(Re)Making Cities: Urban Transformation and Sport Mega-Events in Brazil

On July 13th, Dr. Bryan Clift from the University of Bath’s Physical Cultural Studies Research Group and Dr. Thiago Allis from the Universidade de São Paulo organized an international colloquium titled “(Re)Making Cities: Urban Transformation and Sport Mega-Events in Brazil.”  The colloquium showcased much recent work concerning the critical study of physical culture.  Considering its timely topic with the upcoming 2016 Rio Olympics, Drs. Clift and Allis have been kind enough to write a short assessment of their colloquium and its significance to the critical study of urban transformation and sport mega-events.

The Colloquium’s program can be viewed here: Colloquium Booklet-2016

Dr. Clift can be reached via email at b.c.clift@bath.ac.uk and Dr. Allis at thiagoallis@usp.br.

Mega-events are no longer a novelty: Since the late 19th century, exhibitions have taken place in European and North-American emerging industrial cities, attracting hordes of visitors whilst projecting images of host cities to domestic and international audiences. However, over the last several decades such events – mainly of sporting and cultural varieties – have also become powerful communication strategies and opportunities to concentrate investment in urban redevelopment strategies with short and long term aims under the umbrella of a so-called ‘city marketing.’

As the FIFA World Cup and Summer Olympic Games have taken place in non-Western and emerging countries, new concerns have arisen: If tourism and urban improvement are benefits to be achieved, how do host cities cope with the antecedents of uneven socioeconomic development? Evictions, gentrification, inflation, corruption, etc., populate the list of side effects associated with planning the mega-event. Nevertheless, when Rio de Janeiro won the bid for the 2016 Olympic Games Brazil was emerging within a golden moment: The economy was booming, inflation came under control, the “new middle classes” began expanding, and then President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (popularly referred to as Lula) was respected as a leader worldwide. Yet, the perspectives and impacts of both events cannot be understood or assessed without closer, more critical examination of the host nation and its cities.

It is true that the sporting mega-events are a popular topic in academic circles leading up to a particular event, which is partially explained by the magnitude of the impact on host cities and countries. However, we do not always see opportunities for discussion with researchers presently involved in their studies and through different approaches, which brings forward different kinds of issues related to the realization of the events.

That was the key tenor of the colloquium, ‘(Re) Making Cities: Urban Transformation and Sport Mega-Events in Brazil,’ held at the University of Bath on 13 July 2016. Our purpose was to invite researchers and practioners whose focus lies on the ever-shifting developments of how sport mega-events in general – and Rio and Brazil in particular – can (re)make cities in social, political, economic, cultural, urban, and environmental terms.

With the support of the International Relations Office of the University of Bath, the meeting was co-organized by Bryan Clifft (University of Bath) and Thiago Allis (University of São Paulo)—itself a development of a partnership that began in 2015 during the workshop ‘Sport and Social Transformation in Brazil’ organized by Simone Fullagar (University of Bath) and Ricardo Uvinha (University of São Paulo). Our research backgrounds are fairly broad (physical cultural studies, urban studies, tourism, sociology, to name a few). In some ways, the areas from which we draw combine and enhance a variety of foci for understanding the numerous meanings of mega- events.

Approximately 20 proposals were submitted for the event, of which twelve were presented at the colloquium, involving authors from 10 institutions across Brazil, the UK, and the US, as well as a sports organization representative (UCFB Wembley). The attached programme for the colloquium provides further details on the event, authors, and presentations. [Link to programme attached via email…]

Although the colloquium did not purposefully set out to focus its attentions only on Rio de Janeiro, communications turned toward the city, which in early August will host the opening of the Summer Olympics. Presentations at the event were organized into three key themes: ‘Projected and contested legacies: Sport and urban issues’; ‘Building for a mega-event: Urban transformations and its impacts in Rio de Janeiro’; and ‘Urban policy and multi-level politics of mega-events in Brazil.’

A variety of approaches were brought into the examination of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the presence of the Games from scholars in sociology, political science, cultural studies, anthropology, and management. Ethnographic work featured in several presentations in specific areas of Rio, including Porto Maravilha, Vila Autodromo, and one across several favelas examining issues of slum tourism. A photographic approach was taken to the urban redevelopment of the city writ large. Critical textual analysis of structural processes—social, political, economic, spatial, and cultural dimensions—offered broad senses of the events unfolding by several people. Lastly, a historical framing of the city gave a strong substantive  account to changes in the city across the last several decades.

Brazil received a number of key sporting events over 10 years (Pan American Games in 2007; Confederations Cup in 2013, and World Cup in 2014, and the Olympic Games in 2016), with great emphasis on the city of Rio de Janeiro a a/the primary the host. In this sense, the Olympic Games in Brazil might indicate a kind of shift within the sporting mega-event circuit whereby countries seek multiple events simultaneously rather than a one-off moment.

Rio de Janeiro is a city famous worldwide for decades and, somehow, feeds the mystical of Brazilian imagery. Indeed it is a big urban agglomeration, with particular cultural and historical assets, but, and the recent sporting mega-events evince, it is also a melting pot for most of the problems that arise in emerging countries.

As presenters undoubtedly noted, Brazil is a country with a very significant social gap, the contrast between the sophistication of the arrangements for the games and the daily demands of the population is extensive. The opportunity to tackle local problems (urban infrastructure, incentives to sports, finance social improvements, environmental degradation, etc.) is real, but its outcomes are hard to deliver. One question on the minds of many, both at the colloquium and indeed well beyond, considered: Is it even possible to solve – or even alleviate – historical structural problems with the excuse of providing improvements for an event that lasts a few short weeks?


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