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Reflecting on the Olympics from Afar

The summer Olympics is now underway, and Brazil, the host for the Rio 2016 games, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Media reports paint an ominous picture, detailing a country beset by political unrest, crime, and corruption, not to mention the risk of the Zika virus that has led many top athletes to stay home.

Members of the Keene State community have been watching the proceedings from afar and offer their insights into a country that is about to welcome an estimated 10,000 participating athletes and 500,000 visitors. Laura Premack, an assistant history professor at Keene State who studies Latin America and has an affiliation with the State University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, taught a course last semester entitled “Life in Modern Brazil.” Premack said the games are having a negative impact on the local communities. “It’s a huge misappropriation of resources,” she said.

Kerrin McTernan, a junior from North Attleboro, Massachusetts, who took the class, feels Brazil has to re-evaluate its priorities. “The Brazilian government wants to play with the big boys, but they have yet to really focus on their own country,” said McTernan, who has a dual major of secondary education and history as well as a minor in German. “There’s a real big gap between the between the rich and the poor, and when those less fortunate see money being spent for Olympic facilities and infrastructure, it results in unrest.”

Premack said that poverty, violence, and corruption are ongoing problems in Rio and the country as a whole. Brazil is also hurt by the negative publicity surrounding the country’s contaminated waterways and the Zika virus.

The doom and gloom prospects for the Games have taken the spotlight away from the athletes who have spent years getting ready for their Olympic moment. In many ways, the problems associated with Rio 2016 reflect lingering problems that have yet to be addressed. “For me, it’s nationalism and commercialism that you’re seeing at play. It’s been going on for decades, and it’s just getting worse because of the amount of money that’s at play,” said Fitni Destani, an associate professor in Keene State’s Department of Human Performance and Movement Science, who has spoken about the sociological impact of the Olympics in several of his classes. “Unfortunately not enough has been changed – it’s more of the same.”

Ready or not, the Games will go on. While Brazil might be able to pull it off, the questions and concerns won’t go away when the party is over. “Mismanagement and corruption is not just the story of preparation for the Games – It’s the story of Brazil right now,” said Premack about a country that will be holding an impeachment trial for its president as the same time as the Olympics. “You can’t really look at the Games without looking at the larger political situation in the country, which has taken an incredible turn over the past several months that no one really believed would happen.”

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