Rio… when the Olympics leave town

Like many Australians, I love the opportunity that the Olympics brings to watch the world’s most talented athletes using the gifts that God has given them, particularly in sports that don’t normally receive a lot of coverage. And with this year’s games held in Rio de Janeiro there was the added bonus of getting to see again some of the natural beauty of the city. I visited around this time of year in 2012, and was struck by the combination of the city’s natural and man-made landscape – steep, empty mountains rising out of densely populated urban areas, with the famous statue of Jesus overlooking the whole city from an almost impossibly steep angle.

It’s no surprise then that the Olympic venues featured were set in stunning locations – the white sand of Copacabana beach where the beach volleyball was held and the beauty of the lakes and mountains behind the rowing venue were just two examples. The mixed scenery along the road race course – beach, mountain and forest each taking its turn – almost rivaled the pure natural beauty of the Tour de France. These things reminded me of the beauty of creation, which Rio has in abundance. The Olympic organisers and broadcasters were right to show that off.

But it also strikes me how selective those images were. Despite all of Rio’s beauty, what I saw was a city of vast social contrast – rich and poor areas separated by high walls, and places of beauty marred by danger. Brazil and has made significant strides in tackling many of its social issues, but crime and health remain major challenges to be overcome.

In many parts, Rio is an overwhelmingly densely packed city – home to over 12 million people. Tragically, many of these people are very poor, with a substantial population living in the Favelas, lacking basic sanitation, clean water and security. We have seen in the lead-up to the football World Cup in 2014, and now the Olympics, some of the consequences of this disparity, with widespread protests against the use of money for sporting facilities instead of social development. We have also seen it in the concerns over water quality for sailing venues, given that almost a third of Rio’s sewage is pumped into the ocean untreated, and the significant financial difficulties faced in the lead-up to the Olympics. Seeing Rio reminds me that not everyone lives in the comparative comfort of the developed world and reminds me of the importance of making economic opportunity available to all.

But for now, we have enjoyed the wonder of a beautiful city and the athletes displaying amazing feats of endurance, strength and speed.

Tim Macready is the Chief Investment Officer at Christian Super

Check out this amazing virtual tour of the favelas of Rio.