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Olympics: Goodbye Sochi, Hello Brazil


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. The Winter Olympics games closed yesterday with a spectacular display of fireworks, dance and music, including a thousand children singing the Russian national anthem.

So now the international sports world turns its attention to Brazil. That country will host two major world sporting events in the coming years - World Cup soccer this summer and the Summer Olympics in 2016. And already there are some concerns over whether that country will be ready. NPR's South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro joins us for more on that with us from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Lourdes, welcome.


MARTIN: But before we leave the winter games for good, Bill Douglas is with us once again to give his highlights from the past two weeks in Sochi. He is a reporter for the news organization McClatchy and editor of the Color of Hockey blog, with us once again for one final time from Sochi. So let's start with you, Bill, thanks for joining us. Now you remember we talked about all those concerns about security and whether the facilities would be ready to host the Olympics. Overall, would you say that the games were a success or not?

WILLIAM DOUGLAS: Russians are over the moon today. You know, they felt they did it. They pulled it off. All the discussions about security, all the discussions about unfinished facilities became background noise. They did OK. They did well. You know, the security held up. The lodging situation, you know, it was good for some and bad others. But overall, they pulled off successful games.

MARTIN: The athletes seemed pleased with the facilities for the most part.

DOUGLAS: Athletes were thrilled. I mean, for them, this was the best of all worlds. For the hockey players, figure skaters, speed skaters, you know, they could roll out of bed - some actually bicycled to their rinks, their practice facilities and to the arenas. Everything was so close and compact at the costal side. And even up in the mountain venues, you know, the lodging up there was right near where the events were. So for them, it was just, you know, get up, eat, practice, go play.

MARTIN: So what were some of your favorite Olympic moments?

DOUGLAS: I enjoyed the women's bob sled. Lauryn Williams made history by being, you know, one of the few people in Olympic history to win medals in both the summer and winter games. That's a feat that's rarely done. I was a big fan of the Japanese women's hockey team. This was their first year in the winter Olympics. They didn't do well, but they showed well. And they showed what Olympic spirit was all about. They were in the games. They didn't win the games, but they played.

MARTIN: And finally, you know, the medal count - you know, some people care about that. But the medal count showed that the U.S. was second behind Russia, but you're saying that there's actually some - there are some worrisome signs in there, even though - you know, overall medal count for the U.S. looks strong. But you think that there are some things that the U.S. needs to be thinking about when you look about how the medals were distributed. You want to talk about that?

DOUGLAS: There are. I mean, overall, the U.S. got 28 medals, which is good. But the thing is when you break down the numbers, a lot of those medals are in the newer sports of the games - the sports that came in since 1994. These would be the extreme sports, half pipe, things like that. And then you look back at the rest of it, the U.S. didn't perform well. I mean, obviously, speed skating was a disaster for the U.S., hockey was a disaster this Olympics as well. But the traditional Olympic sports, those sports that you and I grew up watching "Wide World Sports" on, we're not doing that well - cross-country skiing, skiing in general.

And the various U.S. sports agencies probably will take a look at this. I mean, USA speedskating, they've got a whole lot of work to do after the showing here in Sochi - very, very disappointing showing. You know, there's some questions about training. Obviously, there were questions about the suit. USA speedskating said the suit wasn't the problem. But, you know, whether or not - you know, the suit was introduced the day before they had to wear them in the competition. So there's a lot of things they have to look at for - to prepare for South Korea to make sure that the U.S. doesn't fall further behind in the traditional sports.

MARTIN: And finally, before we leave Sochi, is there anything that the host of the summer Olympic Games, Rio, can learn from Sochi?

DOUGLAS: Yes, be on time. The Russians were obviously a little slow with the accommodations. I know a lot was about us in the media complaining about our facilities, but it wasn't just the media. Some of the guest facilities weren't prepared or they weren't adequate. I'm sure the International Olympic Committee will be riding herd over Rio - the Rio organizers to make sure that every detail in terms of lodging and preparedness will be done. I think that's the lesson learned here from Sochi.

MARTIN: Lourdes, you here that? Not that we're making you responsible for all of this, but...


