On Friday, October 2 Rio de Janeiro sambaed its way into the hearts of the International Olympic Committee, and secured the well-deserved opportunity to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. Dashing the hopes of pitch teams from Madrid, Tokyo and our own Chicago, Rio made history and will be the first South American city to host the Games. Shockingly, the charm and star power of Oprah and both the Obamas was eclipsed by Rio. All of the cities that made it to the final round met or exceeded the IOC's technical expectations. The committee is managing a global brand; they can not humor the proposals of cities that are not up to the challenge of producing a first class international event. All of the final four cities could have provided adequate backdrops for the rivalries, upsets, powerful personalities and other memory inspiring traditions of the Olympic games. So what was that certain something that separated Rio from the rest? The people of Rio actually wanted the Olympics to come to Rio.
The support of its citizens may seem like a compulsory aspect of a cities Olympic bid. However, that was not the case for Chicago and Tokyo, whose populations largely disagreed with their government's quest to bring the Olympics to their hometown. A study showed that 85% of Rio natives, or Cariocas as they call themselves, and 69% of Brazilians were in favor of Rio being selected to host the 2016 Games. In contrast, 84% of Chicago residents opposed the Games if taxpayers were expected to shoulder any of the cost. As we all know, nothing is free.
The prestige of hosting an international event like the Olympics extends beyond the two-week duration of the Games. Host cities can trade on the cachet of the Olympics during the seven year run up to the event, and bask in the after glow of successful Games for decades after the torch has been extinguished. Even still the IOC could not risk sending the Olympics into potentially hostile territory, hoping that the people of Chicago would come around, and eventually change their minds. The people of Rio, not just its government, wanted to host the world. Rio's candidacy was made even more compelling by its ethnic and cultural diversity. Selecting Rio to host the 2016 Olympics is a timely reflection of the impact of emerging economies and the importance of the global south.
Africa and South America have produced many talented Olympic athletes but none have been able to compete in an Olympics on their own soil. Being the home of a world-class athlete can provide a tremendous source of pride for any country developing or not. But it is time for the global south to leave the realm of merely providing participants for events like the Olympics. Countries like Brazil are now in the position to compete successfully in the athletic events that comprise the Games, and also to provide the venue for the competition. A lot of pessimistic commentary has been leveraged toward Rio since it was announced that it will host the Olympics. Will it be safe? Will it be a logistics nightmare? It's true; Rio has some issues to address before 2016. That is why they now have seven years to prepare and organize around a strategic plan that convinced the members of the IOC. Rio has already proven that it is capable of hosting a multi-discipline sporting event by carrying out the Pan American Games in 2007. Rio has the economic well being to fund new infrastructure, a track record demonstrating the ability to execute a similar, albeit smaller international event, and a willingness to host the games that is shared by the people and the government.
Ironically, Rio will be hosting the "Summer" Olympics during the southern hemisphere's winter, and typical tourist off-season. Minor technicality, it will be warm enough, and in politics perception is reality. Yes, the Olympics may appear to be a series of sporting events, where neutrality reigns amongst the participants, but off of the field the Olympics is a political animal. Even still, Rio de Janeiro will provide a festive and fun backdrop for the Games. I personally look forward to attending.