By Chris Brown in Rio de Janeiro
When I arrived in Brazil a few years ago, friends in the UK were quick to recite stories of the lawlessness, corruption and chaos I would encounter in what I consider to be one of the most vibrant countries in the world.
Yet I experienced positive changes when Rio won the right to host the Olympic Games at the IOC Session in Copenhagen in 2009. You could feel the excitement that Brazil was to host not one but two global sporting events, with the FIFA World Cup already slated for 2014. There was growing confidence, the economy was healthy, natural resources were overflowing, huge investment projects were promised, and the world wanted to come to Brazil.
The level of crime in Rio improved astonishingly quickly as well. The days of gunfire, street muggings and mass beach robberies, before Sergio Cabral’s Pacification Program started to drive the drug trade out of the favelas, were becoming a distant memory in middle class neighbourhoods. There was no longer a sense of threat on the streets and, over the next couple of years as life visibly continued to improve, it was not uncommon to see locals and tourists sitting at café street tables or beachside kiosks with an iPad or smartphone in plain view.
Positive change was happening and it felt good.
What we have seen and felt in the city over the past year has been very different. That vibrancy and confidence has been replaced by despondency and self-doubt. There are mutterings from the middle classes that they actually want Brazil to deliver a bad World Cup. The country that lives for football has fallen out of love with the prospect of the beautiful, global game coming to its shores. There is a sense that only abject failure can bring future prosperity; that the country needs a catastrophic embarrassment to inspire a cultural shift.
Although the 2013 protests lacked clear focus, people here still passionately bemoan dire education, healthcare and transport as well as perceived corruption. Crime is rising again with police taking part in running gun battles as the nation reverts to a level of violence not seen since the pacification program began more than six years ago.
International businesses may well have second thoughts about investing in Brazil and working on international sports projects – and certainly there is a need to demonstrate to a despondent population the legacy benefits of hosting these major events.
When I speak to those in government or public bodies in Brazil, I explain to them that they must move the narrative from one of stadia costs and highlight the benefits at a social and community level.
I also work with international clients and explain why it is essential that they are sensitive to the concerns of the locals. They need to demonstrate an intention to contribute to the Brazilian economy in the long term, exchange skills and knowledge and have an open mind regarding local practices and expertise.
Communicating their intentions to give something back, values which are at the heart of sporting legacy, have become more important than ever in this challenging but exciting environment