The economic and social cost of the mega sports events: an anti-Olympic manifest

I was born in Brazil. Technically, I am Brazilian. I lack, however, the typical commitment to supposedly regional interests (whose rationality I question). I am not a patriot or a nationalist. Neither am I a naïve believer in any sort of neutrality: all intellectual claims are interest biased. Mine are informed by my ideological penchant toward libertarian, meritocratic perspectives. In a nutshell, like most rational people I know, I believe in a broad and loose set of principles, such as social and economic justice, democratic values, unconditional respect for individual rights (sexual, ethnic, religious), etc.

In spite of the fact that I strongly oppose excessive State intervention in individual affairs, there are items that must be subject to public policy decision making. The support for the tripod of culture – science/technology, the arts and sports – is one of them.

Science is pretty easy. It has already carved itself an indisputable space in society and, except for freaks such as religious fundamentalists, the need for the greatest possible support for science and technology is consensus. It is usually discussed in connection to two equally indisputably relevant items for public regulation and support: education and economic development.

Arts lie at more slippery ground. There is still need for a lot of discussion as to why and how to support art in all its expressions. That brings along many corollary items for discussion, such as what is art and what is its “social role”.

When we get to the sports, we got trouble. “Social role” becomes a nightmare expression for all involved in sports advocacy. After all, is there a social role for sports? How to engage in this discussion without entering the dangerous ground of the stuff Civilization (with a capital C) is made of?

To defend a social role for physical activity, exercise or even for the preservation of (physical) cultural traditions is a bit easier. Social scientists and the public opinion tend to be more sympathetic. After all, we don’t want to lose our “roots”, right? Nor compromise public health.

What about high performance sports? Why should they be supported? Is there an effective place for the pursuit of Excellence per se in society? Should this be the object of public funding? Do we need a talented archer? Weightlifter? Fencer? Gymnast? Why?

I believe we do, as a society. Every segment of society needs and benefits from the existence of individuals who excel in one of culture’s main codified activities. Therefore, there is a space for high performance sports in every society. It deserves public support.

But how is this to be achieved?

And here we reach the battleground where there is not a hint of consensus in the horizon. If high performance athletics is to exist at all, children need to be exposed to it in early stages of life – exactly like science and the arts – in order for it to be qualified as an option for them at any moment. Should that be done in schools? Physical educators usually disagree. They argue that high performance athletics is not inclusive and is potentially detrimental to a high percentage of children. I dispute this claim: considering the enormous variety of sports that cover so many different abilities, it is unlikely that any kid will fail in or reject all of them.

If not in school, should there be specific institutions for sports education and talent screening? How to ensure its inclusiveness and access to an important segment of society?

These are hard choices to make and we certainly need the help of qualified economists to technically consider all the variables involved.

Both, however, have reasonable ground for advocacy. As public educational and information programs for the sports have.

Sports education requires considerable infra-structure and important efforts in information and education. The infra-structure involved in sports education and talent screening, however, is not the same as that involved in carrying out major competitive events. Building a Sports Training Center is quite different than building pools, tracks, fields, etc., for major competitive events, which comprise a lot more than the specified sports arena.

Therefore, when politicians and sports leaders shove the argument for major sports events down our throats, approve them through anti-democratic means and force citizens at specific countries to fund their (yes, their) project, we have a problem. Major sports events, such as the Olympics or the World Cup, have never proven to have a positive correlation to the development of sports. In any country, in any society. Nor has any of them ever proven to be economically beneficial to the country or its citizens.

Brazil is living, since 2011 and until 2016, what is being called the “sports tsunami”. It is hosting five major international sports events, including the World Cup and the Olympic Games. A number of intellectuals, sports professionals and concerned citizens in general, myself included (in the three categories), are openly opposed to this. We are not worried that the objective of collecting social and economic benefits from the huge public investment being made might not be achieved. We know it won’t. It hasn’t in the past – a very recent past, with the Panamerican Games – and it isn’t working now, as the pathetic sports decision makers, such as Carlos Artur Nuzman, present unsustainable argument after argument to explain his failure to ensure minimum conditions to help today’s athletic talents achieve good results in London. And by “good”, I don’t mean their best – they are individually doing much more than their best. By “good” I mean meeting Nuzman’s promise, a few years ago, about quantitatively improved performance from the Brazilian delegation.

I am not even scraping the deep problems Brazil has to face to start tackling the issue of sports performance. The country lacks not only infra-structure and proper public policy for sports education and screening, but it lacks expertise in sports preparation. The small group of us dedicated to the field are pessimistic and have been pointing out problems for years.

So, the least we can say about the major sports events to be held in Brazil in the near future is that it is an unacceptable irresponsible decision. Since the decision is obviously made by someone, and these people are not mentally inept, we must at least assume they have a hint that the whole thing is a mess and if they are holding to it, they must have strong personal and political reasons to do it.

Corruption and political interest market is the name of the game.


MARILIACOUTINHO.COM – idéias sobre treinamento de força, powerlifting, levantamento de peso, strongman, esportes de força, gênero e educação física. Ideas on strength training, powerlifting, weightlifting, strongman, strength sports, gender and physical education.

A vida é pentavalente: arranco, arremesso, agachamento, supino e levantamento terra. Life is a five valence unit: the snatch, the clean and jerk, the squat, the bench press and the deadlift.

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