It’s 2016 and I’m praying for Rio. The blessing of being rewarded with an Olympics has tended to be a rather hefty cross for many of the recipients in recent and distant recollections. From the financial haul of the 76 Games for the citizens of Montreal to the even bigger economic nightmare for Athens in ’04 being awarded the rights to stage the greatest sporting fete on Earth can leave one to wonder about “the genuine worth” and legacy of it all. After all, when your two weeks of pomp and glorie are up what remains may be nothing short of a meaningless “white elephant” if not ceased upon with well-constructed initiative.
Of course some things are beyond ones control. How many a Canadian would have wished that our obstinate efforts to persist in sporting ties with apartheid South Africa would not have contributed to the boycotting of their moment in the opulent Olympic spotlight by 20 plus understandably enraged African states. Or the lopsided medal tallies as the Cold War giants took time to snub each other’s Games in the early 1980s. Or in what I call the ‘Magical Games’ in 92 in Barcelona (my favourite Games of all) that Spanish feel good vibe shining through as it heralded in a new era well past the Dark dictatorial days of Franco and fascism.
As ‘the Wall’ fell and the tyranny with it, a rarely seen solidified Spain at the dawn of a new period as a progressive member of the freshly formed European Union symbolised a promising future for what had been, like Greece, a certainly backwards form of existence. Unlike the aspirational Europeans whose Greek gifting fittingly returned the Games to its rightful birthplace while rejoicing the further Eastward ‘push’ an expansion of the EU juggernaut against that ever nervy Russian tide the USA seemed almost bamboozled about their turn to have another crack at staging the event in 96.
Perhaps with the intent of boosting the regions standing at a time of financial incertitude the Atlanta Affair was as lacklustre and lamentable as they come. It was truly a forgettable festival with flair and frivolity in complete and utter absentia. What was America thinking honestly? How could the world’s greatest and sole Superpower produce such an inferior passionless product after the magnanimous delights of LA (even if the Russians were nowhere to be seen)?
Being a bit of Anglophile, the UK staging was always going to capture a significant part of my heart (though not quite as much as the Spanish one surprisingly). Every ceremony was truly a polished and well scripted scene with the Best of Britain emphatically shining through winning the hearts and minds of all present. Who could ever forget seeing the Queen parachuting her way down into the memorable ambience which lay before us like a well laid out buffet smorgasbord. It seemed that every national I stumbled upon were stashing pennies away to go contiki in London. After the tumultuous global financial crash, the meritocracy of such a sublime staging is a credit to the will and commitment displayed by the British.
Even Games which may have initially left me dubiously doubting seemed to escape the severest of my scorn. Rudimental as it was, the Soviet Games nonetheless would be like one of those papers you receive which you are unsure whether to give a C or a slightly more generous C+. Either way, while not spectacular it was nonetheless not atrociously awful upon fleeting reflections.
However, what perhaps gave me at least the greatest shock was electing to host the Games in China. While this may stun some shocked and eyebrow tilted Millennials and Echo boomers one needs to see this from my ageing Generation X ocular perspective. While knowledge of China’s economic valour, power and prestige is as recognised a fact as the Earth orbiting the Sun back in my infancy such an idea was almost “inconceivable”.
If you had told me about the Reunification of Germany, the end of the USSR, bye bye Yugoslavia, the economic tumbling of Japan and the rise of the BRICS I would have probably have thought that you were completely potty. China giving money to Americans what have you been puffing on? And yet, for the first real moment in Olympic history the Games were staged outside of the traditional economic bastions of Europe, North America and Japan.
This shake up was a refreshing change from the Olympic hegemon nations that sought to govern the Games. Yes, I hear you chirp let’s not forget those Aussies but in all honesty and if truth be told few would have doubted the Lucky Country’s ability to stage such a fittingly fabulous and flamboyant festivity. That Land Downunder an affluent stable and economically prosperous ‘European’ cocktail nation was always a sound bet for the International Olympic Committee to gift the games.
