HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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27 August 2012

Istanbul 2020

Is it too soon to look ahead to Istanbul 2020? Is it too early to start poniting out the obvious?

Seems like the Turks are convinced. From the Istanbul 2020 bid book:



10.11 – Community support in excess of 87% of the population
Opinion polls were conducted by Strategic Focus measuring the response of 2,418 people 15 years of age and above from Istanbul (789) and 16 other cities (1,629) providing a representative national sample. The survey was conducted from 2 to 26 January 2012. The poll confirmed the wide-ranging support of the Games in Turkey and Istanbul:
Would you like to see Turkey host the Olympic Games? 87.1% of respondents in Istanbul and 83.3% throughout Turkey supported Turkey as host of the Olympic Games (14.2% had no opinion, 2.4% opposed) [ed: damn Kurds!]

~~ Do you believe that hosting the Olympic Games might help present a new image of Turkey to the world? 86.4% of respondents in Istanbul and 85.1% throughout Turkey believe the Games will offer a positive legacy and image for Turkey (13.4% had no opinion, 1.6% negative response). These results are achieved without any domestic promotion campaign, which will commence during the Candidature Phase and are comparable to those from polls conducted in November 2000, reflecting the enduring support of the Games.[ed: we haven't had to convince people it's good for them yet]

10.12 – Full support of government and the private sector
There is no organised opposition to the Istanbul 2020 proposal to host the Olympic Games. Rather, the bid enjoys the full support of all government bodies, opposition parties, the private sector and the general public.[ed: the Lords are in agreement about this]

10.13 – No requirement for a referendum under the terms of the Olympic Law
The Olympic Law ensures there is no requirement to stage a referendum in relation to the staging of the Olympic Games. Nor is it possible for opponents to the bid to force a referendum. [ed: I am not making this up].

11.1 – A balanced OCOG budget with guaranteed underwriting and cash flow. [ed: drinks on us!]

11.2 – Complete financial support from all levels of government [ed: keep the change]

11.3x    See you and your offshore accounts in Istanbul! 

24 August 2012

3,600,000 hours of free labor for FIFA.


The FIFA Voluntary Labor Camp has opened for people to give even more of their lives to the International Overlords. I know that this is a “customary practice” but when FIFA is anticipating profits in excess of $3.5 billion for the month long tournament, it is obscene to think that in a country that has a minimum MONTHLY wage of R$622 (US$311), that FIFA has the gall to not pay people to work for them. Worse is the total success they have in doing so! The first days of volunteer enrollment there were tens of thousands of inscriptions. No doubt the meals, transportation and uniforms will be worth the trouble. It’s no small trouble:

Volunteers must agree to work 10 hours a day for 20 days = 200 hours of labor.
If a working week is 40 hours, that is 5 weeks of free labor per person.
Each host city needs at least 1,500 volunteer-slaves. 1,500 x 12 = 18,000
18,000 serfs x 200 hours = 3,600,000 hours of free labor for FIFA.
3,600,000 hours = 90,000 weeks = 22,500 months = 1,875 years

You get the picture.

Let’s put this in economic terms. Each person laboring for the Brazilian minimum wage for five weeks would earn R$777.50 for five weeks of work (a pathetic hourly wage of R$3.89). Multiply this by the number of laborers and we get R$13,995,000 or around US$7 million. With profits estimated in the billions, why does FIFA demand free labor? Seven million dollars doesn’t seem like so much to pay and if you actually threw some job training in there, people could use the event for something useful other than a t-shirt made by nimble Cambodian fingers.

The minimum wage in Switzerland is US$23. Let’s pay our Brazilian volunteers that wage and see how much FIFA continues to crow about sustainable practice. It would still only amount to 828 million dollars – a modest contribution to Brazil’s economy.  Or, as a colleague of mine has suggested, let’s get all of the COPA 2014 team on board with the national spirit and have them volunteer 5 weeks of free labor. Aló Ministro Rebelo! I know you are a member of the communist party, but this is really going too far! Let’s all  be good capitalists here, not feudal serfs.

