​The Olympic Games and the battle to be allowed to voice protest in Brazil

Initially, some tourists, spectators and even the athletes themselves had Zika anxiety. But politics has come into the Rio Olympic Games, with protests bringing the realities of Rio de Janeiro to the Olympics – which is trying to clam down on protesters.

On the night of the Olympic Games opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro reports emerged that protests had been censored. Protesters, who were teargassed by police, were demonstrating against corruption and calling for the resignation of Brazil’s interim president Michel Temer.

Temer took over office when suspended Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff was taken out of office in the wake of an impeachment trial, after allegations emerged that she had attempted to hide the country’s economic woes through corrupting the federal budget.

Although Brazil’s laws and even the Olympic Games’ regulations clamp down on protest, Brazilian federal deputy judge João Augusto Carneiro de Araújo ruled on Monday night that the Rio 2016 officials must stop repressing protests, unless hate speech is evident.

The Rio 2016 organisers are challenging the ruling, saying it violates the host nation agreement and Brazil’s Olympic Law.

The protests have not only brought Brazilian politics to the doorstep of the Games, but right into the stadiums. Spectators have found themselves being booted from stadiums after wearing t-shirts or shouting slogans that demand Temer’s removal. The interim president has been found guilty of breaching the country’s limits to campaign funding, which could prevent him running for president in 5 years’ time.

It’s not, however, simply anger at political leadership that has had protesters taking to the streets, but also the country’s raging inequality. Forecasters at Forbes and Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford estimate the Games cost more than $4.5-billion. Although previous Games have dug deeper into their respective host nation’s pockets, Brazilians are showing their frustration. The country is currently in the midst of an economic recession, which has seen millions become unemployed, and even more will become jobless as a result of recently instituted austerity measures.

“This is a demonstration to denounce the innumerous human rights violations and to denounce the project associated with the Olympics whereby people are excluded. The winners were those with large economic interests, sponsors, the press, and the losers are Rio’s population,” Orlando Santos, a protester, told Democracy Now.

Most Brazilians can’t afford to go to the Games, and tickets haven’t been sold out, with demand for tickets sitting at 82%. Datafolha, a polling firm, found that half of Brazilians were against hosting the Games, while 63% of them considered the Games to be a detriment rather than a benefit. Favelas – which are Brazil’s most poverty-stricken areas – have seen large amounts of people being evicted to make way for the Games.

In response to protests, 85 000 soldiers and police officers have been deployed to deal with protesters, the current crime wave sweeping through the country, and anything else perceived as a threat to Rio 2016.

This won’t be the first Olympic Games to see protesters knocking at the door, but with it being just the beginning of the Games, and the Olympics already flexing its commitment to shut down protests, Rio 2016 may be more than just a competition between nations: it could be the overflow of Brazil’s internal frustrations.

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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