The announcement today by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that Rio de Janeiro will be the host of the 2016 Olympic Summer Games is a fitting acknowledgement by the international community that Brazil’s time has arrived. It is also a bouquet to the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and an effort to get the Games—finally—to South America. Beating out Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago (my hometown), the Rio selection was immediately hailed by many across the region and offers the opportunity for Brazil to showcase itself to the world, much as China used the 2008 Games in Beijing.
The Olympics are part of a strategic approach to sport that Brazil has recently employed as yet another means to raise its international profile. Starting with the XV Pan American Games in 2007, also held in Rio, and the upcoming World Cup soccer championship in 2014, the Olympics offer Brazil the crown jewel of international sport, a trifecta only accomplished once before over such a short period of time (the United States also achieved the feat, with the Pan Am Games held in Indianapolis in 1987, the World Cup in 1994 and the 1996 Atlanta Olympics).*
Much will be made of the fact that President Lula’s star power apparently eclipsed that of President Obama, as well as the new Prime Minister of Japan and the King of Spain and Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, all of whom dutifully traveled to Copenhagen to implore the IOC to select their respective bid cities. And, indeed, President Obama’s riding in on Air Force One to rescue the bid for Chicago was a high-risk strategy that, had it not been his own home town, the White House might very well have chosen to bypass.
Even so, all that political handicapping and second-guessing misses the point. Brazil is on the way up. The Games had already been held recently in the United States (summer 1996 and winter 2002), Spain (summer 1992) and Japan (winter 1998) but never in Brazil or even anywhere in Latin America outside Mexico City in 1968. The region was long overdue, and Brazil's economic and political emergence under Lula has put it squarely on the world stage.
After the euphoria of today’s decision fades, Brazil will need to face up to the fact that there’s a long way to go to get from here to there. Massive investments in infrastructure must be made, Rio’s pervasive drug and crime problem must be addressed and poverty is rampant. But there is no question that the Games will now give Brazil a boost, a jump start in ways that Rio needed anyway. If they can get the financing worked out—and, with massive energy finds in the deep water, why can’t they—planners should be able to get going right away. They’ll need all seven years between now and 2016 to pull it off, but preparations for the World Cup are already providing a head start.
Anyway, all that is in the future. Today is a day for celebration by Rio, Brazil and indeed all of South America. Look out world, here comes Brazil.
Eric Farnsworth is a contributing blogger to americasquarterly.org. He is Vice President of the Council of the Americas in Washington DC.
*Authors note: I incorrectly noted in the original post above that no nation other than the United States had attained the trifecta of holding the Olympics, World Cup, and Pan Am games prior to Brazil’s anticipated hosting of the Olympics in 2016. Actually,
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Mexico City, Mexico
Juan Manuel Henao
New York, NY
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
San Salvador, El Salvador
Julio Rank Wright
Christian Gómez, Jr.
Johanna Mendelson Forman