The IOC Got This One Right

Copacabana or bust!

No offense to Chicago, but the International Olympic Committee (IOC) got this one right. Before tonight, no South American nation had ever been given the honor of hosting the Olympics. As President Luiz Inacio da Silva (or "Lula") so aptly stated, "It's time to address this imbalance.... The Olympic Games belong to all people, all continents, all humanity."

You're right, Lula; and the IOC apparently agrees as well. In choosing Rio de Janeiro to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, the IOC gave the people of South America its long-deserved first chance to see the Olympics come to their continent. But it's not just about the Olympics. This is about the people of Brazil and the emerging role of Brazil on the world's political and business scenes.

Popular wisdom has it that Brazilians are to soccer (or futebol) what Americans are to hamburgers -- insatiable consumers -- and for the most part that's true. But what is less well-known is the country's passion for all things athletic. Being married to a Brazilian and having lived in São Paulo on and off for the past decade, I've spent many a day with the in-laws -- which includes first, second, third, and fourth aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors (can you have third neighbors?) -- to watch countless hours of, yes, futebol, but also volleyball, swimming, squash, tennis, wrestling, boxing, etc. Brazilians are crazy about sports. After the untouchable 8:00 P.M. novela, a melodramatic, soap opera-esque miniseries which is considered the apex (or nadir, depending on where you're coming from) of Brazil's thespian talent, sporting events are perhaps the second most popular thing on TV.

The country is also home to some of the world's best athletes. Look at the composition of Europe's top futebol teams. It was fitting that Lula included soccer legend Edison Arantes do Nascimento (better known as "Pelé") in the diplomatic entourage to the IOC, as, in 1999, he was the committee's choice for "Athlete of the Century."

But it is what the IOC's decision symbolizes that matters most. With this decision, it is clear that the IOC recognized, as so many others have in business and international politics over the past few years, particularly during this economic crisis, that Brazil has surged ahead as a hemispheric leader. Whether we like it or not, we are in the midst of a tectonic shift in the structure of global power, with historically margin players assuming an increasing leadership role on trade, finance, and security, among other matters. And our southern neighbor is at the helm of this transformation.

Although long in the making, this realignment was catalyzed by the combined effects of the economic crisis and the Obama administration's two-prong approach of dealing with salient domestic issues while encouraging increased international cooperation on foreign policy from a broader coalition of countries. While the administration's political capital has been expended -- rightly in my opinion -- on difficult, but pressing, domestic issues such as health care and unemployment, the international community has stepped up to fill the void on economic matters, security, and climate change, allowing borderline powers such as Brazil to assume greater responsibility.

This increased role was prominently on display when Honduras' exiled President Manuel Zelaya recently returned to his country after being ousted by military coup on June 28. Instead of seeking refuge at the U.S. Embassy as expected, he went to the Brazilian Embassy. Additionally, the country's diplomats and foreign ministry, Itamaraty, is increasingly heralded for successful negotiation on matters of trade and investment for the global south and strategic initiatives like the trilateral cooperative with India and South Africa. The Zelaya affair is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that Brazil is asked to play a central role in international affairs.

Brazil's role in international business and politics only stands to increase from here. On Thursday, the International Monetary Fund said that Brazil is going to push Latin America out of recession, with its economy expected to expand 3.5% in 2010 -- a telling figure when compared to Mexico, which is expected to shrink an astonishing 7% in 2009 (compared to Brazil's expected 1 - 2% in 2009) and grow at only 1.5% in 2010. Last week, Moody's upgraded Brazil to investment grade, adding to identical previous upgrades by Standard & Poor's and Fitch. And foreign investment is pouring into the country, with initial public offerings from Brazilian companies on the Bovespa -- the local stock exchange -- expected to double over 2010.

It is fair to say that even under a moderately optimistic forecast, Brazil will become (or already is) the most important regional player in the Americas outside of the United States. It is playing a key role in international diplomacy. Its vibrant economy is helping keep global demand afloat. Its people are slowly but surely stepping up to the responsibilities and demands of the new world. And now its time to let them have some fun.

See you in Rio.