As host of the XXXI Olympiad Brazil is being put under a microscope, revealing a contrasting patchwork of accomplishments and failures. From the lead-up to the games to the present, there has been an ongoing barrage of seemingly unceasing Olympic scandals. These improprieties include widespread corruption. Most recently the head of the Kenyan track and field team was caught on video seeking a fee in exchange for letting athletes know when they can expect their drug tests. This is one small facet of an Olympic games where glorious achievements have been overshadowed by deplorable social and environmental conditions in the host country.
Below you will find a comprehensive review of the glory and the shame of the Rio Summer games.
Brazil is a complex amalgam of sustainability successes alongside epic social and environmental fails. The interplay of heroes and villains in Brazilian society sometimes makes it hard to differentiate one from the other. Brazil is a study in contrasts as illustrated by the incongruous site of lavish beach-houses framed against the backdrop of Rio’s hillside slums.
Rio 2016 boasts a record number of countries participating in a record
number of sports. The 11,239 athletes from 206 National teams are vying
for 306 sets of medals in 28 Olympic sports. Brazil hopes that the
summer Games of the XXXI Olympiad will put country’s sustainability
leadership on display. However, a behind the scenes look at Rio 2016
reveals environmental degradation, economic chaos, political disarray,
corruption and social injustice.
The opening ceremony
was an impressive spectacle that included a video on climate change.
This is entirely appropriate given that Brazil is facing a number of
environmental problems including the impacts of climate change.
According to climate models, Brazil is expected to get hotter and get
more precipitation, including the Atlantic coast where Rio is situated.
Even Brazil’s iconic Carnaval has been impacted by drought.
issues that plague the games leave many questioning how host city Rio
de Janeiro beat out Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago. However, it would be
grossly unfair to dismiss the nation’s sustainability efforts
Brazil is a global leader in commercially
viable recycling and through its involvement with the Global Reporting
Initiative (GRI), the country plays a pivotal
role in driving sustainability disclosure at a national and global
level. NGO’s and academic institutions are also on-board leading the way
with the later offering a growing number of sustainability focused
educational opportunities to students in business, public administration
The Brazilian government is a signatory
to Agenda 21 (the UN’s sustainable development action) and the country
concluded an emissions reduction deal with the U.S. last year. Brazil has said it will reduce CO2 emissions 37 percent by 2025.
Brazil even took a very progressive stance at the COP21 climate talks
in Paris. The country joined the “high-ambition coalition” of countries
including the European Union and the U.S.
Despite some major sustainability achievements, it is clear that the Rio Summer Olympics
fall short of the promises made leading up to the games. Even before
they got underway, corruption, socioeconomic difficulties and political
intrigue overshadowed Rio 2016.
In a tragic turn of events that foreshadowed the shame of the games, a jaguar—the Brazilian Olympic team’s mascot—was
shot and killed at the Olympic torch passing ceremony. This majestic
animal is a threatened species with an estimated 15,000 remaining in
This year’s summer Olympic games have been marred by a
ban of Russian athletes due to a “state-dictated” doping program and
cover up. However 271 of the 389 Russians planning to attend the games
have been allowed to participate in Rio as “neutral” athletes, because
it was independently verified that they had not engaged in doping.
Although doping has been a longstanding problem, the scale of this
year’s ban is unprecedented. A total of 118 Russian athletes have been
banned from competing at the 2016 games in Rio. This number is roughly
equal to the total number of athletes caught doping at all Summer
Olympics since 1968.
Rio 2016 will forever hold the distinction of
being the first Olympic games in which stateless athletes are
participating. Due to the European migrant crisis and other reasons, the
IOC has allowed athletes to compete as Independent Olympians under the
Olympic Flag. In Rio, there is a team of ten Refugee Olympic Athletes
(ROA) that were selected from 43 athletes deemed eligible.
