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The catalyst for my story on Time.com today was the closure of Rio’s 2016 Olympic games stadium because it is in danger of collapse.
The Joao Havelange stadium was inaugurated just six years ago but was so poorly done it is already in an advanced state of disrepair.
My editors at Time made tweaks to my story on the grounds it was too opinionated.
What I wanted to say loud and clear, and have been saying in conversation for years, is this: The people who ran Rio’s 2007 Pan American Games and who are organising the next Olympics are guilty of either deceit or bad planning or both.
For the Pan Ams they promised the city of Rio 54km of new metro, a light railway line and a new highway.
They did none of it.
The games were at least six times over budget and the justification was that the venues and facilities were expensive because they were of Olympic standard.
They are not.
The track and field stadium is in danger of collapse. The aquatics park is not big enough to be used for the Olympics and a new one must be built. The brand new cycle track can’t be used because it is not good enough. The Maracana is undergoing its third reform since 2000 at a total cost exceeding 1 billion reais.
Rio’s Pan Am experience is more about how not to prepare for a major sporting event than how to.
It is nothing short of scandalous that the organizers are being given a second chance.
If you knew the escalators at Rio’s international airport needed replacing then when would you choose to rip them out?
Would you look for a quiet time in order to cause the least inconvenience to passengers or would you do it right in the middle of carnival, the time of the year when the airport is busiest?
No prizes for guessing that officials in Rio have scheduled to replace 10 of the airport’s escalators the week of carnival, when half a million people are expected to come through the building.
(I am not making this up. See details in this morning’s Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.)
This struck me as too ridiculous to be true so I called Infraero – the body that runs the Galeao airport – and they confirmed the Folha story. Fourteen of the 58 escalators have already been replaced and they are replacing 10 more right now.
Why not wait a couple of weeks and do it after the carnival rush is over, I asked.
We are following the established timetable, the Infraero official replied.
Portuguese speakers might like this link, to O Globo columnist Artur Xexeo’s December column entitled: “The Worst Airport in the World.”
Almost a year ago I write a piece for Time magazine about how poor construction and Rio’s lack of oversight may have contributed to the tragic collapse of a building in the old centre that killed several people.
Mayor Eduardo Paes sarcastically attacked me for suggesting such things and local newspaper O Globo defended the city against outside criticism. (See my blog here.)
Well, today O Globo has a front page story about how the city’s buses can’t use the brand new bus lanes built for the Olympics because they are falling apart. (See O Globo’s picture below. Link to the story is here, in Portuguese.)
The BRT bus lanes were completed in the middle of last year and are one of Rio’s main public transport projects ahead of the 2016 Olympics.
Experts quoted in the story blame poor construction for the potholes and said it was probably done cheaply to save money, even though the costs of maintenance are much higher once completed.
It’s infuriating, not to say scandalous, that public money is so repeatedly wasted in this way.
As I wrote in the Christian Science Monitor last year, there is
“ongoing concern about construction and infrastructure in South America’s biggest nation – and the world’s sixth-biggest economy. Even at the highest levels, Brazil’s infrastructure projects are routinely late, poorly built or over budget, or all three.”
With the World Cup just 17 months away and host cities rushing to get stadiums and infrastructure projects completed those warnings are more and more salient.
The Guardian has this slideshow on the country’s top 10 beaches.
But the Huffington Post has a feature on the world’s most dangerous beaches and includes both Rio’s Copacabana and Boa Viagem in Recife on their list. The former because of crime and the latter because of the danger from sharks.
I like Trinidade from the Guardian pick (pictured above) but when I lived in Rio the beach I most liked to go to was Prainha. More for the view from the no frills restaurant overlooking the horseshoe bay than the beach itself. You could sit up there eating fried fish and watching the surfers. Lovely….
Great blog post on The Economist website today about Brazil’s planned $17 billion bullet train.
Brazil has been talking about this for years but plans have yet to get off the drawing board. No one wants to take on the challenge because they don’t think it’s an economically viable project.
The Economist piece takes a while to get to the point, which is this. And I quote:
“Most of Brazil’s roads are unpaved. Some important routes—including some interstate highways—are single-lane and extremely dangerous. Half the population is not connected to the sewage system. There are few (ordinary) commuter or freight rail lines, and they are mostly in very poor condition. Urban mass transport is grossly deficient: São Paulo, a metropolis of nearly 20m souls, has a mere 71km (44 miles) of metro, plus a few overland urban rail lines, which at peak hours are all terrifyingly overcrowded. It is so easy to think of a long list of more worthwhile infrastructure projects in Brazil that it is hard to understand why this one is not dismissed out of hand.”
