SFS On Topic: Rio Olympics


An aerial view of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where global attention was centered for two week during the Games of the XXXI Olympiad. (Photo by Colton Wade)

The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics were a whirlwind two weeks, another cycle of the best and worst of international diplomacy on display. From early narratives about the ability of Brazil and Rio to safely host the event, to international rivalries channelled into friendly competition and international tensions spurred by athletes’ comments on doping, this summer’s events highlighted once again why the Olympics captivate global attention and carry the weight that they do. Georgetown faculty and students have provided a variety of commentary on the event, from the perspective of international relations and diplomacy to the actual experience of the event on the ground.

Anything and everything the athletes say or do, any gesture they make can suddenly become global news because we have to remember when the Olympics happen the entire world focuses on this one place, Rio, for two weeks. -Professor Victor Cha, Director of the Asian Studies Program, spoke on the international significance and power of the Rio games, which can capture the tension of preexisting international conflicts or allow for new expressions of identity, like this year’s refugee team.

Cha also spoke on the energy with which the Olympic games are received in East Asia, where the games are seen as an attractive opportunity for development investment, as opposed to attitudes in the United States in Europe, where a preference for reusing old facilities and lowering costs has emerged. “The Olympics are a benchmark of development in Asia,” he said. “But in the West, they are becoming a post-modern phenomenon, almost like ‘revival games’ providing an opportunity to reinvigorate great cities.” For more on this dynamic, read the full article at Forbes.

The Olympics shine a spotlight onto their host; what kind of global community would we be if we demanded that that spotlight only highlight a country’s strengths while hiding its flaws? If both those who govern and celebrate the Olympic movement are serious about spreading the Games beyond their stronghold in the developed world, they must understand that the very real obstacles that countries like Brazil face cannot and should not be simply obscured from view while under the world’s gaze. Colton Wade (SFS’18) discussed the significance of the Olympic games for Brazil in an op-ed for The Caravel, emphasizing the importance of authenticity and confrontation of important issues. To read more, click here.

The crossed-hands protest of Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa as he approached the marathon finish line at Rio brought international attention to a growing conflict in Ethiopia, where ethnic and regional tensions have resulted in outbreaks of violence amidst Ethiopian government crackdowns. Harry Verhoeven, a professor of African politics at the Qatar branch of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, provided some insight on specific elements of that conflict as part of a Foreign Policy article.

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Eric Salgado, graduate student in Latin American studies at SFS, spent his summer interning for the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, through the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship. He took full advantage of the Olympics coming to his summer location, attending a soccer match between Honduras and Argentina, and sharing some of the “Olympic vibe” from the Olympic Boulevard.