No matter how you spin it, the Olympic Games in Rio were a success in every respect.
They were an athletic success because of the many record performances and exciting high points, all achieved against a superb backdrop. And they were also an organizational success, despite getting off to an uneven start. But what mega sporting events run smoothly from the very beginning?
Athletes and visitors were safe, even though it meant that the authorities had to transform their city into a military high-security zone. But we are experiencing the same thing at mass events in Europe at the moment. The Zika virus wasn’t a problem, although this was probably due to the cool winter weather and not the precautions taken by the Brazilian government.
Rio’s planners even remained within budget when it came to investments for buildings and infrastructure. Brazil spent less on the Games than was spent in London or Beijing. The infrastructure was delivered on time, even if “on time” has a different meaning in Brazil than in Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is headquartered. There is also a good chance that Rio 2016 will go down in history for having set a positive example. The Games could very well bring about positive, long-term change to the city.
But the importance of Rio 2016 is more far-reaching than that. The games in Brazil proved that global events could also be successfully held in democratic, emerging economies. In contrast to repeated assertions before Rio, it is not a requirement that such events be held in rich, industrialized nations – and especially not in authoritarian countries, which can readily approve budgets in the billions to promote their propaganda and install structures and a backdrop for audiences at a military pace.
Finally, the successful games come at the right time for Brazil, a country stuck in a deep economic, political and moral crisis. Brazilian self-confidence has sunk to its lowest level in a long time. This is especially salient after a decade characterized by exuberant optimism.
But now in Rio – as with the equally magnificent World Cup in 2014 – the Brazilians have shown the world that even in the midst of severe crises, they can pull off mega events. The sense of achievement will be good for Brazilian society. It returns to business as usual next week, when President Dilma Rousseff will be removed from office. Her successor will have to save money and push complex reforms in government financing and the pension system through the congress. Brazilians need to brace themselves for some serious challenges. Hosting the Olympics was child’s play compared to what they have to look forward to.
To contact the author: email@example.com