Sustainability factored heavily in Rio’s bid for the games and planning documents. As reported by Think Progress,
urban geographer Christopher Gaffney analyzed Rio’s bid documents and
found that the word “environment” and its derivatives are the second
most used terms in the Rio Olympic bid. The word “sustainability” was
used three times more often than “education,” and eleven times more than
The games sustainability planning is premised on three strategic pillars – people, planet and prosperity.
includes transport and logistics, building, conservation, environmental
recovery, waste management, supply chains, management and reporting.
strides were made in 2015 with the International Sports Federations’
inclusion of sustainability in the Olympic Agenda 2020. The 2015
International Federations’ Sustainability report
indicates that there has been a 400 percent increase in the number of
International Federations (IF) that have a dedicated person responsible
for sustainability since 2008. Almost two thirds of IFs now measure
their sustainability activities and more than 80 percent are aware of
ISO standards. Three out of four surveyed Olympic IFs believed that the
recommendations arising from the Olympic Agenda’s 2020 inclusion in the
IOC roadmap has had an important impact on their sustainability
As explained by one federation
representative: “The IOC prioritising helps increase the profile (of
sustainability) and move it up the agenda.” Despite these efforts, the
Rio Olympics have fallen far short of their sustainability goals.
is estimated that the Rio Olympic games will have a half million ton
CO2 footprint. As the official carbon partner of Rio 2016, Dow is
working to mitigate the games’ carbon footprint through energy- and
resource-efficiency initiatives and technologies in four key industrial
sectors: agriculture, manufacturing, packaging and construction. These
projects will help Rio to generate an additional 1.5 million metric tons
of CO2 equivalent in climate benefits by 2026. It will also help Brazil
meet its 37 percent CO2 reduction goal by 2025.
the leading source of greenhouse gases, Dow is working closely with
Brazil’s construction industry to minimize climate impacts. As reviewed
in Environmental Leader,
Dow has reduced these emissions with the help of construction materials
that have a lower carbon footprint. Dow is working with facility owners
and managers focusing on efficient insulation. They have partnered with
polyurethane-panel producers and hosted seminars and workshops to
educate architects, builders and contractors about the benefits of these
panels, which decrease demand on heating and cooling systems and
minimize GHGs. Dow is also working on sustainable packaging focusing on
its patented microfoaming technology that reduces the weight of plastic
films and packages and allows manufacturers to produce more packaging
material using the same amount of resin. Finally Dow has partnered with
biomass energy company Energias Renováveis do Brasil to reduce their
emissions and increase reforestation.
Once the undisputed world
leader in virgin forest depletion, Brazil no longer holds that dubious
distinction. Brazil may be best known for its massive rainforests often
referred to as the lungs of the earth. To put it more accurately, Brazil
has become infamous for Amazonian deforestation. With one-third of the
world’s rainforests, Brazil holds one of the keys to combating climate
change. It is estimated that the Amazon rainforest is responsible for a
quarter of all the carbon dioxide absorbed by land every year. At least
20 percent of the Amazon has been destroyed by deforestation.
Rainforests in Brazil are also under threat from climate change which is
expected to make the Amazon hotter and drier. On a more positive note,
deforestation rates have slowed in the last ten years.
There are high levels of air pollution from
vehicle exhaust, but the most serious pollution problem is the water,
which is full of untreated sewage and garbage. Heavier rainfalls due to
climate change compound the problem by adding
to the runoff that seeps into waterways.
Guanabara Bay, the site of sailing and windsurfing
competitions, is heavily polluted. Waste flows into the bay through
polluted rivers and slums along the coast. Officials have promised to
clean up the bay for almost a quarter century, and this idea was a
prominent part of the Rio 2016 bid. However, efforts to deliver on these
commitments have been inadequate.