20 August 2012

Minha Preciosa / My Precious

When the Olympic Flag arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the mayor posed for cameras with a coy, obsequious smile as he stroked the wooden box which housed the flag. As he caressed the source of all earthly power, he touched the flag (made of Korean Silk!) with his bare hands: a violation of Olympic protocol equivalent to showing the soles of one’s feet to the King of Siam. The Lords were not happy. In the week following the arrival of the Olympic flag in Rio, the twenty first century equivalent of Cortez claiming Mexico for Spain, the mayor has triumphantly brought this sacred icon of the European aristocracy to Brasília (for the Queen of the Planalto), the Complexo do Alemão (occupied by the Brazilian military and symbolic center of power for traficantes), Realengo (the center of military power in Rio), the Palácio da Cidade (center of non-ecclesiastic power), and to Cristo Redentor (symbol of celestial and economic power). Now that we’ve all had the flag waved in our faces and are duly conquered we can send it to the cleaners to remove the fingerprints. Only if one is a Brazilian journalist working for a major outlet could one not notice the parallels between the way the government slobbers and slithers after the flag and the role of the Olympics in consolidating symbolic, political, social, economic and urban power. We are living in a city governed by Gollum! Five rings to rule them all!!!!

Three signs that all is not well under the developmentalist, consumerist regime that counts as public policy in Brazil: the grocery store around the corner from my apartment was assaulted at 6am Sunday morning. Upset that the manager didn’t have the code to the safe, the two assailants put something that “had the appearance of a grenade” in the mouth of the manager and kicked him in the face. Really? Flamengo is a middle and upper-middle class neighborhood in the center of town. Perhaps we should require that everyone wear five rings to work? The assailants escaped out the back of the store and the supermarket opened for business as usual at 11am.

Sunday brought Vasco x Flamengo to the Engenhão. On the way to the stadium a bus full of Flamengo supporters from Resende stopped at a gas station, were put into a rage after seeing some Vasco fans and started to break everything in sight. They then chased down, stabbed, shot and killed 30 year old Diego Matins Leal, who wasn’t wearing a Vasco shirt. 57 people were arrested. As an aside, there were only 19,469 people at the game and only 15,459 of them paid to get in, meaning that 21% of fans entered for free. The paying fans forked over an average of R$26 per ticket for gate receipts of R$403,835. Those who aren’t entitled to half-price tickets paid between R$30 and R$60, subsidizing everyone else. Between the latent, bubbling violence of the torcidas organizadas, the militarization of stadium space that does nothing to diminish the violence but treats everyone as a potential criminal, the high cost of tickets, the difficulty of access and the terrible Engenhão stadium (which I want to say, again, is no longer called Estádio Olímpico João Havelange, but Stadium Rio -  a fact continuously ignored by the media here) – is it any wonder that the biggest rivalry in Rio can only get half the average attendance of MLS's Seattle Sounders?

And to continue what has been a very depressing post…In the last week two kids have been killed by Rio’s security forces. One, a 15 year old male, was killed outside his home by BOPE as he bent down to pick up the keys that his mom had thrown from the upstairs window. Shot three times, his mother was forced to clean her son’s blood off the doorstep. Yesterday, a four year old girl was killed by Military Police during a raid. In the USA, people make tragic films about these events. In Rio, this is everyday news and a sign that not all is well. 

It would appear that the metrics of security for Rio de Janeiro are indeed linked to the ability of Zona Sul residents and visitors to walk around with an iphone on their way to get some frozen yogurt. For those who live outside the Olympic City, there are daily, deadly reminders that NOTHING FUNDAMENTAL HAS CHANGED. The appearance of new buildings, shopping malls, museums, ageing football stars and the occasional international celebrity only mean that there’s a chance for someone to make money, not that there’s any kind of meaningful wealth redistribution, or shift in paradigm. To the contrary, the wholesale capitulation of the Worker’s Party to private industry has stuffed private hands even further into public pockets.  Three absurd deaths in three days, a supermarket manager getting kicked in the face with a grenade stuffed in his mouth, endemic and systemic corruption, phantasmagoric mega-projects, the decline of popular culture and fawning fealty to a posse of high-handed moralists: the narcotic power of the five rings hides the violence from plain sight.

14 August 2012

The Olympic Flag is made of Korean Silk

There are so many interesting things about the Olympic Flag that I am bursting with excitement to report that I gave away the punch line in the title. I was astounded that after so many years of researching the Olympic Games that something so elementary, so symbolic could have escaped my attention. Korean silk!!!! Who knew?

