One year ago this week the 2016 Rio Olympics began. Sadly for many of the city’s poorer people – especially the young – what should have been a joyous celebration came at a terrible cost. Throughout this week, in a series of articles, Children Win will speak to some of the people whose lives were changed forever by the 2016 Rio Olympics.
In this article, we speak to Gabriel Reis who, at the age of 17, was the first person arrested at the Olympics for protesting peacefully. He says: “If everything happened again, I would be there again, protesting against these Games that continue to be the ‘Exclusion Games’ after one year.”
Terre des Hommes: It’s now one year since the start of the Rio Olympics. Tell us how the Games specifically changed your life?
Gabriel Reis: I was the first person arrested during the Olympics, and I won a legal case that didn’t lead to a resolution. The city and the state of Rio are in chaos. Public clinics are closed, the army is occupying the streets, there is a high crime rate, and the whole process remains murky. I don’t know what it’s going to lead to next.
It’s been one year since the opening of the Olympics. What brought me to protest was indignation with the Games. The city of Rio was living through moments that were not good. Shortly beforehand, a state of fiscal calamity had been declared. We know that the city and state were not doing well, that they were bankrupt. But even so, they carried out a mega event that pushed many people from their homes and led to an ethical and urban cleaning in some favelas, where there was massive help from the police to appease them. The pacification police for the World Cup and the Olympics had the objective to maintain peace – or, really, to silence the people who live there, who are always criminalized and marginalized. So it gives me a feeling of indignation, and if everything happened again, I would be there again, protesting against these Games that continue being the ‘Exclusion Games’ after one year.
TDH: Tell us about what has happened since the Games. Do you feel any questions have been answered, or issues resolved?
GR: There was no resolution of my case, and I was able to enter into two universities. One is a private university, Unisuam in Bonsucesso, where I’m studying history and I’m finishing the first semester. I also was accepted into the program to study Portuguese and French literature at the State University of Rio. But because of budgetary crisis in that university, I don’t know when I’m going to start. With the way things are going for the university, people don’t know if it’s actually going to start because the federal funding didn’t arrive. So I live in this a place of uncertainty.
TDH: What would you say to the IOC when they say there has been a positive legacy for Rio?
GR: What I’d say to the IOC is that in our city, there was no legacy. It moved families from some regions of the city, and created a police state that controlled people from favelas. The Games injected lots of money into our society, but this money didn’t go into the hands of who should have it and who should have rights – which is the citizens, who didn’t see the money reaching their hands. There was some revitalizing in some areas… but it was a small part of the city. In low-income neighborhoods, there was no revitalization. Public work there did not proceed in an adequate way. We have the light railway in the city center, which wasn’t a significant improvement for the population. It’s a vehicle that goes 20km per hour in between roads that are all bottlenecks, and causes more traffic in the city, in my view. It’s just a white elephant, like the stadiums that are still closed.
There should be benefits to the population, but there aren’t any. A velodrome that is air-conditioned and cost millions. The citizens should have the legacy and should have the benefit, after a mega event, but they had no response. All of this money that was injected in the city of Rio, we don’t know well where it went. We see our mayor closing clinics. It’s a very bizarre situation.
TDH: What would you say to future host cities of the Games?
GR: The next cities to receive this mega event are cities that are much more developed than ours and have more conditions to have the event and for it to pay off more for the population. But in these cities, like in Japan, we see the population contesting things. For example, the events can hurt areas of nature. Ecologically, they can be harmful to some kinds of regions. What I think is that cities like ours that are underdeveloed, they don’t have the capacity to host an event like this because they aren’t developed in other areas that are very important, like health and education.
Bringing an event like this is a type of alienation – you’re alienating the population. It’s a policy of ‘bread and circuses’. People say they are going to be a benefit for the population when there really isn’t going to be.
I think if you’re going to have this event, you need to be really careful because it’s an event that can bring happiness but on the other side, it can bring – like it brought to us – many social inequalities that grow.