Pride, Praise, Prejudice. The Río Hunger Games

Santa Marta is one of the many slums that dot the hillsides of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio, host of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, is now trying to remake these slums, or favelas, long wracked by poverty and violence.

Santa Marta is one of the many slums that dot the hillsides of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Rio, host of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016, is now trying to remake these slums, or favelas, long wracked by poverty and violence.

In our modern society, some sports have been turned into a multi-million dollar business with little to no scruples. Obscene amounts of money change hands. Athletes are seen as role models and praise id bestowed on them generously, for they represent the human virtue of effort. Nevertheless, one would think that the spirit of sportsmanship `would prevail and sportspeople would serve to create and facilitate bridges between different countries and social classes, united in the common goal of improvement. ‘Altius, citius, fortius’ is the motto of the Olympics. Higher, faster, stronger.
Today is the day after the inauguration of the Río Olympic Games. We are flooded with the shining images of the 11.000 + sportspeople who represent 206 nations. However, there is a stark contrast between this show of athletic excellence and the daily life in the ‘favelas’, the shanty towns of Río. It would seem that the world’s most important sporting event, with all it entails in terms of building and refurbishing infrastructures, would have a bigger impact on the well-being and comfort of the inhabitants. The truth is it has not changed much. In any case, more constraints and little else. The police and firefighters are not being paid. They receive travelers at Río de Janeiro International Airport /Galeão with signs warning them that they cannot ensure anyone’s safety.
You could say there’s two worlds in Río at this time, sharing a space but without touching. It is unsettling at best and terrifying for anyone who dares to think of the causes. Brazil, like many other American countries, relied on slave labour to sustain their immense plantations of tobacco and coffee. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, almost 5 million slaves arrived in Brazil. Although slavery was abolished in 1850, it continued several decades more. After slavery ended, a physical divide endured in the city, with blacks living on the port side of a thoroughfare, an area blighted by poverty and homelessness. An area that was duly forgotten by the government. This was due to racial issues. In the 20th century, the lack of attention and repair of colonial residences and narrow streets gave way to decay. Although a $2 billion project to regenerate this area was devised, it has proven to be of little use. The plan was to update transport links and foster a new business district. But Morro da Providência, further up on the hills, was neglected. They got a $23 million cable car but the project is still incomplete and basic services are lacking. The’ favela’ was ‘pacified’ in 2010. The pacification included unlawful searches, arrests and the murder of a seventeen year old boy at the hands of the police, who put the gun in his hand after shooting him to make it appear like self defence. His name was Eduardo Santos.
In the hillside neighbourhood of Santa Teresa there are once-lavish colonial homes overlooking the port. One of these mansions is a famous boutique hotel favoured by several famous people. In 2014, its then-owner was accused of subjecting half a dozen workers to ‘conditions analogous to slavery’. They had gone 18 hours with no food and then put up in a rat-infested house, insalubrious and crumbling, while they worked on a renovation of the $350-a-night-hotel ballroom. The owner denied everything. The case is still pending.
This is how, over a century and a half after the abolition of slavery, Brazil still hasn’t changed the conditions that ensnare people into slave-like working conditions. The only thing that has changed is that it used to be black people and now it is people of any and all colours.
It appears that Río de Janeiro is a city with two faces. One is a paradise created by and for the greater glory of the select few, a false showcase for social integration. The other reeks of its colonial past, of injustice and racial and financial strife.
While we stare at our screens, mesmerised by the feats and accomplishments of the best athletes in the world, on the hills of Río life goes on as usual. Slowly, uphill but never silently. Its ‘favelas’ are full of life,boisterous and life always finds a way to reinstate balance, sometimes painfully.


2 thoughts on “Pride, Praise, Prejudice. The Río Hunger Games

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  1. The money spent on these “games” is sinful. All around the world we do this – for what? Surely taking care of one’s body and being fit is important – but at a cost such as this? No. It is wrong. Children need to spend their developing years being children, not training and competing. It is perhaps time to allow these games to become a thing of the past.

    Liked by 1 person

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