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The Rio Olympics officially opens on Saturday morning AEST and millions of spectators worldwide will be cheering on their nation’s heroes.
The 2016 Olympics was supposed to mark Brazil’s rise as a global power. But behind the backdrop of the sunny Rio beaches is a country struggling under the weight of political and economic instability.
Since winning the Olympic bid in 2009, Brazil has been mired by the worst recession in 25 years, along with corruption scandals and an ongoing housing crisis.
The Rio Games will cost Brazil an estimated $12 billion, money which many argue could be spent on tackling poverty and social inequality.
Roughly 20 per cent of Rio’s population live in favelas (slums). Many have been demolished to make way for new stadiums that may never be used after the Olympics.
Rio’s government claims it has improved the lives of favela residents by building more roads and upgrading public transport. But some favela residents have described the Rio Olympics as “the exclusion games” and “an event by the rich for the rich”.
This relocation process is not unique to the Rio Games, with the 2008 Beijing Olympics evicting more than 1.5 million people from their homes. Homeless people were also removed from the city to present a more attractive image to visitors.
Representatives from over 25 faith communities attended a Vigil of Dignity in downtown Rio this week. The event was organised by the World Council of Churches and a range of international organisations.
“We are here to enable full visibility to migrants, refugees, indigenous people, and representatives of minorities who suffer all forms of discrimination and racism,” vigil coordinator Rafael Soares de Oliveira said.
“Their urgent need for justice should also inspire the Olympic values that are being hailed so loudly during these days here in Rio.”
Olympic organisers argue the games have a lasting social, economic and cultural impact on the host nation. The Olympics injects an influx of tourists from all over the world. This will benefit local trade and contribute to long-term visitor growth. The 2000 Sydney Olympic Games were estimated to have created 100,000 new jobs and increased the number of tourists by 1.6 million per year.
The Olympics has also produced incredible stories of courage and triumph.
The success of African-American athlete Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics made a mockery of Adolf Hitler’s plan to showcase Aryan superiority.
The Black Power salute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos during their medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics was a powerful symbol against racism.
Cathy Freeman’s gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and her subsequent victory lap with the Aboriginal and Australian flag draped around her shoulders remains one of the most iconic moments in sporting history.
At the Rio Olympics, the first-ever Olympic refugee team will add another chapter to Olympic lore.
On the eve of the Rio Olympics, we ask: is the money spent on the Olympics a worthwhile investment?
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