On the flipside, to see the side of another society rarely seen in a world which still continues to be dominated by European voices and perspectives was undoubtedly a breath of fresh air and I long for the day when another rising state can replicate the success which was the China side to the story. How wonderful would it be if we could one day witness the jubilation of an event hosted by the Indians, Mexicans, Turks or an African state?
Of course, the 08 Chinese Games did not come without its fair share of scepticism and criticism. Indeed, the world, especially those Old World powers had a field day of Sino bashing taking a daily swipe at the emerging giant Pandas project. As in the case of the Soviet Games, fears abounded over China’s reliability and repute to stage such a ceremony. From human rights concerns to pollution to the soundness and certifiability of food and hygiene standards China largely excelled at laying a number of fears to rest. The beauty of the Games was that it afforded China to self-evaluate and be evaluated by others.
Naturally, external critiques can be unflattering and indeed undesirable but it is often through the lenses of others that we are able to see the flaws which we are unable to see through our own clouded visions. These observations, as critical or even cynical, as they may have been not only facilitated China’s ambitions to host a healthy Games but also to implement proactive steps for the betterment of its own citizens post Games. To pull off a memorable occasion that mimics the Asian Giants powerhouse performance maybe asking for a stretch of the imagination.
The Brazilians, in spite of their commendable growth, should not set itself out to be a China, UK or USA. Instead it should be a fusion of the formidable forays of the events staged by the lesser cash blessed hosts. Like Australia, Brazil is perceived to be the sports utopia of South America and in past and recent times have triumphantly been a bastion for pursuits of all shapes and forms. Beyond the obsessive craze which football holds over the Brazilian psyche, this is a nation which excels in other international leisures and holds a reputable reputation in activities ranging from basketball, volleyball, motor racing, martial arts to name but a few of this diverse nations passionate participation in a plethora of pleasurable practices.
Furthermore, Brazil have proven capable hosts before in their budding sporting history. At the closure of the recent World Cup, it was noted that the perception towards Brazilian conduct during the tournament was given a surging boost by an international jury even after the heartbroken hosts were humiliatingly sent packing. Feverish football fanatics had nothing but largely positive praise to heap upon their hospitable hosts.
While positive proactivism is a priority in propelling the potential of the Brazil and it’s legacy through this Golden Opportunity, a presentable polished Games will leave Brazil with a great to gain, foreign critic chipping at the performance aside.
As a marketable ‘cultural badge of identifiable recognisability’ Brazil has a fantastic generic image with worldwide street appeal. In contrast to many of its other South American neighbours, the national make up tends to carry a romantic charge and is not as politically stained as some of its other neighbours. This window of opportunity offers the rising nation was a glorious additional chance to further boost its progressive and evolving image and maybe even clear up a few unwarranted or undesirables myths along the way.
Perhaps above all else, Brazil needs to market this as a “South American” games project which would be a shrewd and smart witted way to win the hearts and minds of its Latin American neighbours continental compadres. A future of a strong, solidified and soaring South America equals a strong a sumptuous scenario for Brazil’s own gregariously gargantuan growth.
We have sadly all seen how the situation of an ascending Latin American economy have been hampered by that one Sick Man of The South trying to keep their head above the solvency water mark. South America is counting on strong regional giants and Brazil represents such a great hope which will bring an uplifting contagion of prosperity and hope to the geopolitical region and its future fruition.
Emblematically, maybe the reason why I have my fingers so firmly crossed for the Brazilians is because I want to see another Barcelona this 2016. In my eyes at least, Brazil is a metaphor for the Spanish Games which were traditionally and historically hosted by its more stable and solvent Northern European neighbours. A loud mouthed Vermont roommate shakes his head at me. “Really, I think it’s gonna be a massacre. I just hope we (the USA) cleans up on the medal table”. I yearn to tell him that Atlanta was as forgettable a farce as they come but I elect to place my charm offensive diplomacy of silence first.
