Athletes aren’t the only winners and losers of Brazil’s Olympic games

Amid Brazil’s financial and political turmoil, officials in Rio de Janeiro are scrambling to prepare for an influx of up to 500,000 tourists for the 2016 Olympic Games. Still on the to-do list: address fears about the Zika virus, finish construction on a subway line to the stadiums and crack down on the crime and human-trafficking rings that plague the city. On July 10, Rio police announced they had rescued eight minors forced to work as prostitutes at beaches near the main Olympic venues.

The connection between human trafficking and major sporting events is often overstated, or at least misunderstood. Displacement and economic exclusion remain the primary drivers behind sexual exploitation of children and vulnerable people. While the Olympics can exacerbate these problems—at least 4,120 families have reportedly been evicted from their homes because of the Games—the structural forces driving the sex trade predate the added scrutiny and well-meaning advocacy that accompany an international event. According to Unicef, there were about half a million child sex workers in Brazil in 2012.

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The temporary pressure to “clean up” the city for its moment in the global spotlight may in fact lead to further victimization. In the name of tightening security, police have forced homeless people into unsafe shelters and conducted “pacification operations” infavelas that advocacy groups say have resulted in human rights abuses. Long after the silvers and golds have been tallied, winners and losers of the host country’s Olympic gamble will remain. If these issues matter to the international community gathered to watch the Games, then they deserve sustained commitments, not just timely handwringing.

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Richard Booth
2 years ago
While I know that the Olympic Committee has specific standards by which this major athletic event is controlled, perhaps it is time to consider including a values piece in the criteria. For example, how impossible would it be to deny a nation the option of holding the Olympic Games if helpless people need to be displaced in order to do do? The games advertise that they bring the world together and that they promote peace, but separating people from their homes, however humble, is divisive and derisive. A more multi-dimensional scale of standards for allowing a country to host the games would seem to be in order. After all, all actions and all decisions have moral aspects associated with them. We may not wish to know how much of what Brazil appears to be doing has been done elsewhere before and what kinds of sacrifices have been considered necessary for "clean, peaceful, wholesome" games to occur. How many people have been "in the way" of the games such that they have been removed from the site of a nation's income-producing endeavor? Are the games really worth it? After all, they are simply games that purport to be penultimate elements of ersatz patriotism.

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