Rio Olympics 2016: Should Brazil have done better with Olympic legacy?

By Wyre DaviesIn Rio for Radio 5 live Breakfast
Rio Olympics tennis centre
The Brazilian Ministry of Sport has taken over the running of most of the venues in the Olympic Park, including the tennis centre

At a small, run-down training centre just to the north of Rio, Ane Marcelle dos Santos steadies her bow, carefully pulls an arrow from her quiver, pulls back the high-tension cord, pauses and shoots.

The arrow hits the target, way down the range - not quite in the middle, but still gold.

"I love this sport," Ane Marcelle tells me, "but I'm not sure if I can carry on doing this for much longer."

The 23-year-old came a creditable ninth in the women's archery at Rio 2016. Those were her first Games, and she's a genuine medal prospect for Tokyo 2020 - part of what should be Brazil's Olympic sporting legacy.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 live Breakfast, Ane Marcelle explains how, less than a month after the Games ended, she lost most of her funding, her coach and other vital backing.

"The Brazilian Olympic Committee cut everything: my health insurance, my salary, everything," she says, barely able to contain her disappointment. "We made history in archery, achieving something no Brazilian had ever achieved. But it's all over. It made me think my sacrifice wasn't worth it."

Her story is not untypical for dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Brazilian athletes who face an uncertain future little more than six months after the jamboree that was Rio 2016.

What has happened to the Rio Olympic venues?

By now the vast Olympic Park, built on the edge of a lagoon to the south of Rio, should have been up and running as a centre of excellence for Brazilian sport.

But the 'stage' which only six months ago was playing host to 'The Greatest Show on Earth' is eerily empty. Most of the venues are mothballed - empty, stripped bare of Rio 2016 logos and seating.

Arenas where medals were won and lost are now little more than warehouses. Venues that should have been dismantled and rebuilt as schools elsewhere in the city are untouched. If there is a legacy here, it's not the one those who campaigned for Rio to win the Games had expected.

"I feel the Olympic Games in Brazil were not so successful because the legacy was not the number one concern," says Isabel Swan, a three-time Olympic sailor and former medallist who was a key member of the team that 'won' the Games for Rio in 2009.

I've spoken to Swan on many occasions, particularly about the repeated failures of Rio state and city officials to keep their pre-Olympic pledge to clean the chronic levels of pollution and rubbish in Rio's Guanabara Bay.

When 5 live Breakfast caught up with her again this week, she was deflated but not broken.

She told me: "Even though we grew as a city and delivered some great sport, we still have big problems. This is making me really sad. But I'll keep believing and working. I won't change my mindset."

The Brazilian Ministry of Sport has had to take over the running of most of the venues in the Olympic Park - including the tennis centre, the velodrome and two of the three 'Carioca' arenas - because no private company, and certainly not the local authority, can take on the day-to-day expense of running them, never mind transforming the Park into a hive of sporting activity where the next generation of Brazilian athletes, like Ane Marcelle dos Santos, should be preparing to challenge for medals at the next Games.

Ane Marcelle dos Santos shoots her bow
Ane Marcelle dos Santos was beaten by Britain's Naomi Folkard at Rio 2016

"Our worst fears are becoming reality. We're showing a terrible example to the world."

That was the stark conclusion from Marcelo Barreto - one of Brazil's best-known and most experienced sports commentators - when he spoke to 5 live Breakfast.

"I think they made such a huge effort to take care of the Games themselves, all our efforts were exhausted when the Olympic flame was gone," said Barreto.

"When Rio won the right to hold the Olympics, Brazil was thriving… now it's a broken state. The government doesn't have money to pay teachers, health employees. Taking care of the Olympic legacy is at the very back of the line. We should have done much better."

No-one could, of course, have predicted back in 2009, when Rio won the right to host the Games, that by 2016 the city and the country would be in the depths of a political and economic crisis.

It would be churlish and misleading to blame the Olympics (and the 2014 football World Cup) for Brazil's many ills. But spending billions of dollars, in deals shrouded in allegations of corruption, on white elephant stadiums when public workers haven't received their salaries for months, doesn't look good to say the least.

"I'm not in disappointment mode yet because I think we still have time to regroup and fix the situation," said Mario Andrada, executive director for communications at Rio 2016.

"For a young democracy to successfully stage the Olympics and World Cup says quite a lot, and the fact the non-sporting legacy is already so strong means we can have a good, positive memory of the Games and will can be proud of the legacy."

The "non-sporting legacy" to which Andrada refers is the single new metro line between the city and the Olympic Park zone, some other new urban transport and the opening of other, previously derelict, city centre areas - things from which Rio has undoubtedly benefited.

But such was Rio's desperation to get things ready on time, legacy was the last thing on anyone's minds, one anonymous official, who'd worked previously on the London Games, told us. These were his words.

"I never once had a conversation about legacy at any point or in any discussion I had working on the Games. You have to remember this was a Games where we were scrambling to put the event on, on a day-to-day basis. There was no time to think about what was going to happen the day after the Games finished in September."

One of the four main venues used for Rio 2016 was the Deodoro outdoor complex on the outskirts of the city. It was where Team GB's women's hockey team struck gold, and the men's rugby side won silver.

Deodoro padlocked
Deodoro is located in Rio de Janeiro's West Zone

But Deodoro has long since been abandoned. There are 8ft high fences with padlocked gates surrounding the complex and promises this would be used for the greater good of the local community haven't been kept.

Among them is an already dilapidated BMX cycle track and the hugely expensive white water course. It was built for barely a week of competition and was meant to be transformed into an open-air swimming pool for locals after the Games.

The pool remains dry, unused and empty - yet another example of a Rio 2016 legacy that simply hasn't materialised.

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