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Mega-events and socio-spatial dynamics in Rio de Janeiro, 1919-2016

This article examines the ways in which discourses of urban development and socio-spatial discipline are wrapped around infrastructure development projects associated with recent, future, and proposed international mega-events in Rio de Janeiro. In the past few years the city and state governments of Rio de Janeiro invested billions of dollars in sporting, tourist, transportation and security infrastructures for the 2007 Pan American Games and hundreds of millions of dollars preparing for the 2014 World Cup and bidding (twice) for the 2016 Olympics. By looking at the historical trajectory of mega-events in Rio de Janeiro, I argue that there has been a discernable shift in the ideologies that drive the production of mega-events in the city. These logics have discursively and materially shifted from more localized expressions of notions of social inclusion and industrial democracy in the mid-20th century to reflect the socio-spatial exigencies of capital in a period of accelerated globalization. I suggest that mega-events impose a neo-liberal "shock doctrine", installing temporary regimes of extra-legal governance that permanently transform socio-space in Rio de Janeiro.


Este artigo examina como discursos sobre desenvolvimento urbano e disciplina socio-espacial são usados para promover projetos de infrastructura associados com os mega-eventos internacionais no Rio de Janeiro. Nos últimos anos os governos da cidade e do estado do Rio de Janeiro investiram bilhões de dólares em infrastruturas esportivas, túristicas, de transporte e de segurança para os Jogos Panamericanos e centenas de milhões dos dólares para a Copa do Mundo de 2014 e em duas tentativas de conseguir os Jogos Olímpicos. Ao analisar a trajetória histórica dos mega-eventos no Rio de Janeiro, eu mostro que as ideologias que dirigem a sua produção sofreram mudanças profundas. Elas se transformaram, discursivamente e materialmente, de noções de inclusao social e de democracia industrial no meio do século 20 para refletir as exigencias socio-spaciais do capital em um período de globalização acelerada. Ao final, eu sugiro que os mega-eventos imponem uma "doutrina choque" neo-liberal, que instala formas de governo extra-legal, transformando permanentemente o socio-espaço do Rio de Janeiro.


development, socio-spatial discipline, stadiums, infrastructure, mega-events, shock doctrine, Rio de Janeiro

Palavras clave

desenvolvimento, disciplina socio-espacial, infraestrutura, mega-eventos, "doutrina choque", Rio de Janeiro

Theoretical approaches to mega-events

Sporting mega-events have generally escaped the attention of geographers, yet they involve some of the most expensive, complex, and transformative processes that [End Page 7] cities and nations undertake. In the case of the Summer Olympics or Pan American Games, there arises a city within a city, a highly specific "Olympic geography" with its own laws, norms, codes, boundaries, and disciplines. Typically, an "Olympic Village" connects to stadia through highways and modes of public transportation created specifically for the Games. Special traffic lanes are dedicated to the "Olympic family" to ensure their swift movement through the city. Stadia and performance venues connect to media production facilities, cultural sites, and tourist accommodations through the machinations of urban political economy. Spectators, commentators, and athletes come from all over the planet to participate in ritualized expressions of nationalism and human performance in a highly securitized environment. Each mega-event carries the legacies of past events and together form a central element of our collective global memory.

The scale and extent of mega-events necessarily transform the city in which they are ensconced. As Beijing 2008 and Athens 2004 very clearly demonstrated, low income neighborhoods are 'cleared' in order to make way for mega-event infrastructures and renovation. Tens of thousands are displaced, either through the physical destruction of their homes or through market mechanisms such as rent inflation. The massive infusion of public money into construction projects is a boon for developers who are able to leverage the event to realize projects that under ordinary circumstances would be prohibitively expensive or fraught with bureaucratic delay. The driving mantra of mega-events is "accelerated development" – a mantra that uncritically places public money in the service of private profit creating "neo-liberal dreamworlds" (Davis and Monk 2007) wherein democratic processes are suspended, public space militarized, and urban space restructured in the image of global capital.

Given the urban, social, cultural, economic, historical, spatial, political, and performative complexities of mega-events, I will focus on the ways in which these events transform urban space and attempt to structure both material and discursive social relations. I argue that the production of space cannot be separated from the production of social relations. In the context of mega-events, the production of socio-spatial relationships occurs with the intention of structuring or reforming urban socio-space. The socio-spatial exigencies of the mega-event are necessarily reflective of the historical and political contexts in which they occur. In order to demonstrate how the spatial and discursive elements of mega-events in Rio de Janeiro have changed to reflect the exigencies of global capital in an era of accelerated globalization, I trace the history of mega-events in the city over the course of 90 years.

Olympic maps are excellent indications of the extent to which mega-events produce geographic imaginaries and comprise a parallel city (Figures 1 and 2). Mega-events have as their focus the stadia and venues in which the games take place yet these places are only part of the event geography. I call the complexes that arise with mega-event production "sportive constellations". Physically, sportive constellations are comprised of places, spaces, and the systems of flows that connect them. They are the tangible, physical elements of the Olympic city including new and upgraded communications and transportation infrastructure, stadia, tourist amenities, cultural installations, environmental remediation projects, housing developments, and security apparatuses.

Considered in this light, the term "mega-event" is somewhat of a misnomer. Though the term is a useful placeholder, mega-events are lengthy disciplinary processes that incorporate mechanisms of power into spatial and social forms. These mutually reinforcing mechanisms have economic rationality and social control as their end goals. The multitude of practices and techniques that produce and result from the mega-event process are nearly impossible to describe in their entirety as they encompass multiple [End Page 8] layers of governance, massive urban change, staggering sums of public and private money, and function as historically situated festivals that appeal to a global audience. The discursive frameworks that drive this process are also historically contingent. The host city or country adapts the dominant discursive framework of the governing institution (e.g. IOC, FIFA) while adding specific elements that maximize the uniqueness of place while at the same time appealing to the perceived universality of the mega-event and the appropriateness of its articulation in a particular time and place.

