My Stupid Tweet About Rio

After I posted this tweet I was quietly rebuked by one of my twitter followers.  Amy Jade, a history student studying nineteenth-century Brazil, pointed me to Vincent Bevins‘s piece at The Awl: “You’re Complaining About the Olympics Wrong: How to Criticize the Game Without Sounding Stupid.”

We’re right in the middle of the phase that precedes most global sports mega-events: apocalyptic predictions and violent rejection. This usually gives way to a second phase, when the television show actually begins, everything goes mostly fine (fingers crossed here in Rio), and attention shifts to the sports. This first phase occurs in part because mainstream English-language reporters cast their eyes on places like South Africa, Russia, or Brazil, and find them unpleasantly strange and foreign, sometimes even poor. A bunch of journalists get there and find there’s not much else to do but repeatedly ask, “Wow, is this going to be a disaster?” But it also occurs because we know there are some real problems in the ways that these events are put on. Not only are many recent complaints overstated, they’re pointed in the wrong direction. Here’s a helpful guide to help you complain correctly:

First, avoid reproducing the basic, sensational, or anti-Brazil gripes. There are a great number of ways that Rio is a mess right now. But that’s not the same as saying the event itself, mostly vacuum-sealed far away from the city, will be a disaster, or that Rio shouldn’t have been given the thing. The reality may be closer to the opposite. Rio, a city quite capable of putting on big sporting and tourist events (see: the World Cup final in 2014, every Carnaval every year since forever) maybe could have chosen to skip this one.


Brazil can be criticized for broken Olympic promises, and the IOC can be criticized for its mode of operation, but to complain that Rio de Janeiro has problems in general — crime, poverty, disease, some logistical breakdowns — is tantamount to insisting the games should never happen in developing countries. One could make the argument that the Olympics don’t need to move around, or that they should only happen in the world’s best-run, safest countries, but that would go against whatever the official Olympic spirit is supposed to be these days.

Brazil is not a rich country, but it’s not poor either. It’s a very large country,roughly in the middle of world wealth rankings. But Brazil is also going through an unforeseen, once-in-a-generation catastrophic political and economic crisis. How will this affect the tourists!? Who fucking cares, say many Brazilians, very understandably. Brazil is not China or Russia, it is not a sports rival, and it is not a geopolitical enemy, it’s a nice, democratic country down on its luck right now, and journalists or tourists coming from the world’s richest countries are not fighting Latin American corruption by complaining about bad service or their hotels. Some things are just crappy here, that’s because life on Earth is crap in general, ugh, chill.

Read the rest here.  I’m glad Amy called my attention to it.  Thanks!

Edwin Rios has a similar piece at Mother Jones.