Brazil, its people and its neighbours are nervous and rightfully they should be. This is a momentous occasion for all of them an unprecedented event never staged on the continent before. Not even affluent nations such as my sport living and breathing New Zealand has had the audacious cojones to stage this beast of beast events. Is Brazil a fool? Maybe but dear God how I’m a sucker for a brave courageous Brazil nut. Indeed, Brazil has a point to prove and damn it I hope they do just that. Nor should it shun away from the spotlight where it finds itself standing precariously under.
Opinions will fly from flapping Northern lips, comparisons will be made and haters are just gonna hate. That will happen as it always has happened throughout history. The true value of the Olympic Mission for the Brazilians is that it will be a great time of learning and development for the organisers. Brazil will undeniably benefit from taking the constructive criticism and producing realistic results. Yes, it would be wonderful to see the total collapse of all favela dwelling peoples as these people become buoyantly bountiful bourgeoisie overnight but such expectations are just farfetched.
The Games can be an initiator to implementing the baby steps required to ameliorate the Brazilian social condition over a measurable passage of time. In the meantime, it grants the government with an ideal position to tackle the crime matter which has often hindered the social stigma attached to Brazilian society. A focus on cleaning up, law and order wise, and to heavily investing in policing is vital towards leaving a good time enduring legacy which is meaningful to the people of Brazil.
Previous Games, in that sense, while initially critiqued, have worked sociocultural and environmental wonders for the recipients of the concourse. To give you one instance I turn to a city which I know well and truly, my home town of Christchurch in the South Island of New Zealand. In ’74 we were awarded the Commonwealth Games and the way in which the event radically transformed the city for the better was remarkable. Admittedly this was not an Olympics but these Games still needed to cater for many many nationals.
Of course, the staging of the Games, ceremonial speaking may not have held the pomp and trimmings of other more affluent former Imperial centres. Nevertheless, sometimes the most memorable occasions come in forms we least expect. While the goliaths of England, Australia and Canada tend to hog the game limelight by far my most unforgettable Commonwealth Games was the one recently hosted in Glasgow.
Scotland, that often undervalued little brother that made Great Britain great blew me away with its vibrant and witty allure and had my Scottish ancestry fizzing with delight. It came at a time when Scotland was very much in the headlines and had many convinced that this once little cap of the English gentleman of the South could seriously carry its own pride identity without the need of those pompous Poms. Who would be next to follow? The Welsh, Northern Irish, Cornwall, Wiltshire? Indeed sport has a funny way to twist the heartstrings.
As poor little old New Zealand sought to play medal wars with its other White Settler Siblings the tiny island state of Kiribati captured even the most parochial patriotic of Kiwi patriots when the tiny Pacific island celebrated a first Commonwealth Games medal after David Katoatau won gold in weightlifting. We had to settle for silver, but the moment was pure gold!
No you do not need to be a big gun like those apologetic Canadians, extroverted Aussies or inward minded English to create a stirring symphony of scintillating sporting sounds that will transcend across time and space etching itself forever on the hearts and minds of all who partake in the banquet.
Every Games carries its own distinctive kind of charms as did our effort here in the Garden City of Christchurch. As awareness of the city as a gateway to the South Island playground grew so did the airfares that expanded to the South. Who wanted to go to the boring North when you could take a detour to the Sizzling South. The Northerners cursed our luck. But apart from lifting our international appeal this job brought economic growth to the region and settlers with it. In a nation where wealth and numbers have tended to flow North this was a reversal of the common trend. Employment opened up in abundance and hordes swamped in to soak up the South and the Southern fair. This was a rare glowing period for us South Islanders which we lapped up. For the government, offering the Games to the South had won back the goodwill of the Southerners and proven that life did exist past the base of Wellington at the bottom of the North Island.
Brazil, could take a very valuable leaf from the New Zealand notebook and learn to market itself beyond the well-known Big Smoke centres of Rio and Sao Paolo. There is more to a nation than just its capital and big centres. In the 74 Games Christchurch made sure that the whole South Island profited through the two week parade. Soon guests returned home talking about peripheral delights such as the ex-French settlement of Akaroa, the wild wild West Coast, the whale and dolphin filled Kaikoura coastline and the thermal treat of Hanmer Springs.