Socio-spatial discipline

Social, material, and representational practices are inseparable from their spatial contexts or referents. The shapes, textures, meanings, uses, and functions of bounded and unbounded spaces are products of particular economic, political, and social rationales (Foucault 1995: 143-145). Geographers have long read patterns of land use and territoriality, material and representational practice, and the production, transformation and reproduction of spatial relationships to identify geographic processes operating at multiple scales. A critical geography of mega-events necessarily addresses the instrumental rationality of hosting the event, the socio-spatial dynamics it seeks to impose, and the possibilities for developing more socially just alternatives (Broudehoux 2007, Gold and Gold 2007, Leyinski 2008).

Power operates through the creation of "governable spaces" that are inseparable in their material and representational formations wherein the creation of governable spaces also produces governable subjects (Lefebvre 1977, Bobrow-Strain 2007: 43). Thus the emergence of sportive constellations on the urban landscape is a product and process of producing governable spaces and through them, social discipline. From Foucault (2007) we know that multiple forms and techniques of governance operate simultaneously to preserve power relations. These relationships take spatial forms that have enduring effects on the exercise, contestation and communication of power.

Recent scholarship on stadiums sheds light on the ways in which landscapes of sport impact the city spatially and culturally. Gaffney (2008) has shown how urban political economy and popular culture combine in the stadiums of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires to influence cultural identities, nationalist discourses, ritualized identity performance, and the production and consumption of spectacles in public space. In this conception, the stadium is much more than a material form as it represents and reproduces the social structures and material practices that brought it into existence. Because stadiums are the most visible, expensive, and problematic elements of mega-events (especially to international audiences) they are excellent places to begin a wider interrogation of the processes involved in producing them.

When we focus these perspectives on sportive constellations, we see a multitude of geographic processes articulating in places that have tended to deflect critical attention. The dominant discourses of sport have the effect of neutralizing spaces of recreation and leisure, placing them outside the realm of critical geography. Yet, as nodes in urban systems, stadiums provide privileged insight into urban power relations because they are material and symbolic, instrumental and practical, discursive and emotional. The goal of using stadiums as windows into patterns of urban political economy, social relations, and cultural processes is to expose the underlying power relations that direct behavior, produce space, and shape ideologies. That is, a critical geography of sporting infrastructures seeks to understand the production, use, and maintenance of power.

In addition to the above, this discussion situates mega-events in larger debates about the production and governance of public space in Latin America and the production [End Page 9] of "Olympic cities" (Herzog 2005, Davis and Monk 2007, Gold and Gold 2007). Social and spatial discipline have long been recognized as important themes in Latin American urban planning (Needell 1995, Outtes 2003). It is important to remember that while stadiums are bounded spatial entities or territories, they function as extensible spaces, connecting to an influencing urban relations and processes at a remove from the locale (Gaffney 2008). Stadiums are embedded in spatial hierarchies that relate to the social production of sporting practice at local, national and international levels. As we will examine in more detail, when considering stadiums as instruments of urban discipline, we must also consider sportive constellations and the historically situated cultural and urban process that relate to them.

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Figure 1.

Official map for the 2007 Pan American Games.

Note that the region in green defines the city limits of Rio de Janeiro to the exclusion of the metropolitan area. Nearly all of the transportation lines shown in the map were pre-existing. The proposed metro, bus, train, and ferry lines never went beyond the planning stage. [End Page 10]

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Figure 2.

Provisional Map for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games

Note that the map only shows urban areas in the region of the games, leaving the image of a partial city. This "Olympic City" does not include favelas or link the relatively wealthy southern zone of Rio to the northern and western suburbs. [End Page 11]

Adding to the current literature on the stadium as a disciplinary space (Gaffney and Mascarenhas 2004) mega-event projects in Rio de Janeiro are a measure of shifting conceptions, patterns, and realities of urban discipline. After describing the historical trajectory and current realities of mega-event production in Rio de Janeiro, in the conclusion I identify the particular ways in which disciplinary regimes associated with mega-events are imagined, legislated, constructed, and imposed in Rio de Janeiro.

Mega-events in Rio de Janeiro, 1919-1950

The first international sporting event in Rio de Janeiro was the 1919 South American Football Championships. While we cannot consider a five-team soccer tournament to be a "mega event", this was the first major international sporting event in the city. Held in the Estádio das Laranjeiras of the elite Fluminese Football Club, the Brazilian victory over Uruguay in the final game of the tournament was the first in a long series of moments when Brazilian national identity crystallized around a stadium event. It was also the first major instance of the suspension of urban normalcy for a sporting event in the city. A presidential order closed banks and government for the day, most businesses closed early, and tens of thousands filled public spaces to listen to live broadcasts of the game. In the stadium itself, approximately 25,000 fans crowded into a stadium with a capacity of 18,000. The Estádio das Laranjeiras emerged during an extended period of urban restructuring wherein the urban landscape of the colonial and early republican eras were reformed and re-imagined to conform to positivist, rationalized visions of urban space. Stadiums, as containers of recently adopted European social practices in Brazil, functioned as both sites and symbols of modernity carrying explicit messages about leisure, bodily discipline and social inclusion. When national identity crystallized around the Brazilian victory in 1919, the space of the stadium served to order conceptions of the nation (Gaffney 2008).

The South American Championship Football tournament returned to Rio de Janeiro in 1922 as part of the Brazilian Centennial Exhibition. The capacity of the Laranjeiras stadium was increased, and in conjunction with the Centennial Expo buildings as a whole, the architecture of the stadium was a self-conscious projection of Brazilian modernity for national, continental and international audiences. One of the principal elements of the Centennial Expo was to develop "satisfactory plans for the material and aesthetic transformation of the City of Rio de Janeiro with a special view to the probable necessities of its development in the most distant future" (NY Times 1/28/1917). It was also an opportunity to attract foreign capital to Brazil. In this we see an early recognition of the capacity of mega-events to transform public interactions and spur economic development through the reorganization of urban space as the city government ordered the demolition of Morro de Castelo (Castle Hill), which occupied a prominent position in the city center. The rubble from the hill was used to create a large, flat area - today occupied by the Santos Dumont Airport. Despite the attempts to control socio-space, the stadium was still relatively undisciplined as more than 35,000 people filled the 25,000 capacity stands to see Brazil capture its second major international trophy.

