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The Rio 2016 Olympics: A Window into Our World (Part Two)

International mega sporting events, like the World Cup or the Olympics, pose arduous challenges for those seeking to quash corruption. They require a host nation, or city, to take on magnificent construction projects under demanding timelines.

A close look at the construction for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will provide a needed gauge of the progress Brazil has made in controlling the corruption that all-too-often accompanies such events.

The most recent Olympic games, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, put the corruption epidemic of international sports on full display. With a price tag estimated at over $52 billion, the games in Sochi were the most expensive in history, and corruption seemed omnipresent. Russia sought to develop infrastructure that would take the world’s breath away. Yet, in addition to this incredible cost, Russia paid an even greater price in the form of environmental and human rights violations.

For example, Russia developed the 48 kilometer long Adler—Krasnaya Polyana railroad and highway to facilitate transportation for the games. This road was a construction jewel with a world-record cost of $9.4 billion.  However, numerous standing Russian laws were broken in the process. Tainted from the inception, the project bypassed the construction project approval process legally required by the Russian government, which would have included an environmental impact assessment. An environmental assessment was particularly relevant in the case of this roadway because construction occurred smack in the middle of a protected national forest. Endangered habitats were destroyed as a result.

Corruption may have also occurred as the Russian government strong-armed families to vacate their homes for new Olympic venues. At least 112 families, mostly from the Imereti lowlands, were forced to sell their homes and move into a new village, Nekrasovskoye, created by the Russian government to house forcibly displaced families. The process to assess the values of homes and make payments to families based on those assessments lacked transparency, and the degree of mistreatment of displaced Russian families remains unclear.

Brazil is faced with similar dilemmas. Will Brazil work to implement and enforce laws to combat corruption?  Or will the Brazilian government turn a blind eye to violations of environmental and human rights laws? At first glance, studies like those of Professor Orlando Santos from Rio de Janeiro Federal University indicate the situation in Brazil has not improved in comparison to Sochi — that upwards of 170,000 Brazilians might have been victims of forcible displacement to support the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. But we think Brazil can do better.

Our research team from the University of Richmond has promised to do just that. 

You can read our preliminary paper on the subject and our proposed research here.

If you have insight or experience with these issues, we would love to hear from you. We are also seeking donations, whether in-kind or cash, to help defray the students’ travel and research expenses. If you want to support our work, please contact us here or follow this link. We greatly appreciate your help!


Andy Spalding is a Senior Editor of the FCPA Blog and Assistant Professor at the University of Richmond School of Law.

Albert Flores is a second-year law student at the University of Richmond. During his ten years as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, he commanded ground reconnaissance forces during combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and conducted a corruption investigation at Abu Ghriab prison. 

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