won’t be as sweeping and sudden as the moonstruck tide that brought down a piece of the cycling path alongside Avenida Niemeyer. Instead, it will be as messy as this run-up to the Olympic Games– whatever way they ultimately play out.