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Dave Zirin & Jules Boykoff on the 2016 Rio Olympics & Brazil’s Collapsing Political System

Web ExclusiveJune 01, 2016
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We continue our conversation with Dave Zirin, author of the book “Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy,” and Jules Boykoff, author of “Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics.” In early August, more than 10,000 athletes across the world will convene in Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic City for one of the most widely watched sporting events of the year. This comes as Brazil is battling an economic recession, a massive Zika outbreak and its worst political crisis in over two decades.

Watch Part 1 || In Wake of Coup, Should Brazil’s Olympics Be Moved or Become a Site of Protest?

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StoryJun 01, 2016In Wake of Coup, Should Brazil’s Olympics Be Moved or Become a Site of Protest?
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. In early August, more than 10,000 athletes across the world will convene in Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic City for one of the most widely watched sporting events of the year. This comes as Brazil is battling an economic recession, a massive Zika outbreak and the recent ouster of its democratically elected president, Dilma Rousseff. Is Brazil ready for these games? Should they take place there?

We continue our conversation now with two guests who have been reporting from Brazil. Dave Zirin is a sports editor for The Nation magazine, author of the book Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy, that’s just been reissued. And we’re joined by Jules Boykoff, the author of Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics. It, too, has just been published. He teaches political science at Pacific University in Oregon. In the ’80s and ’90s, he represented the U.S. Olympic soccer team in international competition.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! for Part 2 of our conversation. But, Dave, I want to start with you around this issue of the Zika virus. That’s what the corporate media is paying the most attention to right now. You interviewed the director of the Biology Institute at—


AMY GOODMAN: —Federal University in Rio de Janeiro. Can you talk about what he said? First explain what the Zika virus is and then—


AMY GOODMAN: —how it will affect people.

DAVE ZIRIN: This is Dr. Rodrigo Brindeiro. He is on the front lines of trying to control and even eradicate the Zika virus from Rio. And speaking to him was such an education for me, because what he punctured were so many of the lies that we’re told about Zika. And it’s not to say that it’s not serious in any way, shape or form. And if I was part of—thinking of having a child or whatnot, I would think twice, three times about going anywhere where Zika virus was prevalent. But one of the things that all the discussion about the Zika virus ignores is that Rio is a global city. The wine is out of the bottle when it comes to the Zika virus. And when you hear people, particularly in the United States and Europe, speak about Zika, they speak about it as if it is this thing that will only spread if we go to Rio for the Olympics, that that will somehow cause a global pandemic. And it’s ignorant of the fact that between 5 and 8 million people visit Rio every year just as tourists. Carnival just took place in February, and 1 million people came to Rio for Carnival. That’s more than double the number of people who will go to Rio for the Olympics, and February is the height of mosquito season. That’s the summer, while August, the temperature is roughly in the 67 degrees in Rio. That’s their winter. And so, even the prevalence of mosquitoes isn’t going to be that great. And so, when you see this push around Zika and say, “Oh, we can’t have the Olympics there because of it,” what I wish much more was a push internationally, particularly by these scientists who just signed this letter about Zika, 150 scientists—I wish, instead, what they were making a push for was for the international Olympic Committee to devote resources to the only thing that will actually eliminate the Zika virus, and that is better sewage treatment and the elimination of standing water in Brazil’s poorest communities. Moving the Olympics isn’t going to address that, and it’s certainly not going to address its spread. And that’s something Dr. Rodrigo Brindeiro kept hammering home to me, is that if we’re not dealing with the issue of poverty and eradicating the mosquito, all of this is just posturing.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about, Jules Boykoff, the Olympic Village that’s just being finished now.

JULES BOYKOFF: The plans for the Olympic Village are, in reality, ethical documents. And what an organizing committee decides to do with the Olympic Village after the games says a lot about the priorities of the host city. So, for example, in Vancouver and London, organizers promised to create social housing as part of the Olympic Village afterwards. They didn’t do that as much as they said they would, but they did say so on the front end. In Brazil, we don’t even see the pretense of that. It’s being developed by a firm called Carvalho Hosken, and it’s going to be converted into luxury condos afterwards, OK, for starters. And when Carlos Carvalho, the person behind Carvalho Hosken, was asked about this place, which, by the way, is called Ilha Pura, which is Pure Island, which—it’s not even a geophysical island, it’s actually a social island, where the password is absolutely class, by the way—but when he was asked about this, he said, “Oh, yes, this is going to be a place for elites. This is not for poor people.” He told this to Jonathan Watts of The Guardian. So he made it very clear what the Olympic Village will be like in the future. And this is just one example among many in Rio where a small group of elites who are closely connected with the Rio mayor are going to make a bonanza off the games.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, what about the accommodations for the Rio mayor. How, Dave Zirin, is he going to watch the Olympics?