As sport became an increasingly central element of national identity in Brazil during the 1930s and 1940s, politicians used stadiums throughout Brazil to promulgate national policies and consolidate power. By using the popular associations of sporting arenas, local and national officials were able to insert their political agendas into assumedly neutral spaces of leisure. Stadium space is never neutral, but carries important political and social messages through placement, architecture, and usage norms. When used in an explicitly political context, stadiums function as mechanisms [End Page 12] through which politicians attempt to organize and control social relations. In this sense, stadiums function as an instrumental public space used to deliver political messages. Following the examples of Mussolini and Hitler, Getúlo Vargas was one of the first Brazilian politicians to recognize the utility of stadiums in attaining political ends.

If we understand modernist urban planning and infrastructure development as attempts to discipline or "fix" urban space with an eye to accelerating flows, the construction of the Estádio Municipal do Rio de Janeiro between 1948-1950 can be considered a watershed process in Rio's urban history. In 1947 soccer's governing body (FIFA) selected Brazil to host the first post World War II World Cup. A key element of the agreement between FIFA and the Brazilian government was that a new stadium be constructed in Rio de Janeiro for the tournament. By this time, soccer was wildly popular amongst all classes in Brazil and had emerged as one of the central components of Brazilian cultural identity, particularly in urban areas. Brazilian soccer officials and politicians envisioned the 1950 World Cup as an opportunity for Brazil to perform on an international stage – not solely in sporting terms. By hosting the World Cup – a tournament guaranteed through the financial commitment of the state to build massive stadiums in Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro – Brazil presented itself to the world as capable of grand engineering feats, ingenious architecture, and productive labor.

In addition to projecting images of progressive, industrialized modernity to the international community, Brazilian leaders imagined that the tournament would allow them to project a populist, progressive political agenda to local and national audiences. Rio's Mayor Mendes de Morais called the Estádio Municipal do Rio de Janeiro "a testament to the productive capability of Brazilians and a signifying monument that will be a badge of distinction for Cariocas, allowing the city to be compared with the great cities of the world." The president of FIFA, Jules Rimet, commented that the "stadium should be compared to the Colosseum because of the evocative lines, the majesty of the concepts, the form symbolizing the unity of all nations through sport." The press echoed these discursive sentiments about the role that the stadium would play in the consolidation of Brazilian democracy, the function of sporting complexes to prepare strong, disciplined bodies for the defense of the nation, and the elimination of social difference through the "elliptical democracy" of the giant concrete bowl. This Estádio Municipal do Rio de Janeiro was the largest stadium in the world as well as the largest stadium project since the Circus Maximus in Imperial Rome.

Though Brazil failed in its quest to win the 1950 World Cup, the publicly financed Estádio Municipal (later Estádio Mario Filho, aka Maracanã) eventually became one of the principal icons of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. The stadium symbolized Brazilian passion for sport and highlighted the role of monumental architectural forms in communicating political and sporting ideologies. The centerpieces of this populist ideology were the huge capacity of the stadium (179,000, approximating one tenth of the city's population at the time of construction), monumental approach ramps, undifferentiated seating in the stands (with the exception of the palco de honor) and a section of the stadium known as the geral. The geral was a low-lying area of concrete that encircled the field. This "populist heart" of the stadium was a functional and symbolic space that allowed for the inclusion of all social sectors in public life because of the low ticket prices. Before it was eliminated in 2005, a ticket for the geral was valued at three reales (US$1, at the time). Though notoriously difficult to police and not particularly comfortable, the geral allowed all segments of Rio society to participate in Brazil's most popular form of leisure in its most iconographic stadium (Figure 3). [End Page 13]

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Figure 3a.

Estádio Mario Filho (Maracanã) with geral at lower right.

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Figure 3b.

The Maracanã underwent R$430 million in reforms for the Pan American games and will undergo yet another R$ 420 million in preparation for the 2014 World Cup. The main project for 2007 was to eliminate the geral, lower the playing field and insert seats in the lower bowl. The next round of reforms will place luxury boxes just below the upper bowl and extend the roof to cover all spectators. The plans also call for the construction of a 10,000 garage where spectators will pass through a shopping mall before entering the stadium.

[End Page 14]

A new era of globalization and sporting infrastructure

During the "golden years" of Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI) and direct investment in public sporting facilities by local, state, and federal governments, the Brazilian sporting landscape grew to gigantic dimensions in the 1950s and 1960s. The conquest of the World Cup in 1958 and 1962 consolidated Brazilian passion for and identity with soccer. By 1970, when the military government was actively using the Brazilian national team to accomplish its domestic political agenda, Brazil had more stadiums with a capacity over 100,000 than any other country. Part of the political logic behind such large stadiums is that they diminished an individual's ability to make their voice heard in public. The cavernous space of the stadium required participation en masse, reducing individual agency in the public sphere in a seemingly neutral political environment while at the same time diminishing the potential for oppositional politics.

With the construction of Brasilia in 1960, Rio began a long period of disinvestment that has only begun to abate with the flourishing of the Brazilian economy in the first decade of the 21st century. A series of economic crises and high rates of inflation, combined with the transition (back) to democracy in 1985 led to an aggravation and concentration of social problems in urban areas. This was particularly true in Rio de Janeiro which suffered from the suburbanization of the middle class, the growth of favelas, and the degradation of the port and city center (Lessa 2000: 345-348). Underinvestment in public infrastructure and massive public debt were symptomatic elements of the "shocks" imposed through the machinations of the Washington Consensus (Klein 2005: 112-113, 133-135, 155).

