One year to go to the Rio Olympics: Launch of New Research Project

By Einar Braathen and Celina Myrann Sørbøe.

One year ahead of the Rio Summer Olympics, we launch a new research project: “Insurgent Citizenship in Brazil: the role of mega sports events”.

Within the short time frame of two years, Rio de Janeiro hosts two of the largest spectacles on earth: last year’s FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games- which kicks off exactly one year from today. When Rio de Janeiro bid for these events, the city proposed to use this once in a lifetime-opportunity to improve living conditions of the poor and improve security in the notoriously unequal and violent city. Amidst controversy over excessively expensive stadiums, corruption scandals and human and civil rights abuses, Brazil was able to pull off last year’s soccer games. One year ahead of the Olympic Games, these issues are no less present in the public debate on the state of affairs in Rio de Janeiro.

This week, Amnesty International launched a report on the state of public security in the city of Rio de Janeiro. The report investigates extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations committed by the military police. Brazil is the country with the highest number of homicides in the world: 56,000 people were killed in 2012. The number of people killed by the police represents a significant share of the total of homicides. In spite of a new, much-publicized public security program aimed at improving the relationship between the police and the population and reducing police violence, the percentage of homicides committed by police in Rio de Janeiro in 2014 was still 15.6% of the total. In a period of ten years (2005-2014), 8,466 cases of homicide due to police intervention were registered in the state of Rio de Janeiro; 5132 cases in the capital city alone. The negative stereotypes associated with youth, notably the young black people living in the favelas and other marginalized areas, contribute to the trivialization and naturalization of violence. Of the 1,275 victims of homicide due to police intervention between 2010 and 2013 in the city of Rio de Janeiro, 99.5% were men, 79% were black and 75% were between 15 and 29 years old. Impunity is almost guaranteed – Amnesty found that only one of the 202 cases of police homicides investigated since 2011 had resulted to conviction. A recent Congressional inquiry has called it a genocide against young black Brazilians.

Another recent publication by the Federal Fluminense University (UFF) investigates the social costs of hosting the FIFA World Cup and The Summer Olympics. Based on data provided by the municipality, the researchers arrive at the staggering number of 67,000 people having been removed due to the preparations for these events from 2009 to 2013. Countless denouncements of arbitrary removals that involve excessive use of both physical and mental violence have been documented, the drawn out eviction of the Vila Autódromo community next to the future Olympic park perhaps being the most well-known. Poor urban dwellers from the city’s favelas are especially vulnerable for forced removals.

Police violence and forced removals are but some of the controversies that have marked Rio de Janeiro’s road to becoming a host city of mega events. These issues have led to massive contestations on behalf of the city’s residents, such as the massive uprisings in June 2013 during the Confederation’s Cup. In the gap year between the World Cup and the Olympics, the Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research (NIBR) launches the research project “Insurgent Citizenship in Brazil: the role of mega sports events”. The project leader is Einar Braathen, and Celina Myrann Sørbøe is the PhD research fellow. The Brazilian partner is a research group, ETTERN, led by Professor Carlos Vainer at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. The project seeks to reach a deeper understanding of the encounters between citizens (communities) and mega sports events in Brazil. The main research question is: To what extent, and how, do international mega sports events spur citizens’ social and political mobilizations? The additional question is: How do these mobilizations consequently set the quality of citizenship on the public agenda in the host city/country? Empirically this will be done by studying the preparations for mega sports events and their impacts on people in three selected favela communities in Rio de Janeiro, in addition to addressing city-wide issues and political spaces.

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