Controversy In Rio As Olympians Go To Hotels, Pay To Finish Village Themselves

Joffre Swait comments
| World

There's an expression in Brazilian Portuguese that applies to anything that been made to look nice on the outside, but if closely examined, is revealed to be of of poor quality. The expression is "For an Englishman to look at." There is, unfortunately for the Australians, no such proverb referring to them.

Controversy erupted in Rio this paPhoto: G1, courtesy Australian Olympic Committeest Sunday when the Australian delegation became the first to refuse to move in to the Olympic village, followed by the Argentines and Italians. The athletes were put up in hotels by their own delegations. The delegations found exposed wires, leaking pipes, and general dirt; the head of the Argentinean delegation said at a press conference that of the five stories assigned to them, two were "uninhabitable". Eduardo Paes, the Mayor of Rio, promised to do whatever it took to please the Australian delegation, saying that he was almost to the point of "setting a kangaroo to jump around in front of them". The Australians replied, "We don't need kangaroos, we need plumbers."

Perhaps more disturbing to me ("this writer", in the jargon of old-school correspondents) as a Brazilian than the exposed wires or faulty pipes is the filth; it's as if the workers and project supervisors were contentedly resigned to getting public complaints. From the perspective of the visiting delegations, the dirt would have been the last insulting straw, demanding a reaction.

A last-minute task force of 600 electricians, plumbers, and house cleaners was assembled on Sunday to work through the night, and it appears that they have made the village habitable, as teams have begun moving in. Yesterday the Kenyans and Japanese moved in, but complained that their toilets didn't work, with the Kenyans going so far as to print flyers saying "please fix our toilets". There is no word yet on whether athletes will be able to poop, or on what sort of explosive reaction might result if more than two toilets in the village are flushed at the same time.

Meanwhile, American athletes have been good for positive feedback in the Brazilian media. Not one, it appears, has had anything bad to say. Almost as if a memo went out. The American delegation made the contented responses of its athletes easier by bankrolling itself the final repairs and finishing of its building. The Dutch and Italians also paid for finishing out of their own pockets, ignoring the "task-force" assembled by the city that worked through the night.

Perhaps best of all, on Sunday, in the midst of all the controversy and reaction in Brazilian media to this mess, a "highly placed official in the Brazilian Olympic Committee" made a small confession to the Folha de S.Paulo, Brazil's newspaper of record. The Brazilian delegation, which had been given early access to the Village and has an entire building set aside for its one thousand athletes, found a building decorated in green and yellow (the national colors), but with finishing problems, bad plumbing, and filth everywhere. They also privately hired "lots of people" to finish the accommodations. The source wouldn't say how many people had been hired nor how much money spent.

And so, of course, everything will turn out fine in the end. Because the federal government has financially bailed out the city of Rio, and because private persons have finished off with their own resources the work the government had said it would do. So I don't really know why anyone is scandalized; this is pretty much par for the course for Brazilians.


Joffre Swait

Joffre Swait grew up in three countries, for no particular reason beyond his dad's wanderlust. He blogs and vlogs as Joffre The Giant, but when writing about serious times in serious places he uses his real name. Like here, for example. Joffre Swait really is his real name, because this is a serious website. He and his wife Kimberly used to own a used bookshop in upcountry South Carolina, but now they live as missionaries in Porto Alegre, the capital city of south Brazil's gauchos, with their five kids (Renata, Joffre, George, Ward, and Mara).