Perhaps, more than Christchurch itself the greatest victor of our Games is that place synonymous with that Kiwi daring the adventure capital of the World and our own distinctive little piece of paradise the small centre of Queenstown. While never having set foot on Brazil I am certain that there is a Queenstown waiting to be found or perhaps which only the Brazilians know of its existence. I believe it’s time that they disclosed this secret Eden with the rest of us.
To Brazil’s advantageous fortune, it has a location to the North and the Global South which is far more advantageously accessible than is the case of getting to New Zealand. In spite of this, if the will to set one’s sights on venturing to a site is established this volition is almost impossible to quash nor quell. Gracias to the Commonwealth Games of 74 the South Island prospered, grew and flourished. Roading and communications along with transport was one way in how the collective benefited.
However, at the environmental level as more and more sought to soak up our surroundings greater capital was allocated to the environment and conservation. Our wetlands, forests and sea shores received significant sums of state funding as we tried to uphold our image of a pristine paradise. All this while striving to ensure that our nation parks continued to be visited by outsiders with their hearts set on spotting a moa (we can be a charmingly deceitful bunch at times). But what is a society without the splendour of its quirks and mythological banter and fables? The Greeks had them as do us Kiwis and assuredly the Brazilians.
The 70s was an epic epoch for tree hugging, sand dune replanting, naturism and nudism (umm a pro I suppose), bird protection and an accelerating awareness of the impact which humans were tolling upon their environment. It was also the era that saw the birth of our Green party and a whole shift on our attitude towards the ‘New Right and capitalism’ (but that’s another story, folks).
The point is that Games have the power to evoke powerful and altering socio political and environmental shifts. Making us conscious about things we once barely gave an iota of thought towards. Brazil has similar pressing concerns which it cannot refute. These must be confronted and the sooner the better. They need not be bashful for we shared these blemishes. Water treatment being one such prominent case.
The Games, above all can be a catalyst for inspiring sociocultural change and advance. Pointing again to the Christchurch case, the Games stimulated suburban development contributing to affordable housing for people in the city’s poorer Eastern suburbs. The Olympic Games are more than just a 2 week hurrah project for the ego of Brazil’s political elite. The event must go past the sporting fixtures and encompass a post Olympics plan.
Such examples include the post Sydney Olympic Games which employed its facilities under the Australian Institute of Sports to develop Australia’s next generation of All Stars. The main stadium, now recognised as Stadium Australia, has gone from being an Olympic relic to a stadium of international standing for football, rugby and other code fixtures. The stadium is booked annually and is even reserved for concerts, exhibitions and other non-sports related purposes. The Malay Games (Commonwealth) of 98 was also a way to boost the nation’s activism in other previously less partaken in pursuits such as squash. Brazil can take valuable steps to ensure that their infrastructure past the puffing out of the torch does not end up as a meaningless decaying and cobweb covered white elephant.
Returning back to Christchurch (I apologise for this pendulum which I have you swinging upon) the stadium and facilities after the Games were tactfully and tastefully turned into a resplendent recreational hub which invaluably contributed to the objective of lifting health and fitness in the oft neglected Eastern side of the city. Its intention was to elevate and expand the amount of choice available to the residents especially stationed on that side of the city.
This strategy was a resounding success as such diverse diversions including Australian Football, lacrosse, underwater hockey, korfball, Gaelic Football were offered and devoured by a fitness frenzied Eastern public. Making health inducing activities affordable and accessible for the cities less affluent and amenity resource deficient lower socio economic status was a priority for the council many also contending with the staggering statistics that this tended to be the unhealthier side of the village. With figures pointing to high rates of diabetes, obesity and cardiac diseases, action needed to be taken. Supplementary to these preoccupations was the fact that these Eastern blocks tended to be populated by large numbers of indigenous Maori and Pacific Islanders who tended to underestimate the worth of investing in their health.
Comparably, Brazil shares similar concerns regarding the inequality of coloured neighbourhoods against their more economically secure whiter counterparts. The living standard between these two contrasting worlds is a rueful paradox and tangible reminder of socioethnic injustices. This is where the Games may be able to bring forth positive change in these horrid social disadvantages.
