Posts Tagged ‘G&’

Blame It On Rio

Thursday, October 8th, 2009

In the wake of the International Olympic Committee’s decision to award the 2016 Summer Games to Rio de Janeiro there has been no shortage of hand wringing over how Chicago and the United States lost. My personal favorite: Brad Flora’s very amusing “Chicago Loses, Nerds Win” in Slate, in which the city’s bid is hamstrung by “good government” types opposing public funding of stadiums. You know the country’s taken a turn toward state enterprise when a derisive moniker once reserved for bespectacled bookish types is now hurled at anyone against getting taxed to fund a government-sponsored sports complex. Flora’s point that local opposition didn’t help is well taken, but the hard truth is the current political economy made Brazil’s Olympic victory a virtual sure thing.

At a time when the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations are credited as new dynamos of global economic growth and the financial authority of the G7 is discarded in favor of the G20, the zeitgeist favored one of the rising players (I’ll set aside the question of whether Russia’s experiment in secret policing of markets really belongs in this group). Brazil, a nation of whom it was once joked was “the land of the future, and always will be” is now the tenth largest economy in the world and is lending money to the IMF its President often scorned. Its 2008 growth rate was an estimated 5.1% and, despite the global economic slump, managed to expand at a 1.6% annual rate in the second quarter. Though still heavy in agriculture and natural resources, Brazil’s development has been accomplished with impressive diversification of economic activity, as anyone who’s flown in an Embraer jet can attest.

The Rio games will be the first in South America and in the Southern Hemisphere outside of Australia, emblematic of formerly Third World nations asserting themselves in the international arena.  With that new-found self-confidence, and in the wake of America’s image problems in the last few years, I suspect there’s a certain satisfaction on the part of much of the international community in seeing a diminished United States. Obama’s election has surely helped in the public relations department, but when you’re leader is praised by those who are after all not only allies but rivals, some caution is in order. Knocking Chicago out of the running at the start of the Copenhagen round and rebuffing the American President (he was flying home when he got the news) is just part of a process of humble pie consumption. It’s worth noting that Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, a man not shy in his critiques of the U.S. and a sometime supporter of Chavez and Ahmadinejad, is now provided with a capstone achievement for his own presidency. Take that, Yankee.

It’s likely the White House figured the odds and never thought there was much chance the United States would prevail in Denmark, hence the early reluctance to send Obama to plead the Windy City’s case. But a second calculation obtained, rather along the lines of “Dammed if you do, more damned if you don’t” With Japan, Spain, and Brazil sending their heads of state, had Obama not gone he would have inevitably been accused of depriving the American cause of its strongest possible advocate, and by his hometown supporters to boot. Better to go and take you lumps than be seen as having failed to back your backers.

So no need for a urine test: Brazil won fair and square, a victory that can be credited to economic achievement and a realigned world order (well, in that sense maybe the judges could be said to have been in the bag). That country’s challenge remains translating recent growth into broad prosperity, security against crime and political stability. To this end, it remains to be seen if the Rio games will mean more displacement than development for the teeming poor of the city’s favelas. As for America, conciliation can sooth friends but also encourage adversaries, and Joe Biden predicted Obama would be tested early in his Presidency. Would it not be wonderful if the challenge in Copenhagen represents the zenith of frustrated international ambitions for the new President? Unfortunately, I’m not sure we’ll all be that lucky.

Meanwhile, the nerds had a hard enough time in gym class; let’s stop blaming them for losing the Olympics.