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Guest Column: After the Olympics, what will become of Rio?

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By Craig Hobin

Editor’s note: Sarnia’s Craig Hobin is a special contributor reporting from the Olympics in Brazil

While attending the exciting 2-1 win the Canadian women’s soccer team achieved over Germany, I was struck by the mere smattering of spectators confined to just a few sections of the lower bowl.

Craig Hobin
Craig Hobin

Such sparseness in the crowd raised questions in my mind about the legacy of Rio 2016 and how the Games will leave that city.

When the Olympic pageantry comes to a close and the athletes go home, what is left behind? What does a city with little interest in golf do with a championship course? How much use will an extravagant velodrome get when forty percent of the society lives in poverty? After 2016, what will become of Rio?

As the Olympics keep getting bigger, these are important legacy questions that cities and nations need to similarly consider when agreeing to hold large-scale, international events.

For Brazil, a country with one of the widest wealth gaps between rich and poor (twelfth most unequal according to the World Bank), allotting exorbitant amounts of finances to construct sports venues that may get little use after this month is all the more concerning. Protests held prior to the 2014 World Cup and these Olympics demonstrated that the people are conscious and frustrated by spending that economically benefits only an elite few.

Unfortunately, the outlook for urban development and the odds of transforming Rio de Janeiro for the better with these Games is not good. The Olympic Park, with its seven permanent venues and major transportation links was placed in Barra da Tijuca, a recently constructed neighbourhood or “bairro,” home to the nouveau riche, lying west of what people consider the real Rio.

Brasília, where I live, has the highest GDP per capita of any Latin American major city. This is where a staggeringly sizeable stadium was built to accommodate World Cup matches. The National Stadium is a stunning site, but due to cost overruns at US$900 million it became the second-most expensive sports facility ever built (behind only Wembley in London). This urban area has a slightly smaller population than Toronto, but no professional soccer team. Aside from the odd concert, barnstorming soccer teams from Brazilian professional leagues, or the ten Olympic matches played here this month, it is very often vacant.


Conflicting feelings surround hosting the Olympics in the modern age. It provides unique experiences and unforgettable memories for multitudes of athletes and fans, but communities are often left to figure out impossible fiscal situations afterwards (see Athens 2004). The other match I was lucky enough to attend was an anxious affair at the National Stadium played by Brazil’s men’s soccer team. Seeing the place packed with some 70,000 of the world’s most passionate sports fans could only be described as priceless.


Craig Hobin is a St. Christopher grad teaching history and international relations at the American School of Brasilia.

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