At the closure of the Christchurch Games, a deal was worked out between councillors and Eastern school boards to work out ways in which the sporting infrastructure and how other Games apparatuses could be deployed to not only lift the health of students in the Eastern suburbs but also help to tackle the violence and drug culture which ran rampantly feral throughout this impoverished part of the city.
The reformation was remarkable. Rather than forcing kids in these areas to focus on the traditional R’s of a classical education, making many feel angry, insecure and unintelligent (especially when one was forced to study British Imperial history) schools swung towards instilling these kids with positive virtues by way of the power of sports and health and fitness. For the less traditionalist in nature the option to take health science, nutrition, well-being and development studies gave these pupils a chance to follow a vocation which they could positively exert their energy into persevering. The by-product of this educational shift was an uplifting shift in the value Eastern children began to take towards education and the ambition to obtain a meaningful lifelong career.
An additional pro for all was that this movement lead to a surge in the number of athletic stars who began to emerge from the East. Sports pros who would go on to represent their Provence and state to the highest conceivable levels in sports ranging from rugby, netball to basketball.
Just imagine how such a facility could benefit Brazil’s next wave of junior sports elites. At the same time, this shift towards a “nurturing” culture where the state sought to facilitate “families” the Games brought on a wave of communal assets raised to serve both the individual and the community’s needs. Creches, kindergartens, the refurbishment of the old tired hospital and other communal facilities were some of the spectacular spinoffs which came at the conclusion of the Games.
Yes, NZ did not want the world to see that it had a “poverty problem” one could argue but either way the duty to raise the poor’s spirits was raised nonetheless. Of course, grooming the East to make it eye catching and fetching for businesses, shops and industry was part of the State promised package and on the whole the economic mood and ambience of the territory was aided in this cause. As such, communal strength and pride in these assets surged the ego and had Eastern hearts pleasingly pounding.
What also satisfyingly unfolded was an increase in the social melting pot as more citizens of “Caucasian” decent no longer felt as if they must compel themselves to pluck up the courage to enter the East. They just did. As the East expanded and evolved its uniqueness as a distinctive character unto itself allured people of European descent who normally might have avoided the domain. Cheap housing, plenty of services, good entertainment and recreational hubs compelled people to buy first homes or retirement homes. They shifted there almost in droves. As the pilgrimage proceeded, the arts and cultural societies in the East got a sublime cash shot on the arm and the beautiful arts, dance and performance flourished. Where once a car or a purse was an item that was potentially stolen now legitimate enterprises found ingenious ways to have shoppers departing with their dispensable income. Brazil’s struggling communities could be the benefactors of such well thought out social planning and smart resource management.
While some scornful sceptics still sourly downplay the meritocracy of the 74 Games in Christchurch I’d say that they would be the party pooping killjoys of the pack. The Games worked wonders for our backyard dated little colonial outpost turning us from naive children into thoughtful adults. We matured greatly. Hotels cinemas, and redevelopment of the city was required in order to accommodate the migrant rush.
In conjunction with the changing of the times education needed to reform to keep up with this change in pace. The small university was shifted to allow space for a grander campus which now paid respect to the need for skilled professionals. The popularity and papers offered by our polytechnics also evolved to meet the new tech era it found itself entering. The urgent and immediate need for skilled individuals including engineers, scientists mathematicians and computer technicians saw education sway away from the historic prominence of the humanities towards a seemingly sci-fi techy future where STEM subjects ruled (science, technology, engineering, maths). The complete modernisation of the city required traffic management systems, road transport specialists, town and infrastructural planners, architects, electrical engineers and a host of other trade artisans.
As quaint Christchurch gradually began to be gulped up by the colossal new concrete and bitumen jungle which replaced it, the realisation that our city would never be the same again was becoming a clear realisation for all spectators present to the overhaul. As Christchurch grew north, south, “east” and west the city needed to tailor itself for these new arrivals. A more populous city necessitated more teachers, more schools, more parks, more cinemas, more video stores, more delis, butchers bakers, hairdressers, barbers, beauticians and so on. Alternatively, many of the people entering the city brought in the trades, knowledge and professions which this burgeoning city so desperately sought.
