Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

For Rio residents, Games are a tale of two cities

Copacabana Beach is an Olympic construction site. The beach volleyball venue is going up, broadcast studios rise on scaffolding above the sand and a mammoth tent is jammed with thousands of pricey souvenirs.

But there are few signs across town in crumbling, working-class areas that the Rio de Janeiro Olympics open in just a month.

Promises that hosting the Games would remake even Rio's most ramshackle neighborhoods have been eclipsed by myriad problems: security threats and soaring violence, the Zika virus, slow ticket sales, and water pollution in venues for sailing, rowing and distance swimming.

Hanging over it all is the impeachment trial of President Dilma Rousseff, expected to start days after the Olympics end.

"Where I live, we don't see changes like these," said Julia Alves, an 18-year-old student speaking in the city's renovated port area. She was among almost a dozen people asked by the Associated Press how the games would change the city — or individual lives — in interviews at the port, outside the Olympic Park and on the streets in a working-class neighborhood.

"They are things for foreigners," Alves added.

Rio's organizers have budgeted about $2 billion for operations. In addition, another $10 billion to $12 billion in public and private money is being spent on urban transportation projects driven by the Olympics.

Rio has installed new high-speed buses and a light-rail system to serve downtown. And there's a still-unfinished $3 billion subway extension to connect the upscale Copacabana and Ipanema beach areas with the suburb of Barra da Tijuca — site of the Olympic Park. It's unclear if the line will be running when the Games open on Aug. 5.

The public-works splurge has generated civic pride, suspicion and some anger.

"The Olympics are bringing an incomparable legacy, in regard to the changes in the city's infrastructure," said Marco Araujo, a 48-year-old badminton coach speaking outside the Olympic Park. "We are still working on these projects. But I think that once they are completed, these projects will benefit the population."

The Olympics touch mostly the wealthy areas of the city, where the real-estate market was booming until a few years ago. Rio's favelas, the city's infamous slums, feel only a ripple, underscoring the vast gap between the rich and poor — the white, brown and black — in a divided city.

Maria da Penha is bitter. Her home in a favela abutting the Olympic Park, known as Vila Autodromo, was demolished to make way for new construction.

"For me the Olympics were awful," said the 53-year-old, who led a yearlong eminent-domain battle against Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes. "They destroyed my life, my dream. I had my own house and I won't have it anymore."

Then she added: "But it (Olympics) is a very cool event. Brazilians are athletic. We like sports. I just didn't imagine that the Olympics in my country would be so expensive. The truth is I think my country was not prepared to host the Olympics. "

Raquel Oliveira, a 25-year-old publicist, spoke while waiting for a bus in front of the Olympic Park. She complained that bus routes have been changed, reportedly a security move to make it difficult for criminal gangs to access upscale areas.

"In reality, it didn't change for the best because a lot of bus lines got cut," she said. "I have to wait for hours and I live in front of the Olympic Park."

Wolfgang Maennig, an Olympic gold-medal rower who studies the economics of the games at Hamburg University, said the Olympics usually produce a "feel-good factor" when they get going. But he was unsure about Rio.

"For 17 days, it's normally a honeymoon," he said. "But you never know what will happen in the case of Rio. "

Gustavo Nascimento, Rio's venue management director, promises everything will be ready. He said a massive cleanup of the venues is set for July 15, and athletes are to have access to the venues on July 24. He also said ticket sales are slow.

"There are still tickets available, very, very high-quality tickets," he said.

About 10,500 athletes and up to 500,000 foreigner visitors are expected for the games.

Few will see the real Rio, where the poor are being pummeled by Brazil's worst recession since the 1930s, soaring crime and unemployment over 10 percent. Most can't afford an Olympic ticket.

Australia and several countries have instructed their athletes to stay away from favelas.

Mayor Paes, who initially bragged about using the games to push pet projects, has backed away from those promises.

"You can't expect the Olympics to solve all the social problems here," he said. "We are not a city like London or Chicago. You can't expect as much from us."

Oliver Stuenkel, who teaches international relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation — a Brazilian university — said the Games could provide Brazil with "greater legitimacy."

"It puts you on the map, and if you're doing well, it could have a tremendously positive impact. But it will require a lot to compensate for the negative press that is inevitably going to be out before, during and after the Olympics."

Brazilians are also wary of public works, which typically produce only embezzlement and empty promises.

"People are not against the Olympics," Stuenkel said, "but most people I know are indifferent to the event, or at least very, very skeptical that it will have any tangible effect beyond simply short-term visibility."

And now, this ...

Crime. Zika. Pollution. What's next? Cue the "super bacteria." Brazilian scientists say a drug-resistant bacteria was found along the coast of popular beaches including Flamengo and Botafogo, both of which are near Guanabara Bay, where Olympic sailors compete next month. "These bacteria should not be present in these waters," Renata Picao, of Rio's federal university, told Scientific American. "I wouldn't say to change the venues because we don't know the risks yet. We are making this alert because ... there is a chance this bacteria is multi-resistant and the physicians should know." Picao said the bacteria made its way into the bay and other waterways via raw sewage. — tbt* news services

For Rio residents, Games are a tale of two cities 07/05/16 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 5, 2016 7:19pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs-Jaguars: Five things to watch Thursday in Jacksonville


    JACKSONVILLE — The Bucs have their second preseason game here Thursday against the Jaguars, and here are five things to keep an eye on as Tampa Bay moves closer to paring its roster from 90 players to 53 by Sept. 3.


    Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) participates in training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. We knew Aguayo was a goner, and 'Hard Knocks' still delivers


    Tuesday night's second installment of Hard Knocks, the HBO show that is going behind the scenes at training camp with the Bucs, had plenty of interesting tidbits, revelations and insights.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo (19) kicks during training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  3. For starters: Rays at Jays, looking for some carryover


    The six runs and 13 hits the Rays posted on Tuesday were a positive, but the true test if they are out of their historically bad hitting slump will come tonight and in the coming days as they try to build on their success.

    "Hopefully,'' manager Kevin Cash said after Tuesday's 6-4 win, "there is a …

    Daniel Robertson is expected to make a third straight start tonight, likely at shortstop.
  4. What you might have missed in the second episode of the Bucs on 'Hard Knocks'


    We're back for another episode of The Annotated Hard Knocks, trying to find behind-the-scenes insights and things you might have missed in Tuesday's second episode of "Hard Knocks," following the Bucs in …

    As the crowd recognized him and got loud, Jameis Winston jumped up and down in celebration. [GREG AUMAN | Times]
  5. Why Noah Spence could be the Bucs' X-factor


    JACKSONVILLE — Noah Spence crouched in a four-point stance, bending low like a sprinter in starting blocks. At the snap, he took one step to his right, startling Jaguars left tackle Josh Wells with his explosiveness. Wells went for the move and Spence countered with an inside swim move, flying past Wells' right …

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Noah Spence (57) participates in training camp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Aug. 2, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times