On the occasion of the Olympic Games Rio 2016 nearly upon us, I can’t help but think back to the outstanding sporting achievements that we all witnessed during those 16 marvelous days last August. However, this is also the time when the media will look to assess the Games’ impact on last year’s host city.
As a former news executive, International Olympic Committee (IOC) Member, and the current president of the Inter-American Development Bank, I have my own perspective — and I have no doubt that Rio de Janeiro is better off as a result of its Olympic experience.
When the IOC agreed in 2009 to bring the Olympic Games to South America for the first time, Brazil was the region’s great economic success. A few years later, unfortunately, the country has plunged into an historic recession, compounded by unprecedented political and social turmoil that continues to this day.
The Olympic Games did not cause Brazil’s current problems, nor will it solve them. But hosting the Olympics has provided a number of bright spots of progress in an otherwise difficult situation.
Even before the Opening Ceremony, the Games directly or indirectly created thousands of badly needed jobs. A study conducted before the Games by Brazil’s respected Getulio Vargas Foundation found that per capita income in Rio de Janeiro had increased by over 30 per cent between 2009 and 2016, greater and more equitable economic growth than any other city in Brazil.
At least 1,000 small and micro enterprises (MSEs) benefitted from an initiative to integrate them into Games-related projects, giving these emerging companies access to more commercial opportunities, additional expertise and visibility. This program is still being run independently by Sebrae, a Brazilian support organization for MSEs, who is using it Games’ experience to integrate small companies into the supply chains of larger ones.
One of the most far-reaching Games legacies is the example set by the use of public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects. Private entities financed about 57 percent of Games infrastructure, which allowed each Brazilian Real invested by the authorities to generate additional benefits for the city.
The Games also accelerated job-generating public investments in transportation improvements that have already added over 170 kilometers of subway, light rail and bus rapid transit lines. These projects continue to benefit Rio commuters and visitors every day.
Private resources also contributed to a massive investment in telecommunications infrastructure that will benefit Rio businesses, schools, households and government agencies for years to come.
Brazil’s vital tourist industry reaped immense benefits. According to Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism, the Games were a key driver behind a record increase in tourist visitors last year, resulting in a USD 6.2 billion boost for the economy.
Admittedly, progress in some areas of legacy has been slower than many people hoped. It is not surprising that Brazil’s economic and political problems have delayed post-Games plans for some Olympic venues, especially those that depend on private sector investment. Still, several projects are moving forward despite the challenges.
Five temporary Olympic training pools have been dismantled for reuse elsewhere. One has already been transferred to the Army Physical Education School in Rio’s Urca neighborhood. Others are destined for other Brazilian cities.
The hockey training pitches have been turned over to a local university for use by students and clubs for local tournaments. The Rio Olympic Arena, the golf course, the tennis venue, the velodrome, and Carioca Arena 3 have all hosted new sporting activities and events since the Games.
There is more to come. The Rio 2016 Transforma education program, which promoted mutual respect, non-discrimination and other Olympic values to 8 million Brazilian children in 16,000 schools, will be re-launched in August, with financial support from the International Olympic Committee.
Of course, much more needs to be done to ensure that Rio de Janeiro and Brazil maximize the benefits of their Olympic experience. It’s worth remembering that the Olympic Park for the London 2012 Games did not reopen to the public until 2014. It is now one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods.
It’s also worth remembering that many people doubted Brazil’s ability to host successful Olympic Games. Brazil overcame many obstacles and proved the skeptics wrong with Games that not only delivered spectacular competition, but also showcased the country’s magnificent spirit.
It will take time and a strong will to see it through, but I am confident that Brazil will prove the skeptics wrong again.