Did Brazil ben­e­fit from $30 bil­lion mega events?

Af­ter 1,192 days, the coun­try’s run of host­ing events ended with the Par­a­lympics

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It be­gan with foot­ball’s Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup in 2013, ex­tended to the 2014 World Cup, ran through IOC Pres­i­dent Thomas Bach’s good­bye speech last month at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and fin­ished with the clos­ing cer­e­mony of the Par­a­lympics be­fore 45,000 spec­ta­tors at Rio’s Mara­cana sta­dium.

Awarded when Brazil was a ris­ing eco­nomic power, the sports pageants fo­cused un­prece­dented at­ten­tion on the coun­try – much of it un­wanted.

As the shows went on, Brazil plunged into a deep re­ces­sion. A bil­lion-dol­lar cor­rup­tion scan­dal buf­feted state-run oil com­pany Petro­bras, and Pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff was re­moved from of­fice in an im­peach­ment trial just days af­ter the Olympics closed.

“This all left a very mixed legacy,” said Mauri­cio San­toro, an in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions ex­pert at the State Univer­sity of Rio de Janeiro.

“We are go­ing to need some years to eval­u­ate what was the im­pact, the worth of these events for Brazil.”

By a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate, Brazil spent close to $30 bil­lion or­gan­is­ing the events with a mix of pub­lic and pri­vate money that in­cluded the con­struc­tion of four foot­ball sta­di­ums for the World Cup. All four in cities with­out ma­jor teams.

Rio fared bet­ter with the Olympics, get­ting a metro line ex­ten­sion, bus lines and light-rail.

But much of the in­vest­ment was aimed at Rio’s up­scale sub­urb of Barra da Ti­juca – not at the city’s sprawl­ing fave­las, or slums. The Olympic Park and Ath­letes Vil­lage there will be moulded into high-priced com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties now that the games are done.

“I think the Olympics and Par­a­lympics were a boost to the self-es­teem of Brazil,” added San­toro. “They hap­pened when every­thing was go­ing so bad in Brazil. The mere fact they hap­pened with­out se­ri­ous prob­lems, with­out an in­fra­struc­ture dis­as­ter, with­out a ter­ror­ist at­tack, made Brazil feel bet­ter about it­self.”

Brazil’s rep­u­ta­tion away from home is an­other mat­ter. The state of Rio de Janeiro is broke and de­fault­ing on bond pay­ments. Some schools have sus­pended classes, and hos­pi­tals are un­der­staffed. Only a last-minute bailout of $76.5 mil­lion from the fed­eral and lo­cal gov­ern­ments saved the Par­a­lympics from a short­fall in the or­gan­is­ing com­mit­tee’s privately funded op­er­at­ing bud­get.

“There was a feel­ing that Brazil is such a big mess, said San­toro. “How could you have a good opin­ion of this coun­try?”

Or­gan­is­ers bragged about legacy, but failed to de­liver on a big prom­ise made to se­cure the bid: the clean-up of Gua­n­abara Bay, an open sewer that re­ceives much of the city’s raw waste.

The Olympics also en­dured some rough go­ing, plagued by empty seats, or­gan­i­sa­tional gl­itches and scan­dals – one in­volv­ing high­rank­ing IOC mem­ber Pa­trick Hickey who was ar­rested for scalp­ing tick­ets. Hickey is still in Brazil await­ing trial and de­nies any wrong­do­ing.

Against most pre­dic­tions, the Par­a­lympics were a smoother ride with grass­roots sup­port.

Are­nas were packed with many tick­ets sell­ing at just $3 apiece, in con­trast to the Olympics, where many tick­ets were sold as part of high-end hos­pi­tal­ity pack­ages and of­ten went un­used.

The Par­a­lympics also topped the Olympics in com­pelling sto­ries, and in some per­for­mances.

No story was more mov­ing than that of 37year-old Belgian Marieke Ver­voort, who won a sil­ver medal in wheelchair rac­ing. She has a de­gen­er­a­tive spine dis­ease and talked of plans to end her life by eu­thana­sia when she can no longer en­dure the pain.

“I think death is some­thing like they op­er­ate on you, you go to sleep and you never wake up,” said Ver­voort. “For me, it’s some­thing peace­ful.”

The top four fin­ish­ers in the men’s 1,500m – in the T13 class for visu­ally im­paired run­ners – all had bet­ter times than the Olympic cham­pion in Rio, Amer­i­can Matthew Cen­trowitz.

Ger­man am­putee longjumper Mar­cus Rehm, who jumps with a car­bon fi­bre blade and won gold in Rio, also holds the long jump world record of 8.40 me­tres. This is bet­ter than the win­ning jump in the Rio Olympics at 8.38 me­tres.

There was tragedy, too, when Ira­nian Bah­man Gol­barnezhad, 48, died af­ter crash­ing in a road-cy­cling race. But ul­ti­mately the Par­a­lympics once again high­lighted the abil­ity of the ath­letes in Rio.

“The Par­a­lympics are a high-per­for­mance sport­ing event be­tween coun­tries,” said IPC spokesman Craig Spence.

“The goal is to win the most gold medals here. That’s what ev­ery sport is about. It’s about win­ning.”

‘We’ll need years to as­sess the im­pact of these events on Brazil.’ – MAURI­CIO SAN­TORO

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