The stadiums of the modernist era were reflections of a populist Keynesianism, providing ample theatres for the production and consumption of Brazil's national pastime. The Maracanã, finally completed more than a decade after the World Cup, gradually became a principal icon of the city and functioned as the biggest stage for Brazil's national sport. Yet it too suffered from neglect in an era of reduced public expenditure. Even as they deteriorated, Brazil's gigantic stadiums also continued to function as relatively open, affordable, and accessible public spaces.

While the Brazilian sporting landscape remained stagnant, the global landscape of sport changed dramatically through the 1980s and 1990s. Beginning with the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1984, new forms of financing, marketing, and communications technology combined to alter the form and function of mega-events (Roche 2000: 159-193). These developments, part and parcel of an emergent "post-modernism", were mirrored by dramatic changes in the stadium landscapes of the UK and USA. In the UK, stadiums came under the regulatory eye of national government following a series of deadly accidents. In the USA, stadiums became central elements of urban redevelopment schemes (beginning with Baltimore's Camden Yards). In both instances, the shift from a participatory to a consumerist model of fandom took precedence as stadium designers and managers targeted more affluent groups by creating 'signature stadiums' with increased amenities and rigid internal spaces that re-enforced external socio-economic distinctions (Gaffney 2008: 204-206). National and international sport governing agencies were on the leading edge of these changes and became increasingly influential in shaping the contemporary system of international sport governance (Roche 2000: 197).

Despite the centrality of the Maracanã stadium in the sporting landscape of Brazil and Rio de Janeiro, the shifting political economy of global sport in the 1990s positioned the Maracanã outside the realm of international competitions. Following USA 1994, FIFA and the IOC began to require that all stadiums used for their events have a certain allotment of VIP areas, a high proportion of parking [End Page 15] spaces relative to overall capacity, standardized media areas and individual, ticketed seats for spectators. Brazilian stadiums did not conform to any of these requirements.

Between 1950 and 1998, the Maracanã did not undergo any significant architectural modifications and frequently attracted crowds in excess of 100,000 people. However, when the Maracanã hosted international soccer games, the geral had to be closed because the space was "undisciplined", that is, it did not function in accordance with international rules that required every spectator be allotted a specific place within the stadium. The deteriorating condition of the stadium (and the hostility of the fans) was so severe that the Brazilian national team did not play there between 2000 and 2007. Adding to the problem were a series of embezzlement scandals, chaotic ticketing mechanisms, a lack of police control of urban space surrounding the stadium, and a general opacity in the management and organization of the stadium complex and Brazilian soccer in general (Gaffney 2008: 103-116).

Beginning in 1998 and continuing today, the Maracanã has undergone a series of major reforms in order to bring it into compliance with international regulations. These reforms included putting plastic seats throughout the upper bowl of the stadium, which reduced the stadium's capacity from 179,000 to 129,000. Secondary reforms included the introduction of luxury boxes along the upper rim of the stadium, which had the effect of decreasing air circulation and exacerbating the already prodigious heat generated by the giant concrete bowl. These modifications also reflected a change towards a Euro-American style of spectatorship whereby elites are able to distance themselves from the crowd. The third major reform (2005-2006) was to eliminate the geral, replacing the open concrete area with individual seats. This reform necessitated the closing of the stadium for nine months in 2005 and reduced the overall capacity of the stadium to 89,000.

If the undifferentiated space of the geral represented an era in Brazil's history when infrastructure development projects undertaken in the context of global mega-events were intended to communicate ideas of democracy and industrial modernity, the continuance of those forms into a new era of globalization and neo-liberal governance rendered obsolete the internal architecture of the stadium. The geral was a space that did not concord with a shifting political economy of sport, or the shifting demands of spectators. In conversations with directors of the state agency responsible for the oversight of Rio's public stadiums, it became clear that reforming these spaces in the context of anticipated mega-events was an attempt to attract a new cycle of infrastructure development for the city at large. These developments were no longer cast in the populist light of the 1950s, but were aimed at attracting international tourists and, in a local context, targeted a different kind of consumer. The elimination of the geral not only erased "popular" space within the stadium, it diminished the overall capacity and replaced general seating with hard backed seats that could only be accessed with a specific ticket. These tickets are not as affordable for the general public, having increased from 3 reales to 20. More directly, the installation of closed-circuit cameras in the streets surrounding the stadium as well as in the stadium itself revealed a desire to impose a new kind of social order in public space. This order reflects the targeting of public monies for private consumption practices. This is consistent with other developments in the city at large wherein the city is no longer a place to live and work, but as a thing to be marketed and sold. This "luxury market is intended for a group of elite consumers: international capitol, visitors and users with disposable income" (Vainer 2000: 83). The reformation and construction of sporting landscapes is an integral part of this conception of the city.

Between 1950 and 2007, Rio de Janeiro did not host any major international sporting events despite applying for the 2002 and 2008 Olympic Games. As Rio de Janeiro began its preparations for the 2007 Pan American Games, large signs sprung up in various [End Page 16] parts of the city declaring "No Rio, esporte quer dizer futuro" – In Rio, sport is the future. This is reflective of a long-standing discourse surrounding sport and social development in Brazil. The discourse suggests that by investing heavily in sporting infrastructure and social programs aimed at the development of athletes, Rio will be able to extricate itself from chronic problems of socio-economic polarization and drug-related violence. Indeed, one of the reasons that Brazil has been so successful in the international soccer is that sport is one of the only viable escape mechanisms for impoverished youth from cycles of violence and socio-economic marginalization. Millions of Brazilians begin laboring towards the goal of becoming a professional athlete in pre-adolescence. While more than 6,000 Brazilians are currently playing professional soccer in foreign leagues, the vast majority of aspiring soccer players will never make a living through sport. The heavy investiture in sporting infrastructure channels money from the development of social and educational programs perpetuating cycles of poverty and disassociation that contribute to the chronic problems of violence, drugs, and marginalization in Rio de Janeiro.

