Last Tuesday, September 22, the Popular Committee for the World Cup and the Olympics launched a new dossier on the violation of the right to sport, documenting this aspect of what the Committee argues to be an Olympic legacy of exclusion.
The presentation of the dossier on September 22 kicked off with an introduction by Demian Castro, member of the Popular Committee, and the screening of four short documentaries outlining the dossier’s content. A discussion followed with a panel comprised of Gilmar Mascarenhas, geography of sport professor at Rio State University (UERJ), Alessandro Zelesco from the SOS Lagoa Rowing Stadium movement, Solange Chegas do Valle, president of the Association of Athletes and Friends of the Célio de Barros Athletics Stadium and Edneida Freire, a professional athletics coach working with children at the Célio de Barros Stadium.
In his introduction, Castro criticized the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for its focus on generating profits for partner companies and sponsors rather than promoting sports inclusion. According to Castro, the IOC’s requirements for an Olympic host city call for the unnecessary re-building of infrastructure and the privatization of sports facilities that were previously open to the public. Contextualizing Castro’s claims, Mascarenhas provided a historical backdrop, describing how the Olympic Games have been an elitist event since their creation in the 19th century, and how they have since evolved into a commercial enterprise which sees sport as a spectacle to be consumed. Interestingly, he added that only now–thanks to the work of activists in Rio–the IOC’s demands and costs are being reconsidered for the 2020 Olympics.
What is increasingly viewed as an unsustainable Olympic model has negative impacts for sports professionals. Solange Chegas do Valle and Edneida Freire shared personal stories of despair and indignation when the Célio de Barros Stadium, a public athletics facility, was shut down for renovation works and never reopened. As a result, many young athletes lost their practice space and access to an activity that, as Freire said, had the potential to change their lives. With tears in her eyes, Chegas do Valle said, “We are being punished for hosting the Olympic Games here in Rio.”
Under the title “Dossier on the Violation of the Right to Sport and the Right to the City: What about the Sporting Legacy of Rio de Janeiro’s Olympics?”, the Popular Committee’s latest publication explores the links between the marketization of the city and the hosting of sporting mega-events through seven case studies.
The privatization of Maracanã Stadium and the adjacent Célio de Barros Athletics Stadium and Júlio Delamare Aquatic Park are the first cases presented in the report. The renovation of Brazil’s most iconic football stadium included luxury suites only accessible to the very rich and an increase of ticket prices from an average of R$14 to R$45 in three years. These exclusionary developments break with the Maracanã’s historic role as a democratic space that football fans from all backgrounds could access.
The construction of the Olympic Park in Barra de Tijuca is also cited as a sports complex development that violates the Right to the City. The dossier denounces the massive transfer of public resources to the private sector; a negligent absence of environmental impact studies; the forced and illegal removal of Vila Autódromo; and the planned future privatization of the area for real estate developments.
Other cases presented are the private redevelopment of the Marina da Gloria, privatization of the Lagoa Rowing Stadium and the environmental costs of the Olympic Golf Course construction.
The current developments create a privatized sports infrastructure that blocks access to these spaces for the city’s lower income residents and therefore violates the right to sport and leisure which are fundamental for a healthy life. Access to sports facilities is therefore connected to the right to the city: the right of all city inhabitants to use and re-create city spaces. The dossier argues that Rio’s Olympic city projects violate this internationally recognized human right, formally defined in Brazil under the City Statute, the federal law that regulates and provides legal instruments to protect the right to the city, which includes the right to leisure alongside rights to housing, urban infrastructure, transport and public services.
The closing chapter of the dossier offers recommendations including: the re-opening, rebuilding and collective management of the Célio de Barros Stadium and Júlio Delamere Aquatic Park; the end of the privatization of the Maracanã stadium to guarantee public access; the immediate cancellation of the Olympic Golf course works and the reforestation of the area; and the cleaning of the Guanabara Bay.
To download the full Dossier on the Violation of the Right to Sport and the Right to the City (in Portuguese) click here.