A sporting chance? Mega-events and urban policy in Rio’s favelas

7th August 2014
Brazil is in the midst of hosting the World Cup and will soon be welcoming visitors for the Olympics. In this article Laura Stacey highlights the key findings of her MPhil thesis which considers the impact of these ‘mega-events’ on the Rio favelas.

Everywhere I look during the current World Cup hype, I see Brazil. Bus stops brandish two metre high adverts for drinks offering “a taste of Brazil”. Kids trade FIFA 2014 cards in the park. Google’s daily cartoons are variations on a common theme: Brazil, Brazil, Brazil. Meanwhile, in Brazil itself, widespread protests provide a striking contrast to the glamour of the World Cup.

The impacts of hosting these kinds of events, however, stretch far beyond matches and marches. With bidding; preparation; the events
thBanner manemselves; and their “legacy”, hosting has important ramifications on medium to long-term urban policy. This is particularly the case in Rio de Janeiro, which will host the world’s two biggest sporting events in as many years: this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

In 2013, I spent a few months on field research in Rio talking to residents of the city’s favelas, or “informal” settlements, about how mega-event hosting is affecting their communities.

Photo: Laura Stacey


Firstly, I examined the highly controversial “pacification” project, which has seen the military police reclaiming favelas from drug gangs, and establishing long-term occupations by armed police officers. I was surprised by the popularity of the project amongst the residents of Rocinha, many of whom preferred police control to gang rule. Nevertheless, many pointed to the belligerent and violent attitudes of many officers, and stated that the project did not reach far beyond the touristic areas of the community.


Secondly, I explored plans to build a cable car within Rocinha, which the government claim will function as “mass public transport”. A group of residents have mobilised against the project, labelling it a “white elephant”. However, although some were not against the project almost all interviewees agreed that funds should instead be directed towards sanitation, a far more pressing problem for the community.


Thirdly, I studied evictions in Vila Autódromo, a small community located next to the Olympic Park. Their resistance to removal has attracted attention from international media, UN representatives and NGOs. However, many residents argued that the link between their proposed eviction and the Olympics is tenuous. Since 1992, the community has fought off various removal attempts, each time accompanied by a different State excuse. The community’s proposed alternative is an urbanisation plan, which was recently awarded an international prize by Deutsche Bank.

Key findings

I found a trend of social exclusion, exacerbated by - but which predates - mega-event hosting. In the case of large, central favelas like Rocinha, this may evolve into a deliberate gentrification of valuable parts of land, through policies of security and infrastructure. In smaller favelas such as Vila Autódromo, this can take the more direct form of eviction attempts.

Secondly, the changes outlined above affect people in diverse ways – the concept of a “unified local”, resisting corporate and state intervention, does not represent reality in either of the communities studied. Experiences of urban planning were varied and even contradictory.

Finally, the mega-events may increase advocacy opportunities for favela residents. The extensive mobilisation around public spending provided an ‘environment for protest’, and alerted the world to the problems associated with hosting. Favela residents have been able to take advantage of the increased scrutiny applied to policy-making by academics, campaigners, NGOs and international bodies, in order to increase the exposure of their campaigns. They have a unique platform from which to confront the powerful actors that are shaping Rio. Whatever the outcome, the rest of the world is watching.