Suburbs such as the Eastern ones were designed with the desire to elevate communal values in mind while promoting the security that this space would recreationally educationally, medically, vocationally, socially and spiritually serve the community. Halls were built, churches erected and club rooms were established to show this good faith to cater for a city at the cusp of a resoundingly rare period in its history when people and resources were heading south as opposed to North. Builders and trade people and those in the service sectors contributed to the population growth.
Over time, the city felt obligated and compelled to bring down the east west Wall and other polarities which divided the wealthy west from eking east. These numbers brought benefits and beyond tourism the hospitality and the catering industries boomed. Goodbye to the tea rooms as our tastes broadened as the cafe and exotic food revolution began to take hold of the Christchurch citizens’ imaginative.
Never had times been so enthrallingly fast paced and thrilling. Small mercantile enterprises sprung up like mushrooms across the city to placate the needs of the diverse human avalanche which descended upon the city. Information bureaus, travel agencies, rental vehicle corporations, merchandise and tourist shops, clothing retailers and all kinds of gift shops sought to sell “the New Christchurch experience” to all who landed. From honey to possum gloves, rabbit fur socks to Lamb burgers.
The myths which make us who we are as a people greatly unravelled during this truly funky decade. When taxis boomed, discos emerged, dance clubs throbbed, karaoke was pumping and when our desire for exotic drinks sky rocketed. Our guest were pleased but not as much as we understandably were.
Yet, as one councillor recently remarked we have to be careful when it comes to over applauding our efforts and the opening of our first McDohs and K-Fry. In this observers opinion the “DARK” Christchurch East still might be regarded as a “cappuccino culture” where a coloured majority live under a white frothy minority with a few choc (coloured) sprinkles garnishing the top.”
In essence, my Chch East still is undeniably a highly unequal society where high levels of unemployment, family violence, individual and Collective malnutrition, struggling solo mothers and severe cases of depression and suicide reign with force. A far from perfect paradise where many unfortunately positioned kids on the hierarchical ladder still engage in high volumes of violence and truancy failing to break the Chain of Injustice which shackled their parents and previous generations.
This could be Brazil that I’m gabbing on about but no this is first world New Zealand. A society where large numbers of youth continue to fail to get an applicable and appropriate form of education, where young pregnancies and disease are persistently pressing peril and where the risk of early fatalities through binge drinking, drugs car fatalities and gang violence swindle the future away from our misguided and impressionable adolescents.
Problems with police have fortunately improved over recent years as police get involved with young youth offenders while they encourage kids not to smoke or engage in criminal follies while promoting a good salubrious life through practising a kind of “muscular Christianity” fusing faith with fitness. And this powerful concoction does work.
Money and energy directed into health past the Games in Christchurch gave rise to the beginning of the end of the “shut up and harden up culture” which long haunted our austere frontier society. Societies now exist to help victimised women, suffering children and financially struggling families. Rather than enduring and accepting pain, the encouraging of people to embrace their problems saw the rise of several medical facilitators in the city including physiotherapists, psychologists, herbalists, optometrists and many other forms of practitioners.
A city can only blossom if it is rid of its ailments rather than trying to conceal them while making believe that they are unreal. Brazil can certainly cure or at least better itself in many respects. In the case of Spain, this post Franco nation went from regional ridicule to one of right worthy respect. Departing decades of deplorable decay it found itself at a new crossroad one of progress modernisation and glowing potential.
Let us not forget that Spain is the 3rd biggest visited tourist nation on Earth, has the 2nd fastest railway on the planet after china and was one of the European Union’s fastest developing 2nd tier states.
Yes, Spain still is far from perfect but the Games showed that the country was committed to its convictions. Brazil has the capacity to achieve similarly formidable results and I for one can’t wait to see how South Americans rally behind their Brazilian brothers and sisters. Boa sorte, Brazil!