Blair says Games could help transform Brazil

AP News
Posted: Apr 29, 2011 5:30 PM
Blair says Games could help transform Brazil

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, a key player in London's winning bid for the 2012 Olympics, said Friday that the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics can help Brazil reduce its economic and social problems if the government handles them well.

Blair said British planners for the Games were acutely aware of what some nations did right in planning the Olympics to maximize economic and social benefits. He cited the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Barcelona's in 1992 and Seoul in 1998 as examples.

But he also noted the dangers of a nation being saddled with an ugly legacy, such as what happened following the 2004 Athens Games, with Greece still paying for mismanagement.

"You can use the Olympics as an economic platform to attract a whole lot of business and investments that go way beyond a sporting event," Blair said at the World Economic Forum's Latin America summit. "But if you do it imaginatively, you can learn a whole series of things that can be applied throughout government."

Rio won the 2016 Olympics _ the first time the Games will be held in South America _ largely from pitching it as a chance to showcase how the event can leave a legacy of social transformation. Rio has long been plagued by violent crime, acute economic inequality and a few decades that saw the city poorly governed and falling into ruin.

But Rio has bounced back of late, much like Brazil itself. It has increased economic activity following the discovery of oil fields in the Atlantic off the Rio state coast, implemented a lauded policing program that is making strides in safety and gotten a big boost in self-esteem after winning its Olympic bid.

Brazil, meanwhile, will host the 2014 World Cup _ a rare case of a single nation hosting the globe's two biggest sporting events within such a short time span, and doubling the chance for Brazilians to reap benefits from them or be seen as a failure if it cannot meet expectations.

"We look at these sports events as a catalyst and we're much more interested in what comes from," said Renato Villela, the finance secretary for Rio state, who spoke at the same panel as Blair.

Villela used as an example the rapid bus transit system that Rio will implement for the Olympics, a system that will remain after the event.

A social benefit that could come from the bus system may be slowing the growth of slums in Rio. Villela said that because of Rio's poor transportation, many people decide to build homes in precarious shantytowns prone to deadly mudslides simply because they need to be close to their jobs since they cannot count on public transportation.

The investment that Rio is making in the bus system, ostensibly for the Games, will "last and will increase the mobility of Rio's work force," Villela said.