Most people will probably have heard the announcement that Rio de Janeiro has been awarded the 2016 Olympic Games. While I am pleased that Brazil has beaten the USA in particular in this race in the sense that it shows a slight shift in global power balances towards the global south, I am very concerned as to how the current right-wing administration of both the city and region of Rio will deal with the ‘security’ issues around this mega-event. The Pan-American Games, which Rio hosted in 2007 led to the violent occupation by military police of several particularly troubled favelas (informal settlements), and the new administration has already shown its authoritarian tendencies with the Giuliani- wannabe ‘choque de ordem’ (shock of order) policies that involve building demolition, crackdowns on illegal street vendors (i.e. the poor) and more recently, the building of walls around certain favelas, and most recently the unwelcome imposition of CCTV cameras on favelas that were just starting to enjoy improvements in trust between police and community. The favelas that line the main highways into the city from the international airport were already slated for such ghettoization, and the Olympics will only make this more likely to happen and more quickly – just as has happened in South Africa, similarly afflicted by race and class-based social conflict, during the various international meetings and summits there in recent years. Foreign delegates and tourists don’t like to see all that nasty poverty, do they?
I will write more on this later (I am on the road right now…).
The connection between what are often called ‘mega-events’ (international summits, major sporting competitions etc.), securitization, and he intensification of surveillance is becoming a very interesting area and one which we wrote about in our recent book on urban resilience. I am writing some further stuff on this with Kiyoshi Abe on how mega-events have been managed in Japan.
It seems that in general, such events are either used as ‘test-beds’ for new technologies and procedures which are then either continued afterwards (as with The Olympic Games and CCTV in Greece in 2004 and The FIFA World Cup and video surveillance in Japan/Korea in 2002), or become ‘islands’ of temporary exemption where normal legal human rights protections are reduced or removed and whole areas of public space are often literally, fenced off (as in Rio de Janeiro for the Pan-American Games of 2007, whose model will apparently be extended to include walling off the poor favelas in time for the 2014 FIFA World Cup). There’s going to be a very interesting conference on The Surveillance Games later this year to tie in with the Vancouver Winter Olympics.
Now The Guardian newspaper is reporting that the London Olympics 2012 may make use of a proposal originally designed to stop the proliferation of unofficial commercial advertising near games venues in order to prevent protest. The legislation even allows police to enter private houses to seize material.
Of course the government say that they have no plans to use it in this way, but it’s interesting to see the way in which the ‘standards’ being imposed by such travelling cicuses of globalization tend to end up looking more like the authoritarian regime in Beijing (host of the highly securitized 2008 Olympics) than the supposedly liberal west, whilst at the same time promoting a very controlled but highly commercialized environment. Even the original purposes of the 2006 law (necessary for London to host the Games) are an interesting reflection of the massive corporate interests involved in the Olympics, for which they apparently need a captive and docile audience.