Roger Cohen: What the Media Isn't Telling You About the Rio Olympics

Roger Cohen is clearly an Olympics fan, and he is sick and tired of all the negative stories about the Rio Summer Games. In Monday's column, he is at pains to inform the reading public that although Brazil still has problems, it's a hell of a lot better than it used to be.  

"When I was a correspondent in Brazil 30 years ago," he writes, "inflation was rampant. It ran at an average of 707.4 percent a year from 1985 to 1989. The salaries of the poor were wiped out within hours of being paid. The country went through three currencies — cruzeiro, cruzado and cruzado novo — while I lived in Rio. The only way out for Brazilians, people joked, was Galeão, the international airport."

For kicks, poor kids from the slums rode the tops of moving trains and many were killed doing so. Inequality was extreme. "Yet even in those tumultuous times it was not all of it," Cohen continues. "'Tudo bem?' — 'All good?' — I would ask when I ventured into the ubiquitous favelas, or slums. 'Tudo bem!' was often the response, along with a smile, even when all was entirely awful. Penury in the sun is not penury in the cold."

Brazil began its transformation in the '80s, a change which has included a stable currency and a growing middle class. Today, Brazil is one of the world's top economies. Life expectancy is up sharply, and corruption actually has consequences as the impeachment process of Dilma Rousseff illustrates. There are still problems aplenty, but Brazil has a joyous culture, and many things to celebrate.

But you won't read anything favorable in the press, Cohen laments, and he calls foul! His point in a nutshell:

There is something in the developed world that does not like a developing country that organizes a major sporting event. I heard the same jeremiads in South Africa at the time of the World Cup in 2010: the crime that would ruin things, the poverty that was shameful, and the inefficiency that would plague visitors. The tournament was a triumph. I don’t recall reporters combing the poorest, most crime-ridden parts of Britain in 2012 to find people ready to grumble about the London Olympics.

These Olympics are good for Brazil and good for humanity, a needed tonic. Watch Usain Bolt or Simone Biles and feel uplifted

My preferred image is that of Rafaela Silva, the young Brazilian woman from the violent Rio slum of Cidade de Deus, who won a gold medal in judo and declared: “This medal demonstrates that a child who has a dream should believe, even if it takes time, because the dream can be realized.”

That's the image Cohen prefers to leave you with.

Read the rest.


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