DAVE ZIRIN: Eduardo Paes is going to be—and I saw this with my own eyes in the Olympic Park. He is going to be in a bulletproof glass enclosure that’s a good 20 feet off of the ground, that’s just in the middle of this vast plaza, and around this plaza are all the different stadiums where people, you know, are going to duck into each arena and just to see the different events. And amidst all of it is going to be Eduardo Paes, in this structure, looking out at everybody on all four sides, entertaining guests, suspended in glass. It’s—I have photos, and I took video of it.

AMY GOODMAN: And he’s high enough so he can see into all the stadiums?

DAVE ZIRIN: No, no, no. He can’t see into all the stadiums—


DAVE ZIRIN: —because the stadiums are enclosed. It’s more that he’s on this vast plaza where everybody’s going to be hanging out, waiting to get in, watching everything on flatscreen televisions. And it’s just more about how Eduardo Paes, I think, is going to be projecting himself as the political face of the Olympics, because Temer, the person who took over from Dilma Rousseff, is so unpopular in Brazil. Only 2 percent of the population said they would vote for Temer if he ran for president.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, let’s—just to remind people, Michel Temer is the man, the vice president, who has replaced the democratically elected President Dilma Rousseff.

DAVE ZIRIN: Yes. And unlike the United States, the vice president from an opposition party, which Dilma Rousseff brought him into her Cabinet with the hopes of cobbling together a parliamentary majority in a very politically confusing country where there are a ton of political parties at work.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to the interim president—many call him the coup president—Michel Temer. Last month, he addressed a meeting of Brazilian congressional party leaders about a series of new austerity measures he’s hoping to put forward.

INTERIM PRESIDENT MICHEL TEMER: [translated] Public spending is on an unsustainable path. We can delight ourselves in one or the other conquests, but further down the line we will have condemned the Brazilian people to extraordinary difficulties.

AMY GOODMAN: So that is the new president, some call the coup president, of Brazil, as Dilma Rousseff is being investigated. Jules Boykoff, talk about who he represents, beyond his own party, how he ascended to the presidency.

JULES BOYKOFF: Yes. Michel Temer represents the duplicitous politicians who have taken this moment in the most opportunistic of fashion to depose of Dilma Rousseff. Where they couldn’t do it at the ballot box, they’ve decided to do it this way instead. Incredibly unpopular man, and he’s pushing through, as you say, all these austerity policies. And I would say this fits in a certain way with the Olympics. Temer is absolutely benefiting from the political, economic double-whammy crisis that we’re seeing. And I would say the Olympics do, as well, in a strange sort of way, in the sense that at this point, only two months or so before the Olympics, typically the media are already descending, asking really difficult questions about the Olympics, the preparations. Will they be ready? Will it be good enough? That’s not hardly happening at all right now, aside from Zika. And that’s because there’s bigger fish to fry, politically. And so, the double-whammy crisis has sucked all the political oxygen out of the room. So Temer is benefiting. The Olympics are benefiting, as well, in a weird way.

DAVE ZIRIN: It also allows Eduardo Paes to make the argument, as he did to me, that even if corruption is rife throughout the Brazil political system, the Olympics are corruption-free, and they’ve been handled in a corruption-free manner by the city of Rio. Now, he says this even though his former campaign manager’s family built a bike path that was rife with cost overruns and shoddy workmanship, and then was destroyed by a wave, killing three people. And I said to him, “Don’t you think that’s a bad look, a pretty awful conflict of interest, that a friend of yours built this faulty bike path?” And he said, like, “What? So just because someone’s family is in a construction company, they shouldn’t be allowed to bid first?” And I’m like, “Well, yeah. That is—that is what I’m saying.” And that’s part of the problem here, though—I think Jules really hit the nail on the head—is that the broader corruption crisis and the coup crisis is allowing the Olympics to carve out its own space, as utterly unrealistic and unfathomable it is to say that the Olympics are somehow apart from corruption, when its whole history is pretty much a big honey pot.

