HUNTING WHITE ELEPHANTS / CAÇANDO ELEFANTES BRANCOS

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30 April 2014

Very Important Blah Blah Blah

Sometime recently, IOC VVIP John Coates called the Rio 2016 preparations the worst ever. Much is being made of this statement but we need to put it in its proper context and to not take the commentary at face value. 

True, Rio 2016 is behind schedule on everything and as I suggested a few months ago should be called Rio Twentysomething. Building for the Olympic Games never happens the same way twice and never in the same place twice, so the demands and issues that Rio 2016 are dealing with are unique and there have apparently been very few inputs from the IOC to help them figure out how to “deliver”. So now, Gilberto Felli is coming to our collective rescue. The organized, demanding European, swooping in to save the skins of the organizing committee. 

Considered in this context Coates´ extremely unhelpful comments are similar to Valcke´s kick up the arse comments of a few years ago that caused such furor in Brazil. This time, the Lord Mayor of Rio has kowtowed saying that the criticisms need to be accepted but that everything will be done properly for the Lords of the Rings. How will this happen? The IOC and international federations are now sending in their technical experts to whip the undisciplined Brazilians into shape for their party. That this is happening only now is an indication of the lack of this “expertise” before. So, knowing full well how Brazil works, why is it only now that the IOC is sending in their special troops to help out only in 2014? In this sense we must take Coates´ blabbing barb as a self-criticism of the IOC´s lack of understanding about how things do or do not work in Brazil and for their incapacity to get things moving fast enough for their tastes. 

The other element of Coates´ commentary to consider is that high ranking  IOC members have made made no comment (sympathetic, antagonistic, or otherwise) about the recent wave of police violence in Rio. There is no secret that the security apparatus of Rio is being restructured for the Games but when this system fails tragically, there are few notes of concern sounded by the Games alarmists. What is at stake here in Coates´commets is not just the realization of Rio 2016 but the preservation of the IOC´s image and that of their sponsors. Does the IOC trumpet the fact that the Rio State Military Police have contracted the Austrian gun maker Glock to be their official 9mm supplier for Olympic security? Hardly. Death by handgun is not an Olympic pillar, though shooting is an Olympic sport. Coates is hedging the IOC´s reputation by focusing the blame on the Brazilians. 

In the frenetic run up to #WC14 and #Rio16 the existential angst of international sports federations is coming to a frothing boil. The narratives of lateness and unpreparedness are always the same, unless they have to do with places like Germany or London or Sydney. Will the unruly subalterns spoil the party with their ineptness and lack of organization? Will the IOC have their stage properly mounted and the places at the banquet table properly set? Frankly, I´m not concerned. 

Of course, Rio 2016 is late, the projects are poorly conceived and almost impossible to execute, but they have been so since the very beginning. The Rio 2016 Bid Book is a farce of a planning document projected by a public relations team to attend to the utopian fantasies of the IOC (and the sport mega-event industrial complex and their partners in Brazilian industry and government). If the IOC had done their due diligence, if they had people to critically evaluate the bid books, Rio wouldn´t be hosting the Olympics (after having finished fifth behind Doha in the technical evaluation). However, in the realpolitik of the IOC,  the overarching meta-narrative of urban transformation and opening new frontiers for sport blinded them to the realities of what it takes to put on an Olympics in a city as troubled, fragile and contested as Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps that would be an appropriate self-criticism for the VVIPs to take up. 

So, yes, Mr. Coates, we get the message loud and clear. Brazil is slow, maybe even lazy, much worse than those retrograde Greeks! If only Athens had been ready with everything on time their national economy would surely be thriving today and the crushing debt imposed by hosting the Games would have been forgiven. Excuse me if I don´t feel sorry for the IOC, but rather for the Cariocas who will be forced to bear the impacts, costs and burdens of the Olympics once Mr. Coates has gone to Tokyo to talk about how well everything has gone. 

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