I’d put it more succinctly:
The plan to spend at least 34 billion reais (and probably much more) on the bullet train is a classic example of Brazil’s delusions of grandeur. Brazil has hardly any rail system and yet wants to build a high speed train link. It has hardly any submarines and yet plans to build a nuclear sub. It has just published plans for its 4G network when its 3G doesn’t work properly.
Brazil should be concentrating on walking before it can run. It has taken laudable steps to reduce inequality but there is so much more to be done to make life liveable for the poorest sectors of society and those should take precedence over Pharaonic projects like a bullet train.
Why is it doing this? Who knows. It wants to be first world. It wants to show off. It wants to show it can. It’s not because it needs it.
So why do it? Not for consumers or passengers. As The Economist suggests, the number of passengers is likely to be half the government’s estimate and prices are likely to be double.
Who benefits? That one’s easier to answer. The same corrupt kleptocrats in the political class and their bosom buddies who run the construction companies.
One of the biggest complaints I hear from ordinary Brazilians is that foreigners associate Brazil with the same old stereotypical images. They blame the foreign press for selling those images abroad.
- Gringos think Brazil is either favelas, beaches or jungle.
- Gringos think all Brazilian women are sex maniacs in tiny bikinis.
- Gringos think everyone here spends their days playing football, dancing samba or lying on the beach.
I hardly need stress that those are grotesque cliches.
But it’s not the foreign press that perpetuate those stereotypes. It’s Brazilians themselves. In fact, Brazil makes a point of selling those images overseas.
The best example of that came in the Olympic closing ceremony, where Brazil was represented, and not unfairly, by a samba-ing bin man and dancing indians. The background was the promenade at Copacabana beach. Pele appeared.
I tweeted this at the time:
Nunca mais quero ouvir Brasileiro reclamando que gringo acha que Brazil ‘e so samba e carnaval e indio…
and got a huge response from Brazilians who seemed to agree.
(The tweet says: “I never again want to hear Brazilians complaining that gringos think Brazil is all about samba and carnival and indians.”)
Further cliches abound in a song released this week to celebrate Rio de Janeiro taking the Olympic mantle from London.
The song is called Os Deuses do Olimpo Visitam o Rio de Janeiro, or The Olympic Gods Visit Rio de Janeiro. It features many of the city’s best known musicians and some of its most famous personalities. (Although curiously, there are no sportsmen or women involved.)
The video is great, with amazing pictures of the city.
The problem is that it’s full of the same old cliches Brazilians say they hate. Samba. Favelas. Beaches. Christ the Redeemer. Football.
They chorus is even that tiresome phrase: Rio de Janeiro continua lindo, or Rio de Janeiro is still beautiful.
The point I want to make here is not that these cliches are untrue. Like all cliches, they have their roots in reality.
The point is that Brazilians can’t have it all ways. You either come up with some new ways to sell the city and the country or you accept that people are going to associate Brazil with samba, beaches, scantily clad dancers and kids playing football in favelas.
Personally, I think the strategy makes total sense. I don’t see the problem with concentrating on your strengths.
Rio’s favelas are iconic. The country’s football players are the best in the world. The beaches are beautiful. Samba and carnival are both spectacular and seductive. Christ and Sugarloaf are unbeatable postcard images. And who doesn’t find Brazilian women charming and attractive?
Enjoy these things, they are what make Brazil so unique.
Just relax and let the world will enjoy them too. And don’t blame me if gringos can’t see past them.
I’ve never been a huge fan of naming things after famous people and certainly not after politicians. (And don’t get me started on naming rights.)
In football, there are so few folks that are above reproach these days that to name a stadium or a stand after a player or a manager is inviting trouble.
Which makes you wonder why the Rio de Janeiro authorities even considered naming their Pan American Games stadium (seen in this picturesque snap below) after João Havelange, the former head of the CBF and FIFA and a member of the International Olympic Committee. All three institutions have long had a reputation of being rotten to the core.
Well, back in 2007 they did and it was appropriate in at least one respect. The João Havelange Olympic Stadium was supposed to cost 30 million reais and ended up costing 380 million. And even then it wasn’t built to high enough standards for FIFA to even consider using it as a venue in the 2014 World Cup.
So far, so FIFA and CBF and IOC.
Now, a week after Swiss prosecutors revealed that Havelange took bribes, there is a small but growing movement to change the stadium’s name.
Some people want to change the name of the stadium to Nilton Santos, the former Botafogo and Brazil full back, or João Saldanha, the former Brazil manager.
I am against them naming it after someone else for the reasons argued above. You’re always going to find someone opposed, even if there’s no suggestion Nilton Santos or João Saldanha has skeletons in his cupboard.