JULES BOYKOFF: It’s been a pretext for the austerity policies that we’re seeing right now. It’s also been a pretext for forgetting about those grand Olympic legacies that we promise, whether it’s cleaning up the water—

DAVE ZIRIN: Totally.

JULES BOYKOFF: —or what have you. So it’s been a really convenient pretext for people who already had precooked plans. I would just say that Eduardo Paes is a really important person to understand in all this. As Dave was saying, he’s really staking his political future on this. When I was living in Rio last year from August through December, many of the political people I spoke with thought that he could be president one day and that that is his aspiration. He was caught in one of these secret tapes, actually, talking to Lula on March 7th of this year, getting really nervous about the Olympics, and he says he’s managing his own crisis, as well. And so, you’ll see this outer facade of total confidence. He’s this beer-coiffing, English-speaking, mediagenic-type guy. But behind it, there’s something else going on.

I think your viewers and listeners would be really smart to know that he is the supreme flip-flopper. I mean, back when the World Cup was happening in 2014 in Brazil, he said, “Oh, Rio’s going to be much better. We’re going to give 1.2 million free tickets to people so they can attend the Olympics.” Has that happened? No. He’s talked about Morar Carioca, this program to upgrade the favelas that was going to be part of the Olympic legacy. He ditched that process partway through, as well, and said, “Oh, it has nothing to do with the Olympics.” So, what you’re hearing about the bike path applies to all sorts of things. He’s this flip-flopper, and we really need to keep our eye on him.

DAVE ZIRIN: And on Dilma, his almost exact words to me—I said, “What did you think of what just happened to Dilma?” And he said, “I was against impeachment, until it became something that just had to happen.” It’s like, “Wow! What a backbone you have, sir!” He’s against—he basically said, “I was against it, until I was for it.” And from what I understand from speaking to people close to Dilma, that was particularly devastating for her, because he’s a powerful politician who had also developed a friendship with Dilma, because he’s a political opportunist. And so, she’s the president, and he developed this friendship. And then he bailed on her as soon as it was politically clear that she would not sustain power.

AMY GOODMAN: Dave Zirin, what sports stories are you following—


AMY GOODMAN: —in these Olympics?

DAVE ZIRIN: You know, I’m actually really excited about women’s gymnastics, because Gabby Douglas is going to try to defend something that never has happened before, which is she won the individual and was part of a team gold medal for U.S. women’s gymnastics. And her main competition is going to be an absolute dynamo named Simone Biles. And what’s particularly interesting is that they’re both gymnasts of African descent in a sport that’s traditionally been, from the U.S. perspective, very Caucasian. To me, it’s a remarkable development to see these young women—

AMY GOODMAN: And they’re both from?

DAVE ZIRIN: The United States. And so, I’m interested in that. I’m also—you know, as I age, I’m more interested in older athletes. And so the fact that Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt are both going back to defend their golds is also very interesting to me. And at the end of the day, though, I just think it’s so—

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Phelps from Baltimore.

DAVE ZIRIN: From Baltimore, yes, who was in a swim club with my brother-in-law when they were pre-teens. So, lot of love for Michael Phelps. And the—and he’s for legalization of marijuana, which is always a good thing in an Olympic athlete. But the other part of it, though, that I can’t forget to say is just the U.S. women’s soccer team is going to be competing for gold in the context of their own federation challenging their efforts for equal pay with the EEOC. And so, there’s going to be this whole political battle of them going for gold, while they’re being told that they shouldn’t be paid as much as the men soccer players, even though they are profoundly more successful and profitable than U.S. men’s soccer, at least in the last several years. So, that’s what I’m going to be looking at.

AMY GOODMAN: So how is that playing out? I mean, that was a big deal.

DAVE ZIRIN: Oh, that is a huge story right now. And I think the way it’s playing out is that—I was surprised at how harsh the response was from U.S. soccer to the EEOC, demanding that they not receive equal pay. And so, what that means—

AMY GOODMAN: With the rationale?

DAVE ZIRIN: With the rationale that the idea that they make as much as U.S. men’s soccer is a statistical blip because of the World Cup that just took place, which I think ignores the fact that the World Cup is always going to the profit center. And also it ignores the fact that the ratings that they got for the World Cup final were through the roof.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jules Boykoff, you represented the U.S. Olympic soccer team in international competition in the '80s and ’90s. What's your reaction to what the women players have done?

