The Olympic Games as a global media event: a political and social analysis of Rio 2016 through the media


Hosting the Olympic Games has come to involve more than a celebration of the best sporting competitions. It is a mega-event that stirs global attention and is an exceptional moment in which the host country (re)presents itself to the world (Moragas, Rivenburgh and Larson, 1995). The digital revolution has increased the global impact of the Olympic phenomenon. In addition to the decisive role of television that generates hundreds of millions of spectators, the role of the new media must also be considered, which has contributed to expanding the promotion and modifying the perception of the Games (Fernández, 2016). The Games of the XXXI Olympiad were held in Rio de Janeiro and were the first celebrated in South America, the culmination of a decade in which Brazil hosted some of the world’s main sporting events giving the country greater international visibility because “the staging of these ‘mega-[event]s’ focuses the attention of the global media and academics on the host nation and cities involved” (Horne and Silvestre, 2016, p. 483).

This chapter seeks to present new elements of interpretation of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games of 2016. To do so, it analyses the influence of the political and social situation in Brazil on the mega-event during the mandates of Presidents Lula da Silva (2002-10), Dilma Rousseff (2011-16) and Michel Temer (2016-18). The methodology applied combines three procedures: non-participant observation, with three trips made to Rio de Janeiro in 2012, 2016 and 2017; the consultation of academic references; and the analyses of a compilation of news from the newspapers Folha de Sao Paulo and El Pais. The data selected are organised in seven thematic categories: politics, economics, safety, organisation, society, healthcare and the environment. Following a chronological criteria, the chapter has four parts: from the selection of Rio de Janeiro as the Olympic host to the 2014 FIFA World Cup; 2015 and the months prior to the Olympic Games; The Games of the XXXI Olympiad begin: a new world?; and, finally, the end of the Olympic Games and the first signs of their legacy.

From the selection of Rio de Janeiro as the Olympic host to the 2014 FIFA World Cup

The organisation of the Olympic Games was a strategic component in President Lula da Silva’s government’s effort to position the name of Brazil and improve its political standing within South America and the international community as a whole (Darnell and Millington, 2016). For the federal, state and municipal governments, the Olympics provided a showcase to present their work and contribute to “a Rio de Janeiro refashioned by the preparations for the 2016 Games and an economy forged under PT rule that was on its way to becoming the sixth largest in the world” (Barbassa, 2017a, p. 40). During the Lula governments (2002-10), while many of the large economies declined and the United States invested more than US$3 trillion in its war in Iraq, the Brazilian stock market became a favourite destiny for international investors (Zirin, 2016). Despite the high costs of construction of locations and infrastructure for the Olympics (Zimbalist, 2017), when evaluating the candidacy of Rio de Janeiro, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave weight to the growing economic health of Brazil - which in 2009 had the world’s eighth largest GDP (Barbassa, 2017a; Damo and Oliven, 2012). On 2 October 2009, when the city of Rio de Janeiro won the election to host the 2016 Olympic Games, President Lula declared: “Brazil has left its second-class status behind and has joined the first class. Today we received respect” (quoted in Broudehoux, 2016, p. 117).

After Lula’s successor, Dilma Rousseff, was elected president in 2011, the continuity expected in her economic policies and performance did not materialise. The 7.5 per cent growth in GDP under the Lula government in 2010 (Barbassa, 2017a) gave way to fiscal disaster and increased inflation. The Brazilian economy contracted, at first maintaining levels of sustainable growth (2.7 per cent in 2011), but later entering a worrisome decline (of 1 per cent in 2012). The economy then plunged into a deep recession (Barbassa, 2017a).

The preparations for the 2014 World Cup would become one of the main symbols of the Rousseff administration. In 2013, she announced that her government would spend US$23 billion on political reforms and improvements in various services (Darnell and Millington, 2016). A series of agreements were signed with state and municipal authorities for work on stadiums, public transportation, airports, tourist facilities and a network of roads and highways. To facilitate public bids for contracts, special regulations were declared to make debt limits and processes more flexible (Horne and Silvestre, 2016). All of these measures triggered rejection from a large portion of the citizenry because of the high spending for the World Cup and the Olympic Games. A large tide of discontent was unleashed in the form of protests, which became visible for the first time in March 2013 during the FIFA Confederations Cup. These incidents were especially visible in the two weeks of 15-30 June, during the Confederations Cup,

A global event: Rio 2016 through the media 137 sending a message to FIFA and other sporting organisations that people would not accept having their demands ignored (Chade, 2017).

The following year, the 2014 FIFA World Cup was marked by various problems, with delays in construction, cost overruns, labour accidents and the continuation of the protests (Horne and Silvestre, 2016). In early 2014, new demonstrations returned to the streets against the excessive spending of public funds for the World Cup. The most repeated slogans included: “There won’t be a [World] Cup”, and “I can live without the Cup, I want money for healthcare and education” (Macedo, 2014). FIFA considered the

2014 World Cup to be a great success in organisational terms. Neverthe-less, years later, the high costs generated were linked to corruption scandals involving politicians and public officials.

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