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Rio's Olympic legacy: "Everybody here is suffering, of all incomes, stripes and colours"


The heart of Rio’s Olympics is on life support.

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Another of Rio’s Olympic precincts is shut down. So is the city’s Olympic golf course.

Worms are literally having a field day at the Maracana Stadium, which has been looted since staging the Olympic closing ceremony.

The athletes’ village is a tough sell.

And the city’s violent undercurrent is again a rising tide.

Six months after the Games may be too soon to seek out a lasting legacy from Rio’s Olympics. But it’s not looking pretty.

“Things are not good here,” Rio resident Mariana Oliveira said.

“The city plunged into a crisis after the Olympics Games.”

The sentiment is endorsed by Theresa Williamson, executive director of Catalytic Communities, a Rio-based non-government organisation providing support to favela communities.

“The legacy is incredibly poor,” Williamson said.

“This all coincided with the economic recession but in Rio, just like the boom here was more intense because of the Olympics, now the fall is more intense because of the Olympics.

“Everybody here is suffering right now, of all incomes and all stripes and colours.”

The heartbeat of Rio’s Games was Olympic Park, which attracted some 150,000 people a day during the August 5-21 sporting spectacular.

The park hosted its final Paralympics event on September 18 last year.

Then, it remained idle until last weekend when a beach volleyball event was staged on makeshift sands on what were the Olympic tennis courts – and spectators were aghast at the wider state of disrepair in the park.

“It’s an abandonment, a disregard for public money for the visitors who come here and want to see it used,” one spectator, Wanderson Wygers, told Rio newspaper O Globo.

Post-Olympics, Rio’s City Hall managed the park, planning to sell it off. But there was only one bidder, who failed to meet criteria.

So City Hall transferred the park’s management to the federal government, which still holds ambitions of hosting a consistent calendar of competitions there – from when, is unknown.

The future of the Deodoro sports precinct, home to the second-largest concentration of Olympic venues, is also uncertain.

The Olympic precinct in Rio’s western zone was slated to be a park and recreation area following the Games. But City Hall has closed it, terminating the operating company’s contract last December.

Rio 2016, the organising committee of the Games, are holding another tender to select a company to manage Deodoro, hoping it will re-open around March.

Then there’s the famed Maracana Stadium – venue of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies.

The now-unused Maracana turf is dry and worn – worms are literally eating through it.

The stadium has been looted and vandalised: about 10 per cent of the 78,000 seats are missing; a bust of the late Brazilian journalist Mario Filho, after whom the stadium is officially named, has been pinched.

And last month, the stadium’s power was switched off due to unpaid bills.

The Maracana’s last event was a charity soccer game in December but it’s unknown when, or if, Brazil’s favourite sport will be played there again as bureaucrats squabble over who is responsible.

Rio 2016 took control of the stadium last March, then handed it back in November to the state government and a consortium of private companies.

But the Olympic body was blamed for not leaving the venue in the condition it found it, thereby failing to honour its contract.

Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada admitted the Olympic body needed to make some repairs.

“We know they are our obligation and that we are a bit behind but these things shouldn’t keep the stadium from functioning,” Andrada told a CNN affiliate last month.

And Rio’s Olympic golf course? Closed. It struggled to attract players or funds to keep going post-Games.

The course superintendent, Neil Cleverly, says the company he works for, Progolf, hasn’t been paid for two months by the Brazilian Golf Confederation. And the course architect, Gil Hanse, is not impressed.

“We are bitterly disappointed … we witnessed this type of brinkmanship during the construction of the course, and we are hopeful that this is another example of having to hit a low point before things get better,” Hanse told Golf World.

At least the Olympic athletes’ village is open. Problem is, no-one wants, or can afford, to live there.

The 800,000 metre square village – the one the Australian Olympic Committee initially refused to move in and when they did, there was a fire in their building – was planned to be post-Olympic public housing.

But few are buying it.

So Rio’s new mayor Marcelo Crivella struck an agreement with a government-owned financial institution and construction company Carvalho Hosken Group to provide low-rate loans to sell the accommodation to civil entities such as the navy and army.

Add to those woes continuing social unrest and violence in a city which, according to Amnesty International Brazil, experienced a 40 per cent increase in homicides by police during the Olympic year.

An Amnesty study found Rio’s Olympics left “a shady legacy of a city entrenched with marginalisation and discrimination … and a record of human rights violations where violence remains part of the game”.

Williamson said about 80,000 of Rio’s poor were removed from their homes to make way for the Games.

“For the most part, they now live in worst situations than they did before – and these were already the poor in a very unequal city,” she said.

The only tangible Olympic legacy are some public transport improvements, mainly in affluent areas.

“Those are the only legacies that you could claim are positive … everything else is very negative,” Williamson said.

“People are overwhelmingly not well. Everybody you talk to is struggling in some sense.”


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