JULES BOYKOFF: I think it’s terrific, and I think it’s much-needed equity. They’ve been ambassadors for soccer worldwide, not just in the United States, but a lot of people look up to these athletes.

DAVE ZIRIN: Absolutely.

JULES BOYKOFF: And I think there’s a lot of terrific individual stories within that team. I’m really keeping my eye on Megan Rapinoe, who’s making an incredible comeback from an ACL knee injury, serious knee injury that she’s coming back from, that came about, a lot of people think, because she was playing on a substandard field, a field that men would never be asked to play on. And so, I’m really rooting for—


JULES BOYKOFF: In Hawaii. So she’s being—she’s on the comeback trail right now, and I’m really rooting for her to get in shape and play.

AMY GOODMAN: Jules Boykoff, talk about Team Refugee.

JULES BOYKOFF: Yes. This is an interesting development. And the International Olympic Committee has said that they are hoping to have five to 10 athletes from countries that are experiencing a refugee crisis, so there might be—representing the Team Refugee in the Olympics. And so, they’re saying that there will be about five to 10 of these athletes. It’s not official yet who those athletes will be. But it is a good chance—they’ll march under the Olympic flag. It is a good chance to raise the issue of—that you’ve been talking about on the show, of the unfairness surrounding the refugee crisis. And so, I’ll be looking forward to that, as well.

DAVE ZIRIN: And can I just say, I’m so glad you mentioned that, Jules, because it’s important for us to emphasize that I think the Olympics have many seeds, and some of them produce beautiful roses, and some of them produce stinkweed. And it’s so important for us as viewers to be able to differentiate the weeds from the roses, so we can actually make an effort to uproot what is toxic about the Olympics and appreciate what’s beautiful.

AMY GOODMAN: The golf course?

JULES BOYKOFF: The golf course is another one of those examples of a bonanza for an elite. And it also points back to our friend Eduardo Paes that we’ve been talking about, the Rio mayor.

AMY GOODMAN: Who would like to be president of Brazil.

JULES BOYKOFF: Who might well be president someday.

DAVE ZIRIN: And will be teaching at Columbia next year.

JULES BOYKOFF: Yeah, and be here soon in New York. The golf course, for starters, is being built on top of the Marapendi nature reserve. OK? So they’ve sliced away part of a nature reserve to create a golf course. We—

AMY GOODMAN: An Olympic golf course.

JULES BOYKOFF: That’s correct. Golf is making its comeback after a 112-year hiatus from the Olympics, and this is the first time in a long time that it’ll be back. And so they’re building it in a nature reserve. And part of the deal is, this one developer, a very well-connected developer in Brazil named Pasquale Mauro, as long as he covers the $20 to $30 [million] it will cost to build the golf course, he can build 140 condominiums around the golf course and sell those and recoup the profits. There’s going to be 140 of these. They’re selling between $2 million and $6 million per unit. Doesn’t take a math genius to realize this is an incredible economic bonanza for this guy. Paes comes into the equation, Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio, because back around Christmas 2012 he pushed through in the middle of the night this special legislation that would allow his good buddy, Pasquale Mauro, to build higher buildings—to change the code, basically—and to do other things that would enable this whole giveaway, basically—so, again, giving away public land for private gain.


JULES BOYKOFF: And we’ve seen that time and time again, not just in Olympic history, but also definitely in Technicolor here in Brazil.

DAVE ZIRIN: I’m just so shocked that it’s taken more than a century for golf to make its return, because so much of the Olympics historically has been about displacement and the repossession of land for the wealthy at the expense of the poor, and there is no sport that speaks to that, and has spoken to that over the last 30, 40 years, quite like golf. And it connects with IMF-World Bank dictates that say to developing nations that they need resorts, and that’s the way you’re going to bring in international capital and currency. And so, golf lends itself so well to the question of land and to the question of resorts and to the question of elite tourism.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Dave Zirin—his book has been republished, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy—and Jules Boykoff—his book is just out, it’s called Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics. Mike Davis writes a very telling sentence in highly recommending your book, Jules. He writes, “A great irony is that [the] modern Olympics, first envisioned as an alternative to war, have themselves become a form of low-intensity warfare.”


AMY GOODMAN: Talk about this.