As the devoted readers of Hunting White Elephants will no doubt have heard, the London Games are over, save for the three weeks of Paralympics that receive almost no media attention whatsoever. The missile batteries might be coming down off the roofs and tourists will start heading back to London. The party cost British taxpayers more than 11 billion pounds, around 5x over the original budget. Eduardo Paes and the Rio team have learned that lesson well, now refusing to talk about the budget beyond what was presented in the Bid Books in 2009.

We do know that the original budget underwritten by Lula was R$31 billion. Can we go 5x over? Maybe. Part of the problem is identifying what is Olympic and what is World Cup, what is ordinary investment and what is related to the megas. When transportation systems are conveniently directed to serve the Olympics, they are part of the Games project. When they are part of the budget, they are not. Any and all increases in the Gross Product of Rio are attributed to the Games, any increase in water pollution is not. When projects make the numbers tick in the right direction for marketing, yeah Rio 2016! There are no other numbers.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. There is no evidence to suggest that mega-events bring a public return on public investment. To the contrary, this is a regime of public risk for private profit that will use the militarization of urban space to control local populations and extract as much value from the city in the shortest timeframe possible before moving Istanbul for 2020.

Protest brining the 'evicitions trophy' to the mayor
The press conference yesterday was an interesting look into the way the 2016 Olympics will be run. As we received media credentials, we signed up to ask questions only to be informed later that only 5 questions would be allowed because the Governor, Mayor and Snoozman were tired after their flight from London. The questions were typical of the Brazilian media: innocuous, staged, soporific, irresponsible and stupid. The SporTV reporter asked the mayor to explain the emotion of brining the Olympic flag back to Rio. The Globo reporter asked if the mayor was going to bring the actual flag around the city or if they were going to use a replica. This gave him the chance to bring up the medal winning boxers as “security”, highlight the honor guard of the Guarda Municipal (wearing pith helmets), and to suggest that if the Olympic flag needed more security he “would have Cabral call in BOPE.”

The only decent question came from the BAND reporter, who, in response to the stimulation of the protest by the Comitê Popular outside the too-small, low-ceilinged INFAERO conference room (itself a testament to the poverty of investment in public infrastructure) asked about forced removals and the fate of the Vila Autódromo. This clearly irritated the mayor who leaped to his feet, protesting any suggestion that there had been at any time anything but democratic, open discussion with all of the communities removed for Rio’s Olympic project.

Conflating various key phrases of Paes, he said “there have been hundreds of people removed along the trajectory of the Transcarioca in the Zona Norte, middle class people, and no social activists were making a fuss about that because we did things democratically [HWE: removing individual houses is easier than removing whole communities]. We’ve bought land for the people of the Vila Autodromo [HWE: a project that the government had to go back on because the land belonged to one of Paes’ major campaign donors] and everyone is going to live in a nice apartment [HWE: whether or not they want to] only 500 meters from where they are now [HWE: this project is not going to happen]. No one is going to be removed violently [HWE: ask the people in Metrô, Restinga, Vila Harmonia, Recreio II about that!]. Once we deal with this situation we’ll see these political agitators disappear like they always do [HWE: taking a pot shot at his opposition in the coming elections].”

He added, “We need to move on from people resisting progress and cursing the government. This should be a thing of the past.” The elimination of alternative voices in the Olympic Era was well documented in London, another lesson learned. Of course, none of this addresses the wisdom or necessity of projects in and of themselves; project planned by a public relations firm in conjuntion with their governmental, meida and corporate bedfellows. A philandering foursome that goes alem do pornográfico.

There were some other tendencies on display that should be taken note of by journalists and researchers. In the blowing, normative discourses of Cabral, Snoozeman and Paes, there is a continual conflation of two presidents, Dilma and Lula. “O presidente” is Lula, “a presidenta” is Dilma, as if they were both governing at the same time. Lula’s role in bringing the Olympics is never far from the lips of those who drank so profusely from his overflowing cup of charming good-ol-boyism.

This is a closed circle of self-referential and self-interested parties where no contrary or alternative hymns will be sung. Thus, the World Cup slogan, Juntos num só ritmo, can be understood to refer to the larger political project of the Olympics as well as the elimination of alternatives. The Olympics take this to the next level.

