Postpone the Olympics?

Recently a Canadian professor, Dr. Amir Attaran, called for the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro to be delayed or moved because of the risk that the wave of visitors will accelerate the spread of the Zika epidemic. The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Tom Frieden, has now weighed in to argue that the risk to the athletes is small, and many people are already traveling to areas affected by Zika. The Games should therefore move forward as scheduled. Still, it is remarkable that this close to the Games, people are suggesting that they moved, not only because of Zika, but also because of other concerns such as contamination of the waters in the bay of Guanabara. One recent study found that virus levels in the bay were 1.7 million times the permissible limit in California. I confess that when I read this figure my first thought was not for the athletes, but rather how many times I had swum in these waters myself. Sailors are also complaining about the sheer quantity of garbage in the bay, and are concerned that impacts with the trash may affect races.

In the end the games will move forward, and likely will be a success. In the future, however, the experience with the Brazilian games will likely change discussions about the venues for other Olympics. Perhaps more importantly, within Brazil, it will emphasize the point that many Brazilian critics of the games have long made: that the interests of Brazilian citizens have to come first in government decisions, and that basic needs -education, health and sanitation- should be prioritized over mega-projects.

Addendum: Immediately after posting this piece, I read that 150 health experts had written an open letter calling for the Games to be postponed because of Zika. You can read more about their arguments at USA today. What is most interesting in the piece is the argument that the World Health Organization (WHO) has a conflict of interest regarding the Games, given its partnership with the International Olympics Committee.

Shawn Smallman, 2016


Video Reviews: Amazon Games

"Amazonian Macaw - Ara Ararauna In Front Of A Blue Sky" by xura at
“Amazonian Macaw – Ara Ararauna In Front Of A Blue Sky” by xura at

This fall quarter I taught a hybrid class on Modern Brazil, which had both a History and International Studies section. We spent three weeks during the course covering modern Amazonia, during which we discussed Indigenous issues in depth. One of the videos that we watched was Amazon Games, which was available through the streaming video service at the Portland State University library. The documentary described a modern sporting event in the Amazon River basin that brings together different nations throughout the region for an annual contest. The video (released in 2005) began by showing two different Indigenous nations (Enawanes and Matis) preparing to travel for the games, then followed them to the competition itself.

The selection process for the games was a fraught one, as was the decision to take part in the competition. Some Aboriginal peoples in one nation were concerned what would happen to their people if the plane taking the competitors to the games crashed with all of their best hunters. Obviously, another risk would be that the Indigenous participants might bring back disease. But the Aboriginal people themselves were excited to participate, and clearly discussed the risks of travel. My students thought that overall the games were positive for the athletes, who wanted to engage in the competition and meet other Indigenous peoples. They also hoped to make money by selling handicrafts. There was a great deal of good natured banter about who would go, and the scene in which the Indigenous peoples were seeking to make latex balls -a difficult process- was a funny one. …

A book review of Dave Zirin, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil

1st Royal Engineers, who reached the first FA cup final in 1872, from Wikipedia Commons
1st Royal Engineers, who reached the first FA cup final in 1872, from Wikipedia Commons

With the World Cup starting in Brazil this week, it’s worth reviewing a book on Brazil, soccer and international sporting organizations. Dave Zirin is a well-known sports writer who has covered other major events, such as the summer Olympics in Athens. HIs book seeks to explain why preparations for the World Cup, as well as the 2016 Summer Olympics, have created a wave of protest within the country. The book is written in a popular style, by a non-expert in Brazil. The strength of the book is his deep understanding of both FIFA (the International Soccer Association) and the Olympics. Overall, his book is a good introduction to the issues in a readable format. By the end the reader will have no difficulty understanding the current wave of outrage in Brazil caused by the preparations for these events. …

Brazil, soccer, and tragedy

Christoph Niemann has an incredibly beautiful animated story book about Brazilian soccer in the New York Times. The piece integrates photography, video, music and animation to tell the story of the Maracanaço, when Brazil lost to Uruguay in 1950. Brazilians remember this event as a collective trauma to the national psyche. Even if you are not a soccer fan, you will want to see this. This storybook is a work of art that should be mandatory viewing before the World Cup begins in Brazil next week. Want to see more posts about Brazil? Click here. Or you can find my own work on military terror in Brazil here.

Shawn Smallman

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