Although there has
been some progress towards modern sanitation, 40 percent of waste still
flows into Rio’s waterways. Around 60 percent of sewage that flows into
the bay is now being treated, that is a considerable improvement from 17
percent several years ago, however it is far short of the goal of 80
percent. Guanabara Bay is still full of tons of raw sewage that is
pumped into the bay each day. Of the eight treatment plants that the
Brazilian government had promised, only one was built.
Dead fish and even body parts are innocuous compared to some of the other things in Rio’s water. As reported by Common Dreams,
anyone who does brave the water is at risk from infections and
meningitis. Dr. Valerie Harwood, chair of the Department of Integrative
Biology at the University of South Florida conducted extensive research
on Rio’s water and she stated that nobody should put their head
underwater. Some water samples reveal that there are
antibiotic-resistant super bacteria. A sample from Rodrigo de Freitas
Lake found more than 1 billion viruses from human sewage in a single
liter of water. To put this into context that is 1.7 million times the
tolerable level for Southern California.
“According to a
study by the University of Texas School of Public Health, athletes who
ingest just three teaspoons of water from the contaminated bay in Brazil
have a 99 percent chance of being infected.”
In addition to bacteria and viruses there is also chemical waste from industry in Rio’s water.
Brazil has fast growing energy needs. The country is a global biomass leader with vast renewable energy potential.
Brazil is well suited to wind and solar. Brazil is working to
significantly increase its renewable energy capabilities. The total
installed capacity of wind power in Brazil virtually doubled between
September 2014 and August 2015. Brazil is now one of the world’s largest
producers of wind energy. Last year the Energy Minister, Eduardo Braga,
suggested that Brazil is aiming to replace up to 15 GW of fossil
fuel-fired power plants with clean energy including wind and solar. In
2014, the country began to get serious about ramping up its production
solar energy. Brazil aims to get a quarter (57.8 GW) of its electricity
from non-hydro renewable power sources by 2025. However, Brazil also
has some deepwater oil projects that have been identified by Greenpeace
as a leading carbon bomb.
Brazil is hosting the games as it endures a severe
economic recession and profound market volatility. Nonetheless, Brazil
still has the largest economy in Latin America and the fifth largest
economy in the world. The 2016 Olympics have cost Brazil R$29.6 billion
in public and private investment. This vast sum has been criticized in
light of the state of the country’s economy. This year alone the
Brazilian economy declined by 3 percent. Just before the start of the
games, Rio’s government declared a state of financial disaster. There
have also been a number of cost overruns including Rio’s new 10-mile
rail line, which exceeded the budget by a staggering $1.2 billion.
A plethora of controversies are plaguing the games not the least of which is what can only be described as profound
The nation’s president Dilma Rousseff has been suspended due to
allegations that she broke budget rules and manipulated economic data. A
440 page senate report condemning Rousseff was released on August 2,
2016. Many are saying that Rousseff is being impeached because guilty
politicians and the wealthy elite want to avoid prosecution for
corruption. Compounding matters further, Petrobras is a major sponsor of
the Rio Olympics, having contributed R$3,500,000.00.
Corruption is very widespread in Brazil so it is very
hard to know who is on the take and who isn’t. According to some, they
all have their hand in the till. A probe uncovered an elaborate and
extensive kickback scheme
by state-run oil company Petrobras. Billions were skimmed off
contracts from the state oil company and funneled to lawmakers in
Rousseff’s coalition including those in Temer’s party.
In 2014, an investigation by the Federal Police of
Brazil called Operation Car Wash, uncovered corruption and a vast money
laundering operation at the state-controlled oil company Petrobras.
reported by The Atlantic’s Alex Cuadros, graft and bribes were a behind
the scenes fixture in the building of Olympic infrastructure. He wrote:
“Contracts for everything from stadium and train-line construction to port renovations have funneled
billions of dollars in taxpayer-subsidized revenues to a handful of Brazil’s most powerful, well-connected families and
Prosperous companies like Carvalho
and wealthy neighborhoods like Barra da Tijuca benefited the most from
generous government subsidies. To make matters worse, Carvalho’s
partners, Odebrecht and Andrade Gutierrez are at the center of the
countries multibillion-dollar corruption scandal and investigators have
said that they also took
bribes from Olympic projects.
