Americas

Brazil’s Soft Power Dwindles During Rio Olympics


nuno_lopes, © 2016

nuno_lopes, © 2016

The 2016 Rio Olympic Games were supposed to be Brazil’s moment to shine – a time to showcase how this BRICS country has become one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and a powerhouse in Latin America. However, mired in President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment scandal and the Zika virus, Brazil presented an image that was far less positive than was hoped. Rather than conquering the world with its newly acquired economic status, rhythmic samba, and natural beauty, it ended up leaving many wondering what is so wonderful about Brazil.

The Olympic Games are supposed to be a country’s chance to showcase its soft power by highlighting the best the country has to offer. “Soft power,” a term coined by Harvard professor Joseph Nye, refers to a country’s ability to persuade and attract foreign audiences through cultural, diplomatic, and economic means. In simpler terms, it’s a nation’s non-coercive way of influencing the views of foreign publics. Overshadowed by negative press coverage, Brazil failed in its soft power attempts to capture the world.

When Brazil was first selected to host the Olympic Games in 2006, it was chosen in part because it had the infrastructure and the money to do so. The country was at its peak economically, the seventh-largest in the world. These Olympics were supposed to highlight Brazil as a rising power. Unfortunately, these Games ended up doing quite the opposite, highlighting instead all that is going wrong in the country, including its slowing economy, political corruption, public health issues, and security concerns.

Months prior to the start of the Olympics, the host city of Rio de Janeiro declared that it didn’t have the money to finish building the venues and paying its workers. It asked the federal government for support amid widespread strikes. Not only did the city of Rio not have the money, but it was also struggling to sell tickets to many of the events. Those who could have possibly bought those tickets were avoiding travel to the country for fear of contracting the mysterious Zika virus. Others were concerned with the security situation, given all the strikes that were popping up in the city along with the seemingly unmanageable crime.

There were even sections of the Olympic Village, the international athletes’ residences, that were left incomplete, resulting in issues with the plumbing and electricity. Some countries, such as Australia, took matters into their own hands to ensure that their athletes were living in safe and habitable spaces. Adding to that embarrassment, the swimming pool used for diving events transformed overnight into a toxic-looking green. The pool had to be drained to ensure the safety of the athletes.

These are just some examples of the many issues the media highlighted, none of them the kinds of things for which Brazil wanted to be remembered.

Even though Brazil tried to highlight the best of its country through its samba, bossa nova, and beautiful people during the opening and closing ceremonies, it was still not enough to conquer the hearts and minds of the world. Drowned by negative press stories, Brazil failed to use soft power as a means to attracting foreign audiences. Had Brazil hosted these Olympics when it was still at its peak, then maybe – just maybe – people around the world would have seen the powerhouse it was supposed to be today. Instead, these Olympics highlighted Brazil’s crumbling global economic and political status.

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