After winning the bid for the 2007 Pan American Games in 2002, Rio de Janeiro's state and city governments combined with the Brazilian national government to spend more than 5 billion reales on stadium construction and renovation, transportation, and communications infrastructure modernization (Mascarenhas 2006). These were the costliest Pan American Games ever. This vast expenditure did not include a US$ 300 million outlay for increased security. The cornerstone of the security measures was the provision of 18,000 extra police and the installation of 1,700 security cameras around the city to ensure the smooth functioning of events. In a city marked by extreme violence, this disciplinary measure, coupled with the internal "discipline" of reformed stadium architecture was intended to showcase the ability of Rio de Janeiro to host mega-events to the IOC and FIFA.

For the Pan American Games new sporting venues were built in three "Olympic Zones" throughout the city, the vast majority of installations, including the "Villa Pan" (Olympic housing) located on greenfield sites in Barra de Tijuca, far from the centers of population in the north of the city. Central to the Rio Organizing Committee's bid were plans to build a new subway line and improve the deplorable pollution in Guanabara Bay. These projects were quickly scrapped as the stadium projects ran more than five times over budget (NY Times, May 22, 2007). While there were no major incidences of during the tournament (battles between police and drug lords preceded the opening of the games with multiple fatalities, Figure 4), the post-tournament landscape of violence in Rio de Janeiro has not changed significantly.

Other than the temporary increase in construction jobs and low-paying service sector employment, the sportive constellation developed for the Pan 2007 directed public money to the production of Olympic space that has left little behind in the way of social programs or functional urban spaces. Indeed, the unequal geographic and social distribution of public monies has arguably left many communities worse off than before. Added to this were plans to privatize public spaces such as Aterro de Flamengo and Marina da Gloria. Residents' associations stopped these plans, but not until millions of reales of public money were spent.

The Villa Pan, constructed with money drawn from the Federal Workers Fund, was constructed on unstable sub-soil and ran many times over budget. The majority of the apartments sold on the first day they were available, but the residents who moved in found that they were incomplete. In October of 2009, the Brazilian federal government indicted the engineering and construction firms contracted to build the Villa Pan for grossly inflated wage bills, deliberate contractual [End Page 17] malfeasance, and undelivered services. The head of construction projects for the Pan American Games was ordered to repay RS28 million to the Federal coffers.

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Figure 4.

Reproduction of a t-shirt made for the 2007 Pan American Games. In the lead-up to the Games, the Rio police killed at least 19 people in the Complexo de Alemão in an attempt to control drug traffic. The city, state, and federal governments also increased the military presence in Rio for the duration of the games, ensuring by force of arms that the Games would be carried off without violent protest.

The global trend in mega-event production suggests that these projects leave communities with massive debt, a reduction in public space, and public financing for real estate development projects (Mascarenhas 2006, Gold and Gold 2007). This was also the experience in Rio de Janeiro where as of October 2009, only one of the installations built for the 2007 Pan American Games is open for public use, the remainder have been privatized (Figures 5, 6, 7).

The 2007 Pan American Games left an ambiguous social and urban legacy. The production of Olympic constellations in Rio did not deliver the promised transportation infrastructure, did not improve the housing situation for Rio's poor, did not open new sporting venues in order to develop the a generation of Olympic athletes, and neglected promises of environmental remediation while contributing to the generalized opacity of mega-events. Tens of thousands of police prevented public violence in the city for a short period of time before conditions returned to "normal". On the other hand, the [End Page 18] Pan 2007 did provide residents with the opportunity to see high-level sport in a variety of disciplines that have little or no presence in Brazil. It also provided the Brazilian Olympic Committee with valuable experience so that they could pursue the 2016 Summer Olympics.

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Figure 5.

Stadium Rio. Originally called Estádio Olímpico João Havelange, the stadium has been subject to much criticism for its high cost (R$380 million) and the lack of access. In this photo the one-way traffic passes the Engenho do Dentro rail station. The stadium is clearly a monumental project located in a lower-middle class neighborhood without tall buildings. Botafogo Football Club rents the stadium for R$30,000 per month. It is completely closed to the public.

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Figure 6.

HSBC Arena. Originally known as Arena Olímpica, the building has not hosted a sporting event since the 2007 Pan American Games. Its primary function is to host music shows. There is no way for the public to enter the stadium without paying for an event.

[End Page 19]

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Figure 7.

Centro Aquático Maria Lenk. This was the main center for the swimming competitions for the 2007 Pan American Games but has not hosted a swimming event since then. The arena will have to undergo major reforms in order to meet IOC requirements for the 2016 Olympics. Additionally, the pool does not meet Olympic standards so another swimming center will have to be constructed for 2016. This facility is closed to public use.

The future is now: World Cup 2014 and 2016 Summer Olympics

Shortly after the "successful" hosting of Pan 2007, FIFA awarded Brazil the 2014 World Cup. The Brazilian organizing committee quickly suggested that the Maracanã host the final game of the tournament and that Rio serve as the media and communications center for the month long event. The centerpiece of Rio's project is a massive reform of the Maracanã complex, including the development of a 10,000 car parking garage, a shopping mall connected to an inter-modal transport station, and major reforms to the Maracanã stadium which include extending the roof in order to cover all of the stadium's seats (SUDERJ 2008). This $430 million project, aimed at attracting international tourists, corporate executives, and wealthy Brazilians to the stadium are happening a goal-kick away from the Mangueira favela. The favela complex has been left out of the development project for the World Cup, placing what will become an international tourist destination in painful proximity to a residential area without basic infrastructure. This is comparable to Meade's observations of Rio de Janeiro in the early 20th century "in which the sprawling neighborhoods of the urban poor as well as the informal economy those neighborhoods generated, existed in close relationship with the formal economy, the state and its culture but only experienced that formal sector as brutal and abusive" (Meade 1997: 182).