Most Cariocas already call the stadium the Engenhão, after the neighbourhood where it’s located. Why not just formalise that? The Engenhão stadium sounds good to me. And it avoids any controversy.
Typically, the Rio organising committee hasn’t commented on the affair. But they can’t be happy at the thought of the 2016 Olympic Games being held at a stadium named after a man the world knows is corrupt.
You have to think it’s only a matter of time before they make a subtle change. They’d be wise to do it sooner rather than later.
Every year Time lists its 100 Most Influential People In The World.
Time editors choose who makes the list and there are often heated, last-minute discussions over who makes the final cut and who gets bumped.
But the coolest thing about the list is how famous people write short essays about those chosen.
This year, Barack Obama writes about Warren Buffet, Bill Gates talks on Salman Khan, Mia Hamm lauds Lionel Messi and, ahem, Cristina Kirchner even writes about Dilma Rousseff.
We managed to convince Eduardo Paes to give us his opinions on Eike Batista and the Rio mayor wrote a lovely piece that captures their friendly relationship but most of all, their mutual love for Rio.
The whole list can be found here but here’s Paes’ ode to Eike:
“I have the best job in the world. I wake up every morning energized at the thought of running Rio de Janeiro, the most exciting city on the planet. Our beloved Cidade Maravilhosa(Marvelous City) is going through an extraordinary era of positive change and social development — and as one of its most treasured adopted sons, Eike Batista, 55, has helped us shape the renaissance. He might be Brazil’s richest man and the world’s seventh richest, bringing vital investment to our city from oil and mining, but his most valuable asset is his commitment to Rio’s legacy. In 2009 Eike bolstered our successful bid for the 2016 Olympics, and since then he has partnered with us on municipal projects like the cleanup of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon. His initiatives, besides helping fund a children’s hospital, include the revitalization of the city’s Marina da Glória, which will be home to the Olympic sailing events, and the establishment of Escola Social de Vôlei, a nonprofit organization that promotes social inclusion in the favelas through sports. Eike and I may not agree on which of us has the best job in the world, but one thing we certainly agree on is that Rio de Janeiro is the best place in the world.”
I don’t know all of the venues, but the ones I do know are the traditional places where big screens have been mounted to broadcast important games.
The Rio Fan Fest, for example, will be on Copacabana beach, the perfect place for fans without tickets to watch matches. It was there that I saw Brazil beat Germany 2-0 to win the 2002 World Cup on a big screen.
In Sao Paulo, the venue is the Vale do Anhagabau. That’s right in the middle of downtown and the place where many concerts are held. Corinthians held their centenary celebrations there last year and brought almost 100,000 people to the party.
Here is the full list:
1. Belo Horizonte – Praca da Estacaoo;
2. Brasília – Esplanada dos Ministerios;
3. Cuiaba – Parque de Exposicoes;
4. Curitiba – Parque Barigui;
5. Fortaleza – Praia de Iracema (Aterrao);
6. Manaus – Memorial Encontro das Aguas;
7. Natal – Praia do Forte;
8. Porto Alegre – Praça Glenio Perez;
9. Recife – Marco Zero;
10. Rio de Janeiro – Praia de Copacabana;
11. Salvador – Jardim de Alah;
12. Sao Paulo – Vale do Anhagabau
I was in Haiti and the Prime Minister came on the phone to vigorously deny a story peddled by his aides.
Even though I knew I was the victim of a trial balloon that went awry, I was still quite young and being shouted at by the Prime Minister freaked me out.
It felt particularly bad because the man at the other end of the line was the only Haitian politician I ever respected.
I realised I’d better develop a thick skin – and quick!
I recalled that story today after the Mayor of Rio slagged me off in this piece in O Globo. The Rio paper ran an article about my story in Time magazine that criticised the city for the lack of maintenance that helped bring about the building crash that cost 17 lives and the death of a man from an explosion in the city’s drains.
In response Eduardo Pães made the crass comment: “The Americans have been jealous since Chicago didn’t win the right to host the Olympics.”
Sometimes you know when the piece you’re writing will be controversial and prepare yourself for the backlash. But Pães’s reaction took me by surprise because my piece was so innocuous. It simply stated that:
“Two tragic events have underlined Rio’s need not just to invest in new hotels, venues and transportation but also to take drastic action to shore up the city’s crumbling infrastructure.”
Thankfully Cariocas understood and agreed. To my surprise, the comments that came after the story were mostly positive.
The vast majority agreed that the city needs more oversight and more investment in maintaining its infrastructure. And several people criticised Pães for his childish comments.
My thanks to them for understanding.