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Women Against the Social Impacts of the Olympics

By Pantaleon Riquelme, Translated by Oscar Dupuy d’Angeac

Activists in Rio de Janeiro held The Exclusion Games August 1-5, coinciding with the lead up to the 2016 Olympic Games. On the final day, the games culminated in protests, mobilizing many Cariocas (residents of Rio) into the streets during the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Of the many activities that took place during those days, members of the Mutirao Rio 2016 participated in two events: the Athletes’ March (la marcha de lxs Atletas) and the book launch for “Atingidas” (“Affected Women”), which shares the stories of a number of women whose lives and families have been directly impacted by the Olympics.

These demonstrations in Rio are symptoms of the uneven development wrought by the mega-event. The “sportification” of the city has consistently favored lucrative, international sports to the detriment the local community. Among the demonstrators were local rowers and boxers protesting the lack of funding and development for their sports.

Also present was, Edneida Freire, a physical education teacher and athletic trainer from Rio. She once worked in the Estado de Atletismo de Celio de Barros (the Celio de Barros Athletic Stadium), which was part of the Maracanã Stadium athletic complex. We say “once” because in 2013 this athletic track, in use for over 60 years, was transformed into a repository for construction equipment used in the redevelopment of the Maracanã Stadium, and has since been converted into an asphalt parking lot. If we’re to talk about the legacy that the Olympic Games leave in the cities they pass through, this as well is part of that legacy – but it is by no means a desirable one.

But what exactly happened? The remodeling of the Maracanã Stadium was scheduled to be completed before the 2014 Rio World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Originally, it had included, among other things, the destruction of a public school located within the stadium and of the athletic track. With the former, opposition was able to slow down the project, and today the school still stands. But with the latter, the oppositional efforts were unsuccessful, and an open-air parking lot sits where the track once was. And as if this weren’t enough, with the remodeling of Maracanã also came its privatization: it has been conceded to Odebrecht Properties (a construction company) and AEG (an electricity provider). Both business seek to develop a shopping mall within the stadium, but have not yet succeeded.

Intersecting Stories

atingidas-montagemEdneida Freire’s fight to defend public sports is one of several narratives that comprises “Atingidas,” (“The Affected”) edited by the Instituto de Politicas Alternativas para el Cono Sur (the Institute of Alternative Politics for the Southern Pole, or PACS). The book shares stories of the lives of women affected by Olympic development in their city. Edneida told us that her job consisted of training and educating kids in all the disciplines that might help them to become citizens who love and practice sports, citizens fighting to become Olympic athletes.

According to her, “people demand the reconstruction of the C. de Barro Stadium. They are fighting for its reconstruction. They (those responsible for its destruction) can give one, two, ten tracks, but they are going to have to rebuild. Because it’s a story, the story of all Brazilian athleticism. It’s a historic stadium, it has life. It’s part of our patrimony.”

She doesn’t hesitate to name those responsible for the outrage: “the International Olympic Committee and the Brazilian Ministry of Sports; the State Government; the Prefecture; the Secretary of Sports – all are responsible because they were complicit; they let it happen. Therefore, they are going to be responsible for its reconstruction.

Edneida also makes sure to add that “I’m not against the Olympics, I’m in favor of the Olympics, of the history of the Olympics. I know the difficulties an Olympic athlete has faced to achieve their Olympic dream, it’s 10 years of training. I’m in favor of a clean Olympics, planning that leaves a positive legacy for the city. That doesn’t leave people without homes, athletes without respect who are forced to leave the city and train in other places, in other countries.” The story of Brazilian athleticism and the struggle of Edneida and the entire Celio de Barras community will seek to reach the podium. For now, the fight is in the streets, along with sports… even more so if public sports are expelled from the few spaces in which they are practiced today.

More Stories from “The Affected”

SAM_0258In addition to Edneida’s story, at the book launch for “Atingidas” (“The Affected”) we heard the tales of two other women impacted by the Olympic Games, Rita and Monica.

Rita is a 59-year-old farmer who has lived in the Juliano Moreira Colony (in the west zone of Rio) her whole life. She was one of the first to be removed from her home in a wave of evictions that began with the 2007 Rio Pan-American Games and have continued throughout all of the athletic mega-events up to the current 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The loss of her home meant the loss of her orchard, which until then had sustained her financially. She was evicted, like so many farmers, to make space for the Transolympic connection line (which unites Recreio and Deodoro). She’s been involved in legal proceedings against the Rio Prefecture before the Public Defense for the past 3 years.

SAM_0260Monica belongs to the Manaú branch of the Arawak ethnic group. She defines herself as an indigenous woman living in an urban context. She lives in the area surrounding the Maracanã – the word “Maracanã” itself means the “maraca collective” in honor of the indigenous groups who once lived there. The new corporate owners of the Maracanã however have decided to no longer share this urban space with the indigenous peoples who had returned to their land in 2006. The Maracanã village chose to settle close to the stadium a decade ago because the area is the site of their ancestral burying grounds. In 2013 they experienced a harsh encounter with the police and they strongly resisted the eviction. After the 2013 Confederation Cup, the governor of Rio allowed for those who had been displaced from their land to return (many were offered to move to an apartment). But it was not the same: 14,500 m2 of their village are now occupied by a parking lot, and as of this year, the International Olympic Committee has restricted access to the area to impede them fromSAM_0263 practicing their traditional rituals.

Additionally, those who did accept to move into an apartment “complain about no longer being able to practice their culture, of not being able to pay the rent, light, or gas, and of discrimination.” says Monica. Monica, in addition to fighting for her village, continues her fight to be reinstated as a teacher in youth detention centers.

Without a doubt, sporting mega-events have a shocking impact on the cities where they are hosted – and hearing the stories of these women is a powerful way to understand the broader scope of their affects.

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  1. Pingback: Dispatch from Rio: An alternative look at the Olympics - WITNESS Blog

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