JULES BOYKOFF: Yeah, I was honored to get that quote from Mike Davis, for sure. But way back in the beginning of the Olympics in the 1890s, it was created by this plucky baron, Pierre de Coubertin, and he saw it as a way of helping young French people toughen up after the defeat of the Franco-Prussian War. And so, it was actually rooted in a war in the first place. But he believed—he was a poet, and he thought that sport could do everything. He believed it could create peace, it could create love, it could do just about everything. And he actually wrote a poem called “Ode to Sport,” that—he wrote it under a pseudonym, and it won the Olympic medal in literature in 1912 in Stockholm. It’s kind of funny. He wrote it under a pseudonym, and he took the prize for it.

But the point is that it was originally set up to combat war, and now we’re seeing it become a terrain where it in fact maybe highlights some of the aspects of war, highlights nationalism in particular ways. They march into the Olympics behind their flags, for example. We hear the national anthems that are played. But what I try to do in the—

AMY GOODMAN: What did it used to be?

JULES BOYKOFF: Well, that wasn’t introduced until the mid-1900s, actually, the—doing all the anthems. I’ll tell you a really interesting story, though, that it was really fun to uncover in writing this book. The 1906 Olympics in Greece, and there was an athlete from Ireland named Peter O’Connor, and he was forced to compete under the British team, because Ireland was ruled by Westminster at that time. And what he did, he won a medal, and when the medal ceremony started, the flags went up, and he ran over to the flagpole, 1906, shimmies himself up the flagpole, moves down the Union Jack and holds up—


JULES BOYKOFF: —an Irish flag, Erin go Bragh, Ireland Forever. And his two buddies, his Irish buddies, stood at the bottom—


JULES BOYKOFF: —and they blocked the flagpole.

DAVE ZIRIN: The Irish Bree Newsome.

JULES BOYKOFF: Yeah, yeah, that’s right.


JULES BOYKOFF: And so, I met his family. I spoke with his granddaughter, and they let me see his archives. He had meticulous archives of all the articles, with his little notes along the side. And she told me that what he was doing was absolutely rooted in anticolonialism, anticolonial struggle. And we’ve seen that crop up, time and time, through the Olympics. And I try to chart that in this book, some of the untold stories of the Olympics, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell some others that we wouldn’t know about, as the world prepares for the Olympics.

JULES BOYKOFF: Well, sure. I think sometimes people think, “Oh, the Olympics are so big. They’re impossible to change, impossible to offer alternatives to.” And history just doesn’t bear that out. So in the 1920s and 1930s, there was an alternative games called the Women’s Olympics. Women were being basically shut out of the Olympic Games. They were considered to be too feeble by the Olympic honchos. Ridiculous stuff, but that carried the day. So they set up an alternative Olympics for women in the 1920s and '30s, that thrived, were huge. Same thing with Workers' Olympics, actually. In the early days of the Olympics, if you were a person who worked for pay—you were a bricklayer, a grape picker—you would be considered a professional, and you were not allowed into the Olympics. And that carried forward to the 1920s and ’30s—

AMY GOODMAN: Workers of the world exert?

JULES BOYKOFF: Workers of the world exert, exactly. And that’s what they did at these Workers’ Olympics in the ’20s and ’30s. And there was going to be a huge one in Barcelona that was cut off because Franco entered right before that, those games.

DAVE ZIRIN: And that the Barcelona ones also would have countered Hitler’s Olympics in Berlin.

JULES BOYKOFF: That was what they were trying to do.

DAVE ZIRIN: So can you imagine—


DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah, in '36. And so much of the nationalism that Jules described really took full flower with those ’36 Olympics in Berlin. And we've kept a lot of the trappings that came from the office of Joseph Goebbels about how the Olympics should look. It’s just a horror.


DAVE ZIRIN: But just imagine—

AMY GOODMAN: How? How did Goebbels say it should look, that it holds—

DAVE ZIRIN: Oh, Goebbels’ people said—

AMY GOODMAN: —that it does today?

DAVE ZIRIN: Well, think about things like the running of the torch, for example. That was a creation of the Nazi propaganda department. Think about not just the anthems, but the athletes marching in almost like soldiers. That was a function of '36. And the lighting of the flame itself was something that came out of Goebbels' brain trust. And it’s so fascinating that by the time the Olympics returned after World War II, in 1948, Germany was no more, but all of their Olympic trappings had remained.

AMY GOODMAN: And you talk about the Olympic pivot after the women, after the workers.

