Olympic Citizen: Rio de Janeiro

Beatriz Watanabe, PhD Student at COPPE-UFRJ (Federal University of Rio de Janeiro), graphic designer, 28

1. Which aspect of your city and it’s time as an Olympic Games bid city made you most proud?

I was proud watching our city being complimented and to see so many people happy for us to have won the bid. It’s the first time [the Games will be hosted] in South America. So, we did it! We are appearing to the rest of the world, not only Rio but Brazil! I was also proud of our videos presented in the bidding, I thought “we really have good marketers!”.

2. Do you think Rio de Janeiro will change for the better and what do you think the biggest single legacy will be?

I don’t believe that the city will change that much for the better. We are having too many huge events and not looking out for our people, people who live, work and study here. It has not been easy to afford living in such an expensive city. In the next years, for example, we will host a huge meeting of the Catholic Church (the Pope will visit), the Confederation Cup, the World Cup and the Olympic Games. This year we had Rio+20. And education? And public health and transportation? We need investments for our people too…I really don’t see it. The biggest single legacy is going to be the cultural one: showing people here others sports and cultures.

3. What particular challenges or lessons that Rio experienced before the Games, can act as lessons for future host cities?

Good planning and transparency in the biddings for the buildings are an essential part for the application of public money. For the PanAmerican Games that we hosted in 2007, we built a velodrome that wasn’t up to Olympic standards so now there is a polemic of demolishing it or not. “Just” 14 million reals in that first project. We can’t be sure of all the money that is being spent and is going to be spent in these years. People from some favelas are suffering from speculation about where they’ll live, and some are being removed from their favelas (or being threatened).

It seems like decisions are going top-down without much debate and information between actors and society. This a good lesson to learn: work in a more participatory way.

4. Why do you think other cities should consider or not consider hosting or bidding for the Olympic Games?

Cities should consider hosting or bidding if everyone is aware of what hosting an event like that means. The problems/benefits that can be caused, the money that is needed, the future of the projects after the games. Personally, I think that the Olympic Games are not that sustainable (socially and environmentally) for the host city, although they can be good on the economic side for some actors. It is not a villain too as it can bring new infrastructure to the city, but again, the main consideration is the awareness of people of what is being proposed when signing this contract (or trying to).

5. Do you think cities can improve their brand through the Olympic Games, and how do you think Rio’s brand is forever changed?

Rio can improve and strengthen its image across the world with the Games, although I think it is already very exposed because of Carnival, New Year celebrations and other events, movies, etc. It seems that at the time of the Olympic Games even more people will pay attention to this city (hopefully not only associating us with women, beach, parties and soccer! We are more than that!) and our country, but I don’t think it will be a big change in our brand.

6. What are the some of the ways in which the Olympic Games has, and is inspiring a more liveable city for citizens?

Difficult question! I really don’t know about this yet. There are for sure some transformations occurring, such as new bus routes being created, but I don’t see anything really different yet. I am not pessimist, just waiting for the good news that is still arriving.

7. If you could go back into the past, and look into Future Rio, what would you change about some of the decisions made before the Olympic Games?

I don’t know yet what to change, but it seems that some locations are very far from each other…I don’t know if our transportation is good enough to handle that.

8. What do you think will make London 2012 unique when compared to previous host cities?

What is unique for us here in Rio is the fact that this year Globo TV station – one of the biggest of the world – will not broadcast this huge event as its broadcast rights were purchased by Record TV. So we don’t hear and don’t see much about the Olympic Games and our athletes (hopefully this will change when the Games start). I think London will be a beautiful host and very organized too.

9. What role should citizens play in the lead up to hosting the Olympic Games? Do you think citizens were or are being involved enough in some of the key decisions? Why or why not? 

Citizens should play a key role in this issue. After all, it is our city, our money and lives being modified by the Olympic Games (it means lots of people coming to the city, enterprises, interests and projects). I think we are not involved enough in the projects. We just know the decisions made by others through the internet, TV etc. There is no dialogue with population. At least I wasn’t questioned about key decisions nor was anyone I know. For example, we are not debating much about what is happening to our slums (favelas) in this process. It is very important to perceive what our decisions of today – influenced by the huge events in this city – will mean to our people tomorrow.