Despite the sound and the fury that marked the lead-up to the Rio 2016 Olympics, the first match of the 31st Summer Games went off without a hitch last Wednesday. The women’s football teams from the BRICS member countries of Brazil, China, and South Africa kicked off the games two days prior to the opening ceremony.
The 2016 Games mark the first time the Olympics have been held on the South American continent, and the first time they have been hosted by a developing country in the Southern Hemisphere.
BRICS is an acronym for five countries that have been undergoing rapid economic development in recent years: Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Since 2008 they have received attention for hosting numerous large-scale global events including the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games, and the FIFA World Cup. But why are the BRICS nations in particular vying to hold these events?
First, successfully hosting such competitions generates national and international confidence in a country’s economic development. “It’s the economy, stupid!” is a phrase that was taken up by Bill Clinton during his successful 1992 presidential campaign, and it essentially translates to nothing being as important to a country as economic development. This is the underlying idea behind the BRICS countries’ desires to host large-scale events.
According to a report published by the University of Oxford business school in July 2016, the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics cost around $7 billion to host, while the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics were around $22 billion. But despite the huge cost, the General Administration of Sports of China reported that the Beijing Olympics will have contributed 0.5 percent annually to China’s economic growth for 10 years. At the time the BRICS countries received their bids to host these events, they were in the midst of their prime economic development eras, with average GDP growths between 7 to 10 percent per year, compared with the stagnant economies of the developed countries.
Second, the BRICS are emerging global and regional powers, and in hosting large-scale events, they are sharing their recent economic triumphs with the world. Being a host further brings the advantage of improving a country’s international image.
China first overtook Germany, host of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and then Japan, the 2002 World Cup host, to establish itself as the second-largest world economy. In many ways, the 2008 Beijing Olympics were symbolic — China had cemented itself as an economic powerhouse.
In addition to the global attention that these events bring, they hopefully have the added benefit of strengthening national pride and unity in the host country. According to The Project 2008 Poll, a survey conducted by the advertising agency Ogilvy and the market research firm Millward Brown, 74 percent of Chinese nationals felt proud to be the Olympics host country, regarding the event as a symbol of China’s renaissance. Domestically, these comprehensive projects demand the coordination and cooperation of many diverse sectors of society, often enhancing the management and administration of various government and private agencies. China’s successful hosting of the 2008 Olympics proved the country was able to provide an efficient, modern, and service-oriented government.
However, the BRICS countries still face numerous challenges — regional imbalances, gender equality, poverty, corruption — that can’t simply be overcome by hosting a large-scale event. Furthermore, while these events serve as a marker, they do not by themselves establish a country as a power. In addition, they also impose on the host country a heavy financial burden which is not always embraced by the population, especially when many sections of the economy remain underdeveloped.
The BRICS countries need to focus on domestic social welfare and local development. All of them are lacking rural infrastructure and need to work on their public services like health care and education. Domestic issues are often swept under the rug during large-scale events, only to resurface later.
It is important for BRICS to win public support in their countries. Most recently, unrest in Brazil has highlighted deep-seated social issues that have only been aggravated by the Rio Olympics.
We should be careful not to mistake sports with politics, but it is nevertheless obvious by the rise of BRICS that the gap between developing countries and already established global superpowers is closing. As Russia gears up to host the 2018 FIFA World Cup and Beijing the 2022 Winter Olympics, this gap will most likely only close further.
(Header image: The Maracana Stadium is pictured from the Mangueira slum during the opening ceremony, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 5, 2016. Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)