JULES BOYKOFF: Mm-hmm, yeah, I think the Olympic pivot is 1976, when two really interesting things happened. First of all, Denver was awarded the Olympics, the Winter Olympics. And their citizens just stood up and said, “You know what? We don’t want this thing.” And they fought back. And so, for the only time in Olympic history after a host city was given the games, the citizens said no, they defeated a bond measure that would fund the games, and the International Olympic Committee was forced to move the games to Innsbruck, Austria.

That same Olympic period, 1976, where there were Summer Olympics in Montreal, and the mayor at the time of Montreal, Jean Drapeau, famously—I guess, infamously—said that the Olympics could no sooner run a deficit than a man could have a baby. And he said it was only going to be a few million dollars. That price tag kind of escalated, escalated, escalated, 'til it got to be $1.5 billion. They didn't pay off the debt from Montreal for 30 years, 2006. And, I might just add, to top it off, a transgender man from the state of Oregon named Thomas Beatie, my home state, had a baby in July 2008, a healthy child. So, he was basically wrong on every single front. But the point, in terms of the serious point to be made, is 1976 is when we’d start to see the gigantism that comes about through the Olympics, where it becomes the order of the day to have huge costs that are shunted onto the shoulders of the tax-paying public.

DAVE ZIRIN: And can I just say, the other really important pivot year—and I know Jules would agree with this—is 2004, the first post-9/11 Summer Olympics, and because that’s completely changed the game in terms of the amount of security that’s demanded by the International Olympic Committee, and the amount of international arms dealers who now see the Olympics as basically their Super Bowl and their time to unveil all the latest products. And two of the biggest providers of security for the Rio games have been Israeli companies that produce munitions and drones and whatnot. A drone was bought from—several drones from Israel for the purpose of Olympic security. And what’s so frightening about this is that it’s—I know you speak about Gaza a great deal on Democracy Now! It’s the exporting of Gaza security measures to the world and using global sporting events as a way to do that. And that’s what’s talked about in these kinds of meetings where they speak to Brazilian officials about the kind of security that can be provided, is they speak about how they’re able to police the West Bank and Gaza, and say, “We can do this for you, for the Olympics.”

AMY GOODMAN: You also write, Jules Boykoff, about the commercialization of the Olympics and, following up on your theme of your earlier book, the celebration capitalism era.

JULES BOYKOFF: Yeah. The idea with celebration capitalism is it’s supposed to be a friendly addition to Naomi Klein’s idea of disaster capitalism, which, as your listeners and viewers will know, she argues that when there’s a crisis that hits, a disaster, the people in power tend to use it as an opportunity to foist neoliberalism on us, which is to say, privatize everything with a pulse, get rid of regulations, let the market decide, so to speak. And what I argue in that book is that because capitalism is such a nimble shapeshifter, we see it takes multiple forms in different moments, sometimes multiple forms in the same moment. And at the center of celebration capitalism are lopsided public-private partnerships. We don’t see full-blown privatization, but we see lopsided public-private partnerships, where the public pays and the private entities that are around tend to profit. I did an interview with an activist in Vancouver, and he said to me—Am Johal is his name—and he said to me, “The Olympics are a corporate franchise that you buy with public money.” And in a sense, that’s the essence of celebration capitalism. Now, I would say it makes way for these kind of policies of austerity, so neoliberalism and disaster capitalism is like one punch, and then we’re dying for something exciting and happy, and that’s when celebration capitalism comes in. And then, oh, my gosh, we’ve basically run out of money, or we’ve spent it all on this huge sports festival, we need more austerity. So it can go back and forth, and they can complement and, I would say, exacerbate each other.

AMY GOODMAN: I learned more than I ever wanted to learn about the Vancouver Olympics—

JULES BOYKOFF: Yes, you did.

AMY GOODMAN: —right before the Olympics, when I was unwittingly, not even realizing the Olympics were about to happen, crossing the border from the United States because I was invited to speak at the Vancouver library, the public library, and the University of Victoria. And I was detained at the border. And when they asked me what I was going to speak about, the border guards taking notes on everything I said, and I said, “Well, you know, I was going to speak about healthcare and look at the Canadian model.” I was going to—they said, “What else?” And I said, “Well, I thought I’d also speak about war, Afghanistan and Iraq.” I thought that’s what they wanted to get me on, as they detained us for hours. “What else?” And I said, “Well, war, healthcare, issues of inequality.” I said, “You could come to the talk if you’d like to, because it’s a public talk, and you’ve made me very late to this talk.” They said, “What else are you planning to talk about?” I said, “That pretty much does it. I’ve only got about an hour.” And they said, “You’re denying that you’re here to speak about the Vancouver Olympics?” I said, “This is why you’re detaining me?” I didn’t even know, actually, these Olympics were about to happen.

