The Olympic Games are many things; a chance for economic growth, a platform for national branding, an advertising circus and the greatest spectacle in sports. For thousands of Brazil’s most disadvantaged citizens it has become their livelihood.
The Rio Games have generated nearly 90,000 jobs—ranging from officials and guards to custodians and parking attendants. The jobs themselves fall into a number of categories. There are those that work with the athletes or the games directly; time keepers, life-guards, pool and track attendants et cetera. There are those in infrastructure, like construction workers, contractors and equipment operators. There are also more menial jobs, like custodians and sanitation workers. Of the latter, many come from Rio’s favelas, where a quarter of the city’s population resides.
Andre Dos Santos, a resident of Rio’s Cantagalo Favela, saw both hope and population rise in preparation for the Rio Games.
“People came to Rio one year, two years even three years ago to maybe get job opportunities in the Olympic Games,” said Dos Santos. “People are seizing the moment.”
With closing ceremonies just days away many Rio locals, commonly called Cariocas, are fearful they will once again be out of work, and even worse subject to tax hike that may increase their already growing financial burden amidst a nationwide economic crisis, according to Dos Santos.
“After [The Olympics] most people are going back to their respective states,” said Dos Santos. “The people that have these part-time jobs will lose them, after that, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
According to municipal employee Sandra de Souza, Olympic custodial workers are from one of two categories; those who work for the local municipality and those who are contracted by private companies.
Sandra de Souza works for the municipality, and thus stands less of a chance of losing her job at the conclusion of the games. Still she is worried for those in her community (a term used locally to describe favelas.)
“There are people from all over the city, but the majority are from the communities,” said Souza. “They are people. People who need jobs, people who are going to be unemployed, it’s not a job you can always get.”
Souza says she and many in her position feel that because of who they are, and where they are from that employers see them as more expendable. She believes there is an unfair stigma attached to residents of favelas, a demographic comprised of nearly 1.5 million people from just under 750 distinct communities in Rio alone.
“I am from Rio, I am Carioca. I live in a community, but I am a hard worker. I left school early to work. I wanted to be a social worker, but I have a huge family, I have four kids.”
The effects of Olympic job loss can already be seen in the construction industry. Federal and local governments poured tremendous amounts of funding into construction before the start of the games.
Many of the city’s roads and subways systems were updated, rerouted or otherwise altered to accommodate the influx of tourism. Sidewalks were widened, storefronts and facades were remodeled and in some cases entire neighborhoods were transformed beyond a shadow of their former aesthetics.
Additionally, many major sporting venues had to be constructed from scratch, including the Olympic golf course, the beach volleyball arena and the cycling velodrome. But with the game’s arrival, construction has expectedly slowed, according to Dos Santos.
In an economic crisis, infrastructure is often among the first expenditures on the chopping block. Dos Santos, himself a construction worker and engineering student, believes the state of the economy will keep construction workers out of jobs long after the Olympics leave Rio.
“I don’t see construction picking up for five years or more. When you see the economy of a country, when it’s in crisis, normally the first thing that they cut money from is infrastructure investments,” he said. “Construction businesses in Brazil only do as well as the economy does. Most jobs in construction are given by the government, when the government has money to build, people here [in Cantagalo] have jobs, if not, they find other ways.”
The economic crisis in Brazil has been a strain on Rio’s favelas long before the Olympic Games came to town, and many residents have little confidence that their presence will reverse the effects.
Local artist Eduardo Vianna believes the Olympics can be positive for a nation, but aren’t necessarily beneficial to those further down the income ladder.
“Honestly I think the Olympics are an event that unites the world,” said Vianna. “But for Rio there are also bad things happening that people don’t know about. Communities were moved, unnecessary money is being spent when there are subjects like education and healthcare that we don’t have figured out yet…the Olympic Games were made for people outside Rio, not the Rio natives. And even less for the poor people of Rio.”
Rubem Fumace has lived in the Cantagalo Favela for fifty-five years. Despite the influx of jobs and infrastructure in the metropolitan areas of Rio, he believes that conditions in the favela are as bad as they’ve ever been.
“Everything has changed since I was younger,” said Fumace. “Before, in terms of friendship, food and everything, you could live better than right now because of what’s going on with the [economic] crisis. In the past you could throw a party with a small amount of money, you could make money easier, right now it is very difficult.”
The Rio Olympic legacy is still far from set in stone, but massive security and health concerns around the start of the games have yet to evolve into any major crises—and the games themselves have been as storied as ever. The political turmoil in Brazil is still in litigation, but has been largely underreported in the shadow of the Olympic coverage.
The 2016 Olympic legacy will likely be determined by how the city and federal government handle the impending political shake-up, the seemingly inevitable job decline and the persisting economic crisis—not by the game’s effect on the city’s most vulnerable citizens. In the interim, Rio locals like Dos Santos remain both concerned and optimistic about the future.
“I hope Brazil finds a solution right away to find these people work, because if not it will be worse than I can imagine,” he said. “But people always find solutions, you know, and it will be an opportunity to grow some small cities that have other opportunities, different markets not just construction and commerce.”