Contrary to the democratic ideologies that were at the forefront of the 1950 World Cup, the discourses surrounding the 2014 World Cup reflect the exigencies of an increasingly globalized and neo-liberal political economy. The Brazilian minister of sport Orlando Silva suggested that, "the World Cup will leave us among other things more attractive stadiums. Clubs will be able to demand higher ticket prices, and our football will be able to finance itself better." This is similar to North American models of stadium development that take public monies and funnel the profits into private hands. The erstwhile populist president of Brazil was on the same page as his sports minister, saying that state financing of infrastructure for the World Cup, "is more [End Page 20] than a promise made by the current government, it is a promise made by the state, to show the world that Brasil is a growing country with an organized, stable economy". Not to be left out of the neo-liberal parade was the head of Brazil's soccer federation Ricardo Teixiera (also the son-in-law of former IOC president João Havelange), who suggested that the tournament would cut costs by using "20,000 volunteers, giving the poorest children of our cities the first chance to be selected to represent Brazil to the world" (OGlobo.com July 21, 2007). A similar program was attempted for the 2007 Pan American Games, but when the volunteers gathered in a stadium for orientation fights broke out between rival drug factions and the plan was abandoned.

In order to finance the Maracanã project, the state agency responsible for stadium development and management in Rio de Janeiro (SUDERJ), put forward a plan to privatize the Maracanã, placing it in the hands of Rio's four biggest soccer clubs. Currently, SUDERJ leases the stadium to the clubs for games. Under the privatization plan, luxury box rights would be leased to individuals and companies, and the teams would no longer rent the stadium but would be part owners in the stadium receiving the funds from gate receipts. Again, this follows North American models of stadium development whereby public monies are used to funnel profits into private hands. It is also consistent with neo-liberal models of selling public goods to private companies that have repeatedly caused grief in Latin America..

In May of 2009, the Brazilian World Cup Organizing Committee announced the twelve cities that will host the 2014 World Cup. The projected cost of stadium construction alone is in excess of R$4.35 billion. This is equivalent to R$ 6,100 per stadium seat (Table 1). Between 2007 and 2009, the 2014 Organizing Committee conducted a competition among 18 cities, engendering a bidding war full of political intrigue in which host cities and states scrambled to outspend their competition on new stadiums, highways, and airport terminals. Incredibly, Brazil does not currently have any stadiums that meet FIFA requirements for hosting a World Cup game. Given that the Pan 2007 was a fairly localized event and ran more than ten times over budget, we can safely assume that the cost for stadium infrastructure and the forced modernization of Brazil's notoriously bad air, highway, and rail systems will cost many billions more. While many of these infrastructure development projects will come under the aegis of the federal Program for Accelerated Development (PAC), others like the proposed high speed train linking Rio and São Paulo will be public-private partnerships. One such partnership is envisioned for the Maracanã which will be managed and operated by a private firm for 35 years following the World Cup.

2016 Summer Olympics

On October 2, 2009 the International Olympic Committee selected Rio de Janeiro as the host of the 2016 Summer Olympics. This was the third time that Rio de Janeiro has bid for the Summer Olympics – the collective cost of the two most recent bids, not the games themselves, is approximately US$100 million. The bid for the 2016 Games is detailed and complex, encapsulating a phenomenal range of development goals. The utilization of sporting discourses and the role of the Olympics as a mechanism for socio-spatial transformation is evident when we look at the areas of focus in the Rio bid:

  • •. Olympic values underpinning education and social development

  • •. Olympic Games a major driver for Rio's ongoing development

  • •. New territory for the Olympic Games

  • •. Promotion of Brazil

  • •. Enhancement of the Olympic brand through Games experience [End Page 21]

  • •. Long-term city plans and requirements will be accelerated

  • •. Create a deeper, global understanding of modern Brazil

  • •. Create sports legacy benefits for all of South America

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Table 1.

Stadium Projects for the 2014 FTFA World Cup

These points highlight the role that government officials intend for the Olympics to play in accelerating infrastructure modernization projects in Rio de Janeiro. Cryptic phrases such as promotion of Brazil and create a deeper, global understanding of modern Brazil are code for marketing the city and nation to highly mobile global capital. The notion of developmental acceleration is at the forefront of the bid, but the forms of the plans and requirements are deliberately vague. As with most mega-events, development is highly uneven and tends to benefit private developers and construction interests while creating spaces of leisure for wealthy residents and the international tourist class. The increased security apparatuses that have become defining features of global-mega events effectively privatize public spaces in the city, installing surveillance mechanisms that continue operating long after the Games are over.

As we have seen, the discursive structures of sport and Olympism in particular, drive the socio-spatial transformation of host cities (Figure 8).

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Figure 8.

Host cities for the 2016 Olympic Games

[End Page 23]

In the context of Rio de Janeiro's bid the:

Inclusion of Olympic Values as a base for education and social development. Sport has an incontestable power as a transformative tool through social inclusion and education. As a nation in a phase of rapid development, Brazil has much to gain with educational programs and the engagement of youth in the Olympic Movement.

But the Olympics are not only intended to reform social relations. The inclusion of "sustainability" as a pillar of the Olympic Movement following the 1988 Seoul Olympics has encouraged every subsequent host city to wrap its monumental building projects in a veil of environmental munificence – even though the carbon footprint of the Olympic games merely in terms of airline flights to the host city is staggering. For the Rio Organizing Committee, the Olympic Games:

…represent an important transformative force, permitting the renovation of fragile natural areas as well as the improved functioning of transportation systems. The impact for Rio will be unparalleled, offering an opportunity for the renovation of the port area and surroundings, the improvement of points of inter-modal public transport, and the acceleration of high priority environmental programs with the larger objective of developing a sustainable city.