So I got to the library hours late, but—and it’s a tribute to Canadians that two hours late and the crowd doubled, as they heard that I was being detained. But it was then that I learned about why they would detain an American journalist. And all of the news around—if you put a sign in your house window—

JULES BOYKOFF: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: —objecting to the Olympics, your home could be raided. If you were an Olympic athlete and spoke against—you were instructed you were not to speak against any of the sponsors of the Olympics.

JULES BOYKOFF: Mm-hmm, that’s right. Yeah, when—I went up there just after you, and people were still talking about the incident where you were nabbed at the border. And it really points up the incredible surveillance of activists and journalists in Vancouver at that moment. There was a special unit called the Vancouver Integrated Security Unit, that was set up in part to just monitor activists, such as the activists that were from the Olympic Resistance Network. They would walk up to people on the streets who were activists, and basically harass them. There was one, a guy named Chris Shaw, who had written a book, a critical book, about the Olympics, in particular Vancouver. They would walk up holding a copy of his book and say, “Oh, we have some things we want to talk to you about.” So, the kind of thing that you experienced also rippled out and affected hundreds and hundreds of people.

DAVE ZIRIN: Actually, I stayed at the home, when I was in Vancouver, of people who were in the Olympic Resistance Network, a terrific couple, Harjap and Harsha.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain what this is. The Olympic Resistance Network?

DAVE ZIRIN: Well, they were—basically just wanted to organize protests to what the Olympics were bringing to Vancouver—debt, displacement, militarization and things that the Olympics bring to every city. They were not going to take it lying down. They were also very, very influenced at the time by the idea of convergences, from the—there were a lot of global justice movement activists, hence the idea of people—that was the first time you ever heard the word “convergence” with the idea of an Olympic protest. And they were really terrific. But like we would wake up in the morning, and there would be cards from police detectives littering the floor in front of their door, like because the little cards they would throw in through the mail slot while they were sleeping, as if to say, “Hey, we’re here.” And then we would walk to the train station, and a police car would sort of troll behind us. I’m thinking to myself, “Jeez, if this is what’s happening in Vancouver, what’s going to happen in other countries, particularly the dictatorships that the International Olympic Committee seems to find so attractive?”

AMY GOODMAN: So, in your book, since it was first issued, now—


AMY GOODMAN: —being reissued, Dave, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy, what has changed?

DAVE ZIRIN: Huge changes. I mean, the number one change is economic contraction in the country and what that has done to all of the political players that I talk about in this first edition, because when Brazil’s Dance with the Devil came out, the World Cup was right in front, and there was this sense of uncertainty and unease in Brazil. Like the economic boom years were starting to slow down a little bit—no more 8 percent growth, it was 3 percent growth. And there was concern about what that would mean going forward. Dilma Rousseff, it was known, was going to have a difficult re-election campaign because of this. So there was this sense of unease. And yet, most people felt pretty confident that Dilma would be there at the start of the Olympics and that the democracy would continue to take steps forward. And it’s a relatively new democracy, only three decades old. And so it’s stunning to me how much has changed in that time. And that’s the main difference, is that all of the Olympic promises that were made are now just like confetti on the floor, basically. And it’s, in other words, shredded paper, not confetti like any sort of celebration. They got the capitalism part, not the celebration part. And economic contraction, in one respect, is an excuse, but, to me, it also points to how toxic the Olympic planning can be, because they lock into these price norms and say, “This is what needs to be spent. This is the security that we demand.” And so, no matter what else is happening in the country, like the Zika virus, for example, I mean, healthcare has been cut dramatically, first under Dilma, and now it’s going to be cut more under Temer, while they’re trying to deal with this. So, this is, I think, the number one change, is that Brazil has found itself to be underfunded for the purposes that are ancillary to the Olympics, yet the party will go on as planned.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Jules Boykoff, another person who recommends your book is Dr. John Carlos, who was an Olympic medal winner in 1968 in Mexico City. Now the Olympics are back in Latin America. John Carlos, so famous—and Dave, who wrote a book with him, knows so well—for putting his hand up in the Black Power salute as he stood on the medal stand, and didn’t wear shoes to—in solidarity with the poor. Can you talk about, when he says, “Jules Boykoff tells an Olympic history that simply hasn’t been told. If we are going to have a more just future, we need to have an honest accounting of the past,” do you think the Olympics should continue? And if you do, what form they should take?

