Sam Dumitriu, head of projects at the Adam Smith Institute, says Yes.
It’s bad enough when wealthy countries are plunged into debt to fund sporting events that offer, at best, a short-term boost to tourism. It’s much, much worse when those countries are grappling with high levels of poverty and a public health crisis. Supposed economic benefits are often massively overstated, failing to take account of the spending they displace. Tightfisted sports fans typically spent just $15 per day at the Atlanta Olympics, much less than the $100 a day that tourists normally spend. Even then, very rarely do they come close to covering the eye-watering costs. The 2004 Summer Games left Athens with an overall loss of $15bn, contributing to the debt crisis that plagues Greece to this day. Brazil, of course, already knows this. In 2014 it spent a record $11bn on hosting the Fifa World Cup and received little in return. In fact, in the summer months after the tournament finished, spending by foreign citizens actually fell compared to the year before. Brazil has enough problems already. Hosting the Olympics seemed like a bad idea when its bid won in 2008. Now it looks disastrous.
Professor Anthony W Pereira, director of the Brazil Institute at King’s College London, says No.
The Olympics have many problems. They are dominated by corporations that use sport to market their brands. The International Olympic Committee requires host cities to spend billions of pounds on sports infrastructure, when this money could be better spent on education, healthcare, public transportation, and other services that would improve the lives of local residents. However, to argue that it was a mistake to hold the Games in Brazil because it is an emerging market is patronising and creates a double standard. Rio is a very unequal city, with lots of poverty, but so is London, host of the 2012 Olympics. Objections about misspending and skewed priorities could have been made here. In addition, the stereotype that Brazil cannot organise a major sporting event was belied by the country’s successful hosting of the 2014 World Cup. Brazil’s governments (federal and the state and city of Rio) are committed to making the 2016 Games a success. There is no reason to think that they won’t be.