TRU profs discuss Rio legacy

It could be a decade before Rio de Janeiro knows if it has a parade of white elephants on its hands

Adam Williams – Kamloops This Week

It could be a decade before Rio de Janeiro knows if it has a parade of white elephants on its hands.

Until then, Anne Terwiel said Brazil will be left to wait and see.

Terwiel, the chair of the tourism management department at Thompson Rivers University, said her research has shown white elephants — a term used to describe a facility that is useless or problematic, especially one that is expensive to maintain or difficult to dispose of — don’t often surface until years after the Olympics have concluded.

“They’ll have a legacy. Whether it’s positive or negative is the question, right?”

Terwiel’s research has analyzed the legacies left by the Games in each host city since 2008 and white elephants aren’t altogether uncommon in the realm of the Olympics, she said.

In China, the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird’s Nest, requires millions of dollars a year for upkeep and has sat mostly empty since the 2008 Olympics.

But there are examples of well-used facilities following Games, too.

Vancouver, Sydney and London have repurposed stadiums following the Olympics, facilities which are constantly in use. Many of the Olympic facilities in Rio had already been used to host both the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2007 Pan American Games.

“I wouldn’t want to comment,” she said, asked specifically about Rio’s legacy. “Although, I would say that a number of the facilities that are being utilized for the Olympic Games were built for the FIFA World Cup, as well — so they’ve already hosted one large event.

There has been plenty of criticism of Rio, its planning and its organization. But Terwiel said people shouldn’t be so quick to judge the Brazilian city.

“I think you need to give a place the chance to be successful,” she said.

“Beyond the stadiums, there’s often improvement in transportation, improvement in communication systems, that sort of thing, and those are hard to measure, but they make a huge difference for the people who are living there, in the end.”

Not everyone’s outlook on Rio is as optimistic as Terwiel’s, however.

Dr. Ryan Gauthier, an associate professor in the faculty of law at TRU, is skeptical of what the future holds for life in Rio after the Olympics.

“Rio is really tricky because of the problems with the government, with the dysfunction there, with the economy tanking,” said Gauthier, who did his PhD research on the accountability of the International Olympic Committee for human rights violations caused by the organization of the Games.

“What’s this going to mean for the future? I think all the disorder and the problems you’ve been seeing leading up to the Games, it’s just going to be more of that. There will be a few good things for Rio, some better transportation here and there, some better housing, possibly, here and there.

“I would be surprised to see a really positive legacy coming from this.”