On a positive note, after the press conference as the medalists put on display by the government were carrying their own bags to be stuck into a van (instead of the limousine escort afforded their lordships), the protestors from the Comitê Popular engaged them in conversation. All of them were adamant about their support for an Olympics without forced removals and for the production of peaceful and socially inclusive Games.

13 August 2012

Here it comes!!

Below is a transcript from an interview with the journalist Lucy Jordan (www.lucy-jordan.com)about the impending, banalized brutality of Rio 2016.


Lucy Jordan (LJ): Do you think the process of preparing for mega-events such as the Olympics has been a positive thing for Rio? Why not? Can you think of any positive aspects to the 2016 Olympic games? 

Hunting White Elephants (HWE): Yes and no. There has been a lot of investment and the city is nearly at full employment, yet the projects under way will not attend the real needs of the city. The Rio 2016 project has become the effective master plan for the city: a dangerous move in a city with a historical lack of investment in basic infrastructure. Also the interventions are creating a dual city: the Olympic city vs. the Non-Olympic city. There are of course always positive aspects when a city receives such massive investment but how those investments are being directed and what their long term effects will be is another story.

LJ: Do you think Rio is prepared for the Olympics? What measures have been taken so far to prepare Rio? Have they been successful? What are the main obstacles that Rio will face in preparing and being ready in time?

HWE: No. Almost none. Of the four BRT lines, three of which were not part of the original project, the one that has come partially on line has killed five people in the past few months because people are using it as a bike path.Why? There are no bike paths in the region. The question about being ready on time is not completely relevant as the six-week demands of the Games tend to justify a thousand urban interventions that will not prepare the city for the demands of 2017 or 2025. The main obstacles are a lack of professionalism in management, conflicts of interest, bureaucratic obstacles, lack of public participation, lack of transparency, and a lack of planning for post-event uses.

LJ: What do you think will be the main similarities and differences between the London games and the Rio games, and why? Do you think that differences between Rio and London, and Brazil and the UK, will manifest themselves in the difference between the Rio games and the London games? How?

HWE: London’s Games happened in a large city with a relatively functional transportation network and very few physical alterations to the city’s infrastructure had to be undertaken. Rio has many more problems in this regard: transportation is fragile, sewage systems are inadequate, etc. Also there is no terrorist threat in Brazil, so the massive investments in security will be more to control local populations rather than to defend against external threats. Things will happen more spontaneously in Rio and the Brazilian penchant for big parties in public space will make the spirit of the completion more diffuse. Also, Rio is not as cosmopolitan as London so there might be more surprises in store for the wealthy international tourist class that frequents the Games.

LJ: Do you think that Brazilians, and in particular Cariocas, are excited about the 2016 games? Why/Why not? How has Rio reacted to the London games? Do you think Brazil will be able to top the success of the London games?

HWE: The Olympics are exciting and Cariocas are of course excited to have the opportunity to see the games happen on home soil. Yet there is a tremendous anxiety and lingering doubts about the capacity of games organizers and the government to act transparently, professionally, and with the best interests of the city residents at the front of their agendas. There hasn’t been much reaction in Rio to the London
Games as Olympic sports are not of great interest in Brazil. The sexualization of female athletes has dominated the amateurish coverage. Brazil’s medal count has been surprisingly low which has further diminished interest. Top the “success” of the London Games? In what sense? Organization, transportation, security, cost? Successful sporting events are easy enough to pull off, preparing the city for future demands should be the real measure of a Games’ success. London was 5x over budget, hugely militarized, corporatized, etc...now what? 
LJ: What do you think of AECOM’s design? Is had been lauded for sustainability – do you think this is warranted?
HWE: It depends on what sustainability means. 60% of the AECOM project will be given over to real-estate. This will be yet another car-dependent, closed condominium project in Barra de Tijuca. The densification of this wetland region is occurring without the required investment in sanitation or in effective public transportation projects. Without creating jobs in the region, residents will get in their cars to go to centers of employment = not sustainable. AECOM has done some interesting things given the parameters set by Rio 2016, including the urbanization of the Vila Autódromo community. The Vila Autódromo has developed a proposal for how this urbanization should occur, demonstrating that keeping the community in situ will be more economical and sustainable environmentally than removal.
LJ: What kind of lasting “legacy” do you think Brazil will be left with after the games are over? 

