Once a symbol of hope and regeneration, the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is today little more than a dark and dilapidated shell. Its windows have been smashed. Its seats have been ripped out. Even the copper wires embedded in its walls have been plundered by desperate looters.
Unbelievably, the stadium was once a showpiece venue and the host of prestigious international fixtures, including the Olympic Games and the soccer World Cup Final. With a capacity of around 80,000, its galleries once thronged with spectators, but those days appear to be gone.
Moreover, the state of ruin now consuming the stadium – which was completed in 1950 and then refurbished for around $500 million in 2014 – is mirrored in other Olympic venues across the city. In fact, just six months after the 2016 Olympic Games, vast swathes of Brazil’s Olympic Park appear to be closed to the public and threatened by decay.
For example, the aquatic stadium, built for Olympic swimming events, was supposed to have been disassembled after the games and converted into two schools. However, six months on, it still stands empty and crumbling. Like the iconic Maracana Stadium, its present state is controversial and its future is unclear.
Meanwhile, the athletes’ village, built to accommodate visiting competitors, was supposed to have been sold off to the public as upscale luxury homes. Very few units have sold, however, owing to their prohibitive cost. In fact, most of the 8.5 million-square-foot residential development is as empty as a ghost town.
Moreover, the Olympic golf course, built at a cost of $20 million, is having difficulty recruiting new players. Part of the problem may be the high costs involved in maintaining world-class facilities. However, unless something changes, the course risks being abandoned or even paved over.
Finally, there is the Deodoro district in western Rio. Home to several Olympic venues, it was supposed to become a recreational quarter after the Games ended. However, city authorities have closed it pending a change of management. What the future holds for the project is unclear.
Meanwhile, the few locals who have visited the Olympic park recently seem alarmed by its condition. “It’s an abandonment,” one visitor, Wanderson Wygers, told O Globo, a local newspaper. “[It’s] a disregard for public money for the visitors who come here and want to see it used.”
Indeed, the final cost of Brazil’s Olympic Games is estimated to have been around $12 billion. And the subject of public finances is particularly sensitive right now because the Brazilian economy is in a recession. So, with the Olympic legacy an apparent failure, how many Brazilians are wondering if the expense was worth it?
“The legacy is incredibly poor,” Theresea Williamson, director of Catalytic Communities, an NGO that works in Rio’s slums, told the Australian Associated Press (AAP). “Just like the boom here was more intense because of the Olympics, now the fall is more intense because of the Olympics. Everybody here is suffering right now, of all incomes and all stripes and colors.”
In fact, the nation’s economic woes are the worst on record. Gross domestic product fell by 3.6 percent in 2016 and 3.8 percent in 2015. Public sector workers have suffered wage cuts of nearly a third. And dozens of cities are so overstretched that they’re unsure whether they’ll be staging carnival festivities in 2017.
“The word is out that the Olympics bring problems to your city,” Jules Boykoff, author of Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics, told USA Today in February 2017. “They bring great athletes, they bring a lot of excitement, they bring a sugar high. But that’s just empty calories and that’s eventually going to hit you. And that’s what we’re seeing now in Rio.”
Worse yet, allegations of corruption continue to haunt the Games. In late 2016, federal prosecutors arrested Sergio Cabral, who served as Rio’s governor from 2007 to 2014. He stands accused of heading a criminal cabal that accepted more than $60 million in bribes from construction firms. Furthermore, each of the five firms that were contracted to build the Olympic Park are under investigation for their alleged involvement in a separate price-fixing and bribery scandal.
In fact, the Rio Olympics has been a source of controversy from the outset. On the eve of the opening ceremony, thousands of protesters in Rio were dispersed by rubber bullets and tear gas. Perhaps the most contentious aspect of the Olympics, however, was the “social cleansing” of the city’s favelas.
According to Theresa Williamson, some 80,000 of the city’s poorest inhabitants found themselves evicted for the Games. “For the most part, they now live in worse situations than they did before,” she told the AAP. “And these were already the poor in a very unequal city.”
Predictably, there has been severe international criticism of Brazil’s handling of the Games. According to a report by the human rights NGO Amnesty International, the Rio Olympics left “a shady legacy of a city entrenched with marginalization and discrimination… and a record of human rights violations where violence remains part of the game.”
In fact, the Rio Olympics represent a failure on multiple levels, and Brazilians have every right to be angry. The Games were supposed to usher in economic prosperity and renewal. Instead, they’ve delivered poverty and division. The world enjoyed a party at Rio’s expense; now Rio must endure the hangover.
Of course, there have been some beneficial aspects to the Games, too. The most notable success story was the improvement of municipal transportation, albeit in well-to-do districts. “Those are the only legacies that you could claim are positive… Everything else is very negative,” Williamson told the AAP. “People are overwhelmingly not well.”
But despite such problems, the economic fortunes of Brazil as a whole do at least seem to be improving. In March 2017 the BBC noted that “there are some signs that this recession may be soon be over.” And with any luck, the nation’s economic recovery will be closely followed by the resolution of its corruption scandals.
Still, the future of sites such as the Macarana Stadium is unknown. Its pitch, once the scene of a World Cup soccer final, is today parched and worm-infested. And with an unpaid electricity bill of almost a million dollars, it’s unclear whether the arena will ever be revived.