Ironically, the majority of the facilities built for the Pan 2007 were constructed on wetlands in Barra de Tijuna. The majority of the housing and sporting infrastructures were built on concrete pylons that had to be sunk 45 meters into the subsoil. Additionally, the highway and subway projects envisioned for the Olympics will pass through existing neighborhoods and under park space, lessening water quality and disturbing natural habitat. The majority of Rio's Olympic installations will be built on the wetlands of Barra de Tijuca.

In addition to transforming socio-spatial relationships in Rio de Janeiro, the Olympic bid envisions the Games as an opportunity for Brazil to project its industry and economy on an international stage:

….the world's 7th largest economy with a diverse industrial base, Brazil stands out as having a series of innovations. Recent incentives in the environmental arena have elevated the country as a global leader in certain industrial segments such as bio-fuel, agri-business and recycling. The Olympic Games present an ideal platform to expose this progress in global terms.

Thus, the Olympics become a mechanism for transforming the space of the city while at the same time acting as a platform to project those transformations to the international community. The public investiture in mega-events is intended, on one hand, to provide world class facilities that cater to an international tourist class. On the other hand, it is a mechanism for accelerated infrastructural development wrapped in the politically neutral and universalistic discourses of sport. The transformations that mega-events wreak are permanent, impose temporary forms of governance that elide democratic institutions, install new and enduring surveillance and disciplinary mechanisms, while both creating and exacerbating unequal geographies of power within the city at large. This process will most likely mirror the urban reforms undertaken at the beginning of the 20th Century which "…never resolved the issue of social control entirely; instead, they merely introduced a new set of antagonisms and changed the contours of the struggle between those who were benefiting from the new Rio and those who were not" (Meade 1997: 122) [End Page 24]

In essence, the hosting of a global mega-event "opens new opportunities for the accumulation of capital, principally in the real estate sector installing a despotic politics that ignores socio-spatial difference in the urban fabric in favor of a neo-liberal plan" (Pasini and Pontes 2006). This plan will be carried out by the APO (Public Olympic Authority). The APO will have power to direct the R$30 billion budget, acquire land through eminent domain, and will be the central coordinating authority for all Games projects, including security. The APO is an extra-governmental institution with appointed leadership that will have immense powers the shape the city for the next ten years. No one is quite sure just how much power the APO will have, but within a week of its creation, members of the city and state governments were reassuring the public that its powers would be limited. The likely candidate to head the APO, Ricardo Leyser Gonçalves, was recently indicted by the Tribunal de Contas do Nação (TCU) for his "irregular" use of public money during the Pan 2007.

This is not to say that urgent changes to Brazil's urban infrastructures are not necessary or that the effects of mega-events are wholly negative. However, it is unclear whether or not Rio's mega-event projects are consistent with long-term city development plans. The tremendous economic stress of hosting mega-events requires that "most investments be covered by public or private entities" (Pruess 2004: 284). There is not much evidence to suggest that the projects imagined for the 2014 World Cup or 2016 Olympics are targeting the chronic problems of Rio de Janeiro. To make matters worse, "in developing countries, the economic impact created by the Games is smaller than in industrialized countries…if the Games neither support an urgently needed city development not the economic impact to be expected then only a positive image and promotion effect might occur" (Pruess 2004: 285). As Rio de Janeiro moves forward with its plans to invest billions in mega-events, it will be critically important to have an open, democratic involvement in the process so that the most pressing needs of its citizens can be addressed.


By observing the shifting discourses associated with the development sporting landscapes we gain unique insight into larger urban, social, political and economic realms. This insight is unique and shocking because of the supposed political neutrality of sport, especially in the context of the Olympics where discourses of amateurism and a "level playing field" still figure heavily in public consciousness. In early 20th century Brazil, sport was primarily an elite practice. As sporting practices filtered through the socio-economic spectrum they were imbued with moralizing discourses associated with civilizing mechanisms. Similar to the ways in which scientific urban planning intended to sanitize, civilize, and project a cosmopolitan city image to locals and tourists, the landscape of sport was also a place and space that carried certain notions of social discipline (Meade 1997; Gaffney and Mascarenhas 2005). Similarly, the 2007 Pan American Games, the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games and their associated social-sport infrastructures have as their goal the appropriation of public money for the reformation of the city along neo-liberal modes of urban and social development. This is consistent with the trajectory of the city at large (Arantes, Vainer, Maricato 2000; Lessa 2000). The discourses of sport place those who raise oppositional voices to mega-events into categories of "anti-patriotic", "anti-progressive" and "radical".

As Roche (2000:7) suggests, developing critical perspectives on mega-events provides insight into structure, change, and agency in contemporary society. The temporal and spatial aspects of mega-events provide encapsulated images of cities and [End Page 25] cultures that are intended to be internalized and consumed by locals, tourists, and a host of political and financial interests. Cities and countries competitively bid for an event in the hopes of 'remaking' their cities by creating new transportation, communication, transport, tourist, and sporting infrastructure, increasing tourism, providing temporary jobs, and marketing the city or country to attract global capital. These projects, massive in their scope and scale, cost many billions of public dollars and leave behind ambiguous legacies. Nearly every global mega-event has resulted in financial losses for the host, temporary cessation of democratic process, the production of militarized and exclusionary spaces, residential displacement, and environmental degradation (Leyinski 2008). Global mega-events such as the Summer Olympics, the FIFA World Cup and regional mega-events such as the Pan-American, Asian, and Commonwealth Games are in continual states of development, always reflecting the intersection between the local and the global.

Mega-events function to discipline urban space and social relations in distinct ways. In the first instance, mega-events fix space in order to accelerate capital accumulation. This goal is accomplished through the funneling of public money towards tourist, leisure, communications, and transportation projects. Second, the institutional governing structures of international sporting bodies such as the IOC and FIFA require that cities fund their sportive constellations, effectively taking public money cities funneling it to private business interests. In the case of the Olympics, the Brazilian federal government was required to issue a blank check, guaranteeing any cost over runs. This paves the way, literally and figuratively, for corruption and graft – problems that resulted in a budgetary overrun of ten times the projected cost for the 2007 Pan American Games.