Olympic golf course was constructed in an environmentally protected area. In a bizarre twist, the man who built the course also owns a sand mining operation, the latter being the reason cited for removing environmental protections.
In a classic case of the fox
in the hen-house, Temer’s agriculture minister is Blairo Maggi, a
billionaire who made his fortune in soya beans. When he was the leader
of the environmental committee he sponsored a constitutional amendment
to do away with environmental licensing for public works.
Significant green building features have been incorporated into Olympic sites. As stated by the Olympic Organization Committee,
“Each new venue is built according to a plan that assures its
sustainability.” They have integrated green features including natural
lighting, water conservation, energy-saving, and recycling materials.
However, large scale construction projects have further eroded Brazil’s
ecosystems. For example, the
Olympic golf course was built in an
environmentally protected zone where construction was forbidden. The Guardian reports that due to the rare species put at risk, biologist and environmental activist Marcello Mello called the
construction of the golf course an “environmental crime.” He dismissed the Olympics as a, “giant real estate scam.” There are also questions about the quality of work done
including some large scale projects. A recently constructed bike lane
collapsed in April, killing two people. The new light rail system
suffered a major power outage on the second day of service and the new
highway near Barra da Tijuca is already damaged with potholes and large
Athletes and visitors have expressed concerns
about the Zika virus in Brazil, which has been linked to microcephaly
in babies. There are a number of reasons why Brazil is ground zero for Zika.
One of those reasons is the lack of sewage treatment, another is
climate change. One of the corollaries of climate change is heavier
rains, this in turn creates stagnant puddles in which mosquitoes
reproduce. Mosquitoes are the primary means by which the virus is
spread. To address the problem there are ongoing efforts to eradicate
pools of standing water. The Zika virus has alarmed some athletes and a
few have even opted to avoid the games altogether. Zika is not the only
danger, there are a host of other diseases that can also be spread by
Rousseff’s conservative vice president Michel Temer is
now the interim president and he has fanned the flames of sexism in
Brazil. Temer is facing charges of his own, and he is very unpopular
with Brazilians. Temer has appointed a cabinet composed exclusively of
white males. This is the first time that women have been excluded from
the Brazilian cabinet since the 1970s. He also shut down the Ministry of
Culture and the Ministry of Women, Racial Equality and Human Rights.
Women in Brazil face hardships
on a daily basis including abuse, exploitation and trafficking. Almost
half of all women have experienced some kind of violence in their own
homes. According to the UN, a women is assaulted every 15 seconds in Sao
Paulo. More than a quarter of Brazilians agree that women who wear
revealing clothes deserve to be assaulted, according to a survey by the
Institute for Applied Economic Research. The same poll found that 59
percent of Brazilians believed that there would be fewer rapes if women
Child prostitution is a tragic problem in Brazil.
Unicef says that there are a quarter of a million child prostitutes in
the country. Poverty forces girls as young as 11 to become prostitutes.
Hundreds of thousands of sex tourists
take advantage of these children each year.
Poverty and inequality
People are one of the three pillars of the key Olympic
Committee document, and “universal accessibility” is a major theme
outlined in the games’ sustainability plans. However, those aspirations
are at odds with the reality on the ground. Brazil has one of the most
disproportionate allocations of wealth of any society in the world. This
inequality is openly apparent at this year’s Olympic games. The crowded
shacks that line the steep hills are in sharp contrast to the
multi-million dollar dwellings in Ipanema and Copacabana.
the games started and while they are being played Brazil’s poor have
been pushed aside. To make way for the games tens-of-thousands of
impoverished favela residents have been displaced and their homes
demolished. This has increased Brazil’s homeless population.
tickets costing as much as $3,000 U.S. there is no way that Olympic
sporting events are even remotely accessible to the poor. No one seems
to have noticed that Rio 2016 is publicly committed to “staging Games
available to all.” Even after the conclusion of the games Brazil’s poor
will not be able to taste the crumbs. Rather than turn the Olympic
village into a much needed housing project for the poor, they will be
sold as luxury apartments once the games are over. Brazil’s wealthy
have benefited tremendously from the games while poor Brazilians get
nothing. A fifth of the country’s population is illiterate making it harder for these people to extricate themselves from poverty.