JULES BOYKOFF: Well, I’m tremendously honored to get a book jacket quote from Dr. Carlos, for starters. I just need to say that. I think what makes the book different, I think, when he’s talking about that, is that I thread through the book history of indigenous people through the games. It’s a major theme in the book, from indigenous athletes who were successful to crazy stories of indigenous repression in the book that are horrifying, as well. I also talk a lot about athlete activists, such as himself, and activist movements who burgeon up to challenge the games in certain ways. So—

AMY GOODMAN: Before you move forward, just so it’s not a side note, this—the thread of indigenous activism, of the athletes as well as the resisters, can you share some stories?

JULES BOYKOFF: Well, sure. So, I talk about athletes who did amazing work, indigenous athletes—Jim Thorpe, for example, at the 1912 Olympics, Sac and Fox and Potawatomi Native American from the United States, who was the athlete of the 1912 Stockholm Games. And so, I talk about the details of that.

Then there’s some of the seamier underbelly history, as well, where in the 1904 Olympics, which were held in St. Louis, there was adjunct event to the Olympics called Anthropology Days. And basically it was set up by racist anthropologists who had precooked ideas about indigenous people being inferior to Caucasian people, and so they set up these races with indigenous people from around the world, and they would explain the rules in English, which a lot of people didn’t even speak, line them up on the line, say “Go,” and they of course didn’t perform as well as elite athletes in the United States. I mean, they didn’t know the rules. And one interesting thing, though, from one of those races was they’d be running along, there’s that tape at the end of the race, and instead of bashing through the tape like we’ve been trained to do, in some of the heats, they would wait for each other, hold hands and walk through at the same time. So a very different mentality they brought to these games. A lot of people just didn’t participate, and they wanted to have nothing to do with it. But there’s a lot of ugliness there, as well.

But I also talk about more recent athletes, such as Damien Hooper, who at the 2012 London Olympics—he’s a boxer. He’s an Aboriginal boxer from Australia. And he wore an Aboriginal T-shirt into the ring. And the IOC, the International Olympic Committee, cracked down and said, “Hey, hey, that’s not an official flag. You can’t use that, only the Australian flag. You have to take that T-shirt off.” He said back to them—he didn’t back down. He said, “Hey, look, you know, I represent my people, my indigenous Aboriginal people in Australia, as well.”

DAVE ZIRIN: The irony of that story is that Australia actually recognizes the Aboriginal flag as one of their flags, yet the IOC did not recognize it as one of their flags, which is just yet another example of the IOC being this kind of stateless, dictatorial actor that says, “No, that’s not your flag, because we say so.”

JULES BOYKOFF: To your question about can the games get better, I do lay out at the end my vision for a more just games, from concrete ideas like turning the Olympic Village into social housing programs or creative housing programs for, say, single mothers that need a place to live, or that sort of thing, depending on what the city needs. I talk about how we need to get rid of the sort of economic etch-a-sketch model of the Olympics, where you say one number what it will cost at the beginning, and then you shake it up and get a brand-new number on the back side. Like lowballing has become basically a new Olympic sport. I talk about how to maybe get around that.

I talk about how to make the games more democratic, in terms of voting who gets picked to host the games, also in terms of some of the sports that are included. One of the sports that was really popular in the early days of the Olympics was the tug-of-war. All you need is a rope, a bunch of muscly people, and then—and you pull. You train, of course. I don’t want to insult the tug-of-war fans and aficionados; I know it’s more complex than that. But the point is, you don’t need a bunch of fancy gear. You don’t need to train a horse like in dressage, to $40, $70,000 a year to get your horse in shape for the Olympics. People from around the world could participate in a tug-of-war, where economically people are boxed out from doing things like dressage. So let’s get some sports in there that people can actually participate in, if it’s really the world’s games.

DAVE ZIRIN: Yeah, and tug-of-war doesn’t have the land imperatives of something like golf—


DAVE ZIRIN: —as well.

JULES BOYKOFF: That’s true.


AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there, but we’ll continue, of course, to cover these issues. I want to thank you, Dave Zirin, author of Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, the Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy, and Jules Boykoff. Your new book, just out, it’s called Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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