Third, the disciplinary institutions, discourses, and mechanisms of sport and stadiums are extended to the whole of the city. The need to create docile, disciplined bodies inside stadia is reflected in the need to have docile bodies in public space. This is actuated not only in the increase of police forces and security cameras but through the implementation of social programs based in sport, not education or public works. These programs serve to produce bodies that can then be incorporated into professional systems of sport within which teams make huge profits by selling individuals on the global market –the equivalent of providing a subsidy to professional teams to manufacture their future employees and profits.

Fourth, the social programs associated with the various games are intended to instill codes of ethics and behavioral norms that are in accordance with the "Olympic Spirit" but really serve the dominant paradigms of international sport and a neo-liberal political economy. Positioned as elements of education, the stated goals of these programs suggest that "it is through sport that young people and children learn to overcome obstacles, respect rules, work within a team and demonstrate solidarity. Values that come from the field of play help to encounter difficulties and provide strength to fight for a better life" (Rio de Janeiro Organizing Committee). Yet these programs aimed at developing disciplined minds and bodies are wrapped in a global political economy of sports that serves, in part, to exacerbate instead of ameliorate social and spatial inequalities.

The development of spatial constellations that accompany mega-events function to accelerate flows. By funneling public monies into the production of sportive constellations, cities are compelled to produce spaces that do not necessarily function outside of the context of the event. Typically, once the event has passed, cities are left with massive building projects that they are required to pour money into through debt servicing and maintenance. In some cases, the cost overruns are passed on to ordinary or habitual consumers who are forced to spend an increasing share of their wealth to attend events in the stadium. This has the further effect of locking out lower income residents from the very places that they have been taxed to create. Furthermore, the privileging of [End Page 26] private transportation and inclusion of a higher percentage of luxury boxes and seating only sections, shifts the culture of the crowd to one that is more orientated to consumption of rather than participation in the event. In short, the cycles of mega-event production and consumption are dictated by international sporting organizations and multi-national corporations who combine with the state to exploit the emotions associated with sport to take public monies in order to create a docile, disciplined, consumerist society. This is hugely problematic in Brazil, and in Rio de Janeiro in particular, where socio-economic status (and therefore the ability to consume) is closely linked to racial categories.

When considered as part of a larger historical trajectory, we see that there has been a discernable shift in the logics of stadium production in Brazil from large, inclusive stadiums that functioned largely in the public realm to smaller, exclusive stadiums that cater to a much more limited segment of the population. Much as the passage of public health and sanitation bills in the late 19th century were intended to "civilize" the city, Rio's current infrastructure development projects may be attempts "to allow foreign capitalized firms a direct say in the way Rio de Janeiro was to allocate its space" (Meade 1997: 79).

Finally and by way of suggestion, the processes by which Olympic cities are transformed are eerily similar to the "shock doctrines" that inform public policy in the wake of political, environmental, or economic disasters (Klein 2007). One of the elements that Klein identifies as central to the transformation of national political and economic structures is the imposition of temporary, extra-legal forms of governance that disappear once the moment of crisis has passed. An example of this was the Coalition Provisional Authority in post-invasion Iraq, that "melted away" after "handing out its billions to contractors" (Klein 2007: 453). Similarly, the Organizing Committees that are responsible for funding and managing mega-event budgets are autonomous entities comprised of national elites not subject to any sort of democratic accountability. Organizing committees have access to tens of billions of dollars of public money, keep their own books, and award contracts for everything from stadium building to concessions, claiming land through eminent domain to contracting private and public security forces. After the mega-event has passed, the committee dissolves, leaving behind political, economic, and socio-spatial legacies that promote neo-liberal forms of governance. There is no legal recourse for those displaced or otherwise aggrieved by the mega-event – the massive debt is assumed by the city and with time the corruption scandals fade.

The main differences between the selling of public utilities and the hollowing out of state services that Klein identifies as integral components of shock doctrines and the staging of mega-events is that in the latter, the shock is not perceived as trauma but as a highly securitized festival and spectacle. The mega-event is invariably wrapped in nationalist discourses and urban boosterism, transforming the raiding of public coffers to stimulate private profit into a civic obligation. It is all the more insidious for this. Mega-events impose mechanisms of militarization, privatization, "free-trade", global branding, the hollowing out of state services, and the public subsidy of infrastructures that conform to the exigencies of increasingly mobile forces of global capital that are exactly the same as those imposed by authoritarian neo-liberal regimes. The mega-event city is shocked by years of construction projects, debt accumulation, the restructuring of the everyday, media campaigns, the arrival of hundreds of thousands of wealthy tourists, and the militarization of urban space. These shocks reverberate through time and space while the instruments of their implementation dissolve into memory. Following Roche (2000:199), if "we can understand mega-events as social spatio-temporal 'hubs' and 'switches' that both channel, mix, and re-route global flows, as well as being periodically 'over-flowed' by them," then it follows that the socio-spatial structures that mega-events impose are active expressions of the strictures and structures of an increasingly global neo-liberal political economy. [End Page 27]

The creation of the neo-liberal Olympic city is in effect the construction of what Davis and Monk (2007: xvi) refer to as an "Evil Paradise" where "Olympic mega-structures…arise from the toil of migrant workers whose own homes are fetid barracks and desolate encampments." Rio de Janeiro has fully engaged the process of making itself into an Olympic City where the workers will stream down from the favelas to build sportive constellations that are intended for use by the international tourist class and the upper strata of Brazilian society.

Christopher Gaffney
Escola de Arquitetura e Urbanismo
Universidade Federal Fluminense
Rio de Janeiro


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