This approach is diametrically opposed to the
sub-brand of the Rio 2016 Sustainability Plan which goes by the name
of. “Embrace”. It is intended to invite and engage people. Worse still
the UN is complicit in the deal. As part of the agreement with the
Olympic Organizing Committee, UNEP is charged with mediation with
Brazilians around the subject of sustainability.
The social aspirations of the Organizing Committee can be found in a
document titled Focus: Rio 2016 Sustainability, it is subtitled Sustainability for All. It would appear that those behind the games failed to execute. As explained in the document:
“we have taken up the commitment to use the force of
sports and sustainability in order to leverage transformations in people
as well as the city.”
Brazil also has some brave souls who have championed environmental causes. As reviewed in Angella Nazarian’s book, Pioneers of the Possible: Celebrating Visionary Women,
one such person is Marina Silva. She is often referred to as the Al
Gore of Brazil due to her tireless defense of the Amazon. Her efforts
played a leading role in the passage of legislation protecting the
environment. She is also a recipient of the prestigious Goldman prize.
However, being an environmental advocate in Brazil can be deadly. According to a Global Witness
report titled, On Dangerous Ground,
Brazil has the highest murder rate for environmental
activists in the world with 50 confirmed
murders last year and more than 200 between 2010 and 2015.
Mayor of Rio
contradictions in Brazil are exemplified by Eduardo Paes, the mayor of
the host city, Rio de Janeiro. Paes is a champion of sustainability who
helped to craft Rio’s bid for the 2016 Olympics. In 1994, Paes was
elected to the Brazilian Congress running on an “ecological and
economical” platform. In 2008 he was elected mayor of Rio and he was
reelected in 2012. In 2014, Paes was elected chair of the C40 network, a
group representing 80 world cities working together to combat the
devastating effects of climate change. He has taken steps to reduce
Rio’s emissions and make the city more resilient in the face of climate
change. However, many of the so called legacy issues, including the
cleaning of Guanabara Bay have not materialized. His efforts to combat
climate change have been overshadowed by allegations that his ties to
real estate developers has given them undue influence.
showed so much promise and many expected the country to emerge as a
truly global green leader. However, sustainability demands a regime of
environmental protections, sound governance, social justice and economic
stability. Sadly, an honest assessment reveals that in 2016 Brazil has
little to none of the aforementioned.
Taken as a whole, Rio 2016 does not compare favorably to the Brazilian World Cup in 2014, the deplorably corrupt Olympic sized greenwash at the Sochi Winter games, the London summer games in 2012, or the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.
During the bidding process, the 2016 Olympics were called “Green Games
for a Blue Planet”. However, a more accurate description was
provided by striking Brazilian police, who posted a sign at the Rio International Airport
saying, ‘Welcome to Hell’.
Source: Global Warming is Real
Sustainability at the Rio Olympic Games: More Green Promises More Green Lies
Brazil’s Corruption, Socioeconomic Woes, Political Intrigue have overshadow the Rio Olympics
Sustainability Comparisons Between Rio 2016, the Sochi Winter Olympics and the Brazilian World Cup
Olympic Sized Greenwashing at the Sochi Olympics
The Farce of Putin’s “Green” Olympics
Russia Imprisons Environmental Activists Ahead of the Sochi Olympics
The Future of the Winter Olympics is Being Threatened by Climate Change