Mobile policies for sustainable development (SD) in Rio 2016: A preliminary assessment of SD capacity in the pre-event phase

John Karamichas

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


The examination of sustainable development (SD) policies in relation the legacy bequeathed to the host city and nation by an Olympic edition has become an established endeavour in the social sciences realm since the first ‘green’ Games of Sydney 2000 (Hayes and Horne, 2011; Karamichas, 2013, Mol, 2009 among others). Recent works have examined this process under the mobility of policies framework (Müller, 2014). This paper discusses the potential impact of SD policies transported to Brazil in lieu of hosting the Rio Games towards strengthening the environmental policy capacity of Brazil by examining 6 identified indicators during the pre-event phase of the Games (see Hiller, 2000).
IOC and SD
The IOC includes SD as an essential requirement in the biding application to host the Games as demonstrated in the Manuals for Candidate Cities (MCC) that the IOC has been publishing since 1992. Moreover, since 2001, the proclamations for the incorporation of SD in the planning and staging of the Games, which are made by prospective hosts in their biding application, have been complemented with the requirement of an Olympic Games Impact (OGI) study (see MacRury and Poynter, 2009). That study was first introduced into the planning requirements for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics and London 2012 was the first Summer Games expected to carry out an OGI. However, Beijing also conducted an OGI study in preparation for the 2008 Games marking that way a new era for the environmental legacy of the Games. In effect, although, even before Sydney 2000, all Olympic Games hosts have taken into consideration the environmental impact of that endeavour (see Toyne, 2009), the two latest Summer Games have also conducted OGI studies.
This has accelerated the Engrenage dynamic (see Karamichas, 2012; 2013) of hosting the Olympic Games that has been used to encapsulate the overall ambition set in motion by the importance that the IOC gives to the environmental impact and legacy of the Games along SD lines. In effect that ambition calls for the effective coordination of various state bodies, engagement with civic organizations and the general restructuring of the host city and form part of a general greening of the policy-making process of the host nation.
The post-Games hosting capacity for environmental sustainability of successive Olympic Games hosts has been put to the test by Karamichas (2013). That study confirmed that there are is no causality between hosting the Games and improved capacity. Any developments were tied to political changes. Some notable changes were identified in the Chinese case but these were attributed to the modernising path that has been taken by the country since the late 1970s. Interestingly enough, although the UK case had an existing relatively positive SD status, significant doubts were raised over its ability to maintain that position after hosting the London Games. This paper will examine the case of Rio2016 by replicating the method used in the aforementioned study on 4 Olympic editions.
In particular, that involves the examination of the following 6 indicators that have been identified through engagement with core environmental sustainability literature (see Buttel 2000a, 2000b, 2003; Mol and Sonnefeld 2000; Jänicke and Weidner 1997; Weidner 2002) and the green legacy aspirations of the IOC:
(i) Average annual level of CO2 emissions;
(ii) level of environmental consciousness;
(iii) ratification of international agreements;
(iv) designation of sites for protection;
(v) implementation of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedures;
(vi) Environmental Non-governmental Organizations (ENGOs) participation in public decision-making processes.

Brazil and Sustainability
Brazil in general and Rio de Janeiro in particular are intimately associated with Sustainable Development (SD). The concerns expressed by Brazilian delegates at the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm became a stark reminder of the challenges that any combination of environmental protection with the developmental process was facing. Attempts to compromise these contradictory processes led to development of the SD perspective during the early 1990s at the 1992 Rio Summit. It was in that Summit that the earlier, 1986, declaration by the IOC that the environment was the third pillar of Olympism acquired more credence. In the bidding application to host the Games, like preceding successful candidates, Rio was not short in making ambitious SD declarations under the general frame of ‘Green Games for a Blue Planet’ that includes proclamations that;
‘The Games will also accelerate the implementation, and in some cases the initiation, of major sustainability projects, including those related to environmentally sensitive sites, air quality and waterways’ (20)
‘The Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games environment and sustainability plan, supported by all levels of Government, will focus on four areas: Water Conservation, Renewable Energy, Carbon Neutral Games, and Waste Management and Social Responsibility’ (87)
In addition, following the award of the Games, the Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games Rio 2016 signed a contract with COPPE/UFRJ (Post-grad Institute, Federal University) for an OGI study. Similarly to London, the Rio’s bid to host the Games also demonstrates a perspective that manages to take into consideration both social and environmental parameters.
Moreover, like London, Brazil also experienced intense protest and rioting a year before hosting another sport mega-event, the FIFA World Cup, in June 2013, which were partly linked to the costs of the event and raised similar concerns in relation to Rio 2016. That way our analysis compares and contrasts developments in the pre-event phase. from the bidding proclamations to the first signs of dissatisfaction that culminated in the 2013 civil contestation, and subsequent developments under the Dilma Rousseff administration in the current pre-event stage. The end result is an initial commentary on the tripartite framework on (im-)mobile policies put forward by Müller (2014) as applied to Rio 2016.

Dr John Karamichas
Queen’s University of Belfast

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 09 Oct 2015
EventMore than just a game: Mobilities, infrastructures & imaginaries of global sports events - University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium
Duration: 08 Oct 201609 Oct 2017


WorkshopMore than just a game


  • Mobility
  • Sustainable Development
  • Rio 2016
  • Capacity
  • Pre-event phase

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)


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