HWE: I don’t use the word “legacy” to describe the Olympic project. These are impacts. There will be a massive budgetary overrun, militarization and privatization of public space, huge investments in world-class sporting facilities that will not be supported by programs to develop athletes, transportation lines that fragment instead of connect the city, huge increases in rents, unused four and five star hotel rooms that were subsidized by the public, and millions of good memories for one of the most expensive parties in history. 

08 August 2012

Look out!!!


Yet another countdown to the day when Rio finally becomes the Olympic city. As the torch fuel switches from BP to Petrobras, the terribly nice things that happen to prepare a city for the Olympics will start ratcheting up here. We do have the small distraction of the World Cup, in case anyone has forgotten about that, but let’s first take a look at some of the critical problems that need to be addressed in Rio.
  1)      The word “legacy”. Can we agree that this is not a good word to describe what happens when tens of billions of public money get funneled into urban projects designed by public relations firms? These are permanent structural transformations that are not predicated on needs but desires and hollow discourse.
  2)      The airport. This will be the only Olympic city, ever, that will not have a public transportation line that connects the international airport with the city. There is a plan to put a Bus Rapid Transit line between Barra de Tijuca and GIG, but are people going to get on a city bus with their bags? There will also be no public transportation between GIG and the domestic airport downtown. Duh. There will be no water taxi, no increase in ferry service, just a generalized clusterbumble (don’t even get me started about the Metro).
  3)      Maracanã. Currently undergoing the third reform in twelve years. Once the largest stadium in the world, it will have a capacity of 76,000 for the World Cup and will likely need to undergo further reforms for the Olympics. For instance, where will the Olympic torch go? The current reforms are going to be around R$1 billion (or more) and if we add the hundreds of millions in the other reforms, plus the destruction of a protected cultural monument…anyway, you get the idea.
  4)      Engenhão. There has been a movement to change the name of the stadium from Estádio Olímpico João Havelange to honor João Saldanha, the communist coach of the national team that was sacked just before the 1970 World Cup. The problem is that the stadium, a flying saucer that landed in the lower-middle class neighborhood of Engenho de Dentro, is called “Stadium Rio”. Thus removing the name of Brazil’s oldest criminal is moot.
  5)      Engenhão II. The area around the stadium has never received any intervention to improve access. Hundreds of millions will need to be spent, yet there is only a R$15 million line item in the budget.
  6)      Engenhão III. The track will probably have to be replaced. The television screens too. And the roof is in constant danger of falling. Oh, and because the Maracanã has been closed 3 of 4 big teams in Rio play there and have destroyed the grass, so some games have been cancelled.
  7)      Vila Autodromo. AECOM’s winning Olympic park project included the urbanization of the Vila Autodromo which occupies the north-west corner of the Olympic park site. The city and Rio 2016 are anxious to get the “favela” out of sight and out of mind and have been trying for more than a decade, without success. Now, the Vila Autrodromo has put forth an urbanization plan that demonstrates that it will be both cheaper and easier to urbanize in situ than to forcibly remove. Will the government engage?
  8)      Olympic Village. Being built in a swamp. Where will those 15,000 daily Olympic size poops go? Can we get the 100 meter turd float into the Games?
  9)      Cost. Let me get this straight…we pay taxes which were spent on the bid, spent on the infrastructure, running of the games, athlete training and over-blown administration. Then we have to pay to go to the games and pay for the maintenance of useless structures that we won’t have access to because they will be privatized? Even if there were a budget to be kept, we still end up paying four or five times for the Olympics.
  10)  Cost II. The World Cup is pushing frontiers in more ways than I can detail in this post, but have been keeping tabs on for some time. Imagina a Olim-piada!?! The same people that went 10x over budget with the Pan American Games have been given more money with fewer controls, why would we expect a different result?
  11)  Medals. Brazil, not doing so well in London (2 gold, 1 silver, 10 bronze, behind the powerhouses of New Zealand, Denmark, and Kazakstan, whose combined population is less than Rio de Janeiro’s). There is little or no effective investment in sport in this country. It is no accident that the most decorated Brazilian Olympian is a yachtsman, and that other medals come through various forms of fighting and football.  There is a dire, desperate need for a massive shake-up at the COB, but Nuzman is holding on for dear life. The media doesn’t hold his feet to the fire because expectations are so low, and therefore easy to meet.

Ok…enough for today, just getting the pump primed (again) for the transfer of focus. 

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