Over 22,000 Families Have Been Displaced by the Rio 2016 Olympics So Far

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Using the Olympic Games to force evictions and gentrify host cities is NOT a new phenomenon. Not even close. So unfortunately, it should come as no surprise to hear the awful news that local governments in Brazil are justifying forced evictions and segregation in Rio neighborhoods under the guise of benefitting Rio 2016.

A report from Rio’s city government states that 22,059 families have been resettled since 2009, due to homes being labeled as “at risk,” and/or – the more likely culprit – to facilitate transportation and infrastructural projects ahead of the Olympic Games. Despite attempts to narrow down the damage to favelas like Vila Autódromo on the outskirts of Olympic Park, it is clear that a much bigger restructuring project is taking place in the shadows of sporting glory.

Photo courtesy of the AP
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Executive Director of Rio-based NGO Catalytic Communities Theresa Williamson highlighted the fact that transparency is an elusive desire when it comes to Olympic Games. “Whether it’s for the new BRT [the Bus Rapid Transit system] or the evictions at Vila Autódromo, the Olympics is the context for all of these resettlements.” To put this resettlement into perspective: 88-year-old Arletta Rosa José was evicted from her lifelong home in Rio’s North Zone after 75 years of living there.

A lot of the long-term repercussions of these Games will not be perceived, nor will their gravity or seriousness be fully appreciated, until well after the world’s fans have come and gone. But at this point, effects like displacement, gentrification, and segregation should be anticipated; this is what Brazilian officials want. As Ashok Kumar states in his special report on cleansing and London 2012, “the devastation inflicted on the poorest and historically marginalized communities is not simply an adverse side effect, but goes to the very essence of why cities battle to host the Games.”

Photo by Yasuyoshi Chibayasuyoshi Chiba
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As much as they can attempt to hide it, what is perceivable without a shadow of a doubt is that this truly is what prominent government officials want. According to the Bruce Douglas Guardian article cited above, around “three-quarters of the families removed from their homes over the past six years have been rehoused under the federal government’s flagship social housing program, Minha Casa Minha Vida (MCMV).” Some residents have been “lucky” in that their new homes are within relative proximity to old neighborhoods, but a majority have been forced to move upwards of 60 kilometers away from the city center. This inevitably leads to higher utility costs, greater difficulty in finding educational opportunities, and less functional transportation and health systems. Militia groups add yet another dimension of danger to the mix.

A couple of months ago, I made the controversial decision to say “no” to Los Angeles hosting the 2024 Olympics. What’s frustrating is that I love these worldwide sporting events as much as I absolutely despise the destruction that they leave in their wake. As a fan, I feel that my best bet at the moment might be to protest by not tuning in to watch the Games. Hopefully, a more impactful solution will eventually come to mind, one that’s equal in magnitude to the consequences currently being felt on the lives and well-being of these displaced Brazilian families.