MARTIN: Half a million visitors are expected in Brazil for World Cup this summer. So how is that going?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, you know, it's really interesting listening to this because I think what's happened here in Brazil - there are huge delays, as you know, for the World Cup. People are actually saying - using the word disaster. Six out of the 12 stadiums are not ready yet. But what's really happening here in the debate within Brazil is more about legacy. I think the way the international community views it is exactly that - are the venues going to be ready, how are the facilities going to be, and it's all about the games. And what's happening here in Brazil is that they're looking at this in a different way. They're saying OK, fine. We're going to have these stadiums.

We're going to have these facilities, and then what? And that's really been a source of huge contention here. We've had massive protests last summer, partially sparked by the huge costs associated with the World Cup. Now, of course, we're going to be facing not only the World Cup but then the Olympics in Rio. And people are saying, OK, that's fine. I think the stadiums are probably going to be ready. I think, you know, the venues will be good. But everyone's going to leave, and we're going to be left with this enormous bill. And is it worth it? And I think that that is a real debate that's happening here in Brazil and I think all over nowadays because we're seeing so many problems globally with these mega-events.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we are getting a wrap of the Sochi Winter Olympics games and looking ahead to Brazil. Our guests are NPR South America Lourdes Garcia-Navarro. That's who was speaking just now. Also with us, Bill Douglas of the McClatchy news organization. He's been in Sochi following the games for the last two weeks. So those protests, those protests that we heard about where more than 200 people arrested in Sao Paulo, what are the - what was the kind of organizing principle of that and what was the spark, Lourdes, if there was one?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, there's a really interesting to poll that just came out today. And imagine that Brazil is sort of like the home of soccer, the spiritual home of soccer. They've been in every single World Cup, and they love the sport. And you now see that Brazilians who favor hosting the World Cup has fallen to an all-time low of 52 percent. That's from a high of almost 80 percent in 2008. So that's just an extraordinary number to show that people are really not that supportive of the entire endeavor because they've seen so many problems associated with the World Cup at this point. If you consider the stadium in Brasilia, it actually doubled in cost. They said it was going to be one cost, and now it's, you know, double that. And that's pretty much been the case, you know, stadium after stadium. They've all run over budget.

And so people are saying, OK, look, we love the sport. We love the World Cup. We hope we win. But is it really worth it to host these games? And you are seeing a lot of people questioning that. And there have been protests on the streets. They are much smaller than they were before, but they've become a lot more violent. So we saw 200 and some people arrested over the weekend here in Sao Paulo. And the people who are part of these protests are saying there's going to be more. They're going to get bigger. They're going to get more violent. We want to stop the World Cup.

MARTIN: And, Bill, you know, to that end - and obviously a very different situation in Russia, very different kind of political system there. One might argue kind of a much heavier hand that the government places on these kinds of protests. But there was a lot of complaint in advance that these games were expensive and that a lot of people were displaced. But what - I know that you were very focused on the games. But now is there a little bit of an afterglow or even some of the people who were not happy about it, are they feeling good about what they put on and what happened?

DOUGLAS: It's funny, there is a degree of national pride that goes on with hosting large sporting events like the Olympics and like the World Cup, even some of the critics of the games here in Russia about their costs, about the use of labor, about the killing of dog issue. Even some of the critics who say, well, hey, you know, this actually worked. And, you know, they sort of gave Vladimir Putin sort of grudging respect for sort of being sort of this I'm-the-president, you know, force.

Now the bill will come due here because some of this was done with private finding. Some of the oligarchs kicked in money, took out loans. Some of those loans will come due I think shortly. You know, they're going to do their best to make Sochi this sort of multiuse facility. I remember you've got GA summit coming up here in the summer. You've got a Grand Prix race coming up here in October. I believe you have a soccer event here in 2018. So they're trying to make this a multipurpose, all-use area sort of to get their money out of this...


DOUGLAS: ...To avoid sort of that sort of pressure that's going on in Brazil.

MARTIN: And, Lourdes, final thought from you. We have about a minute and a half. You know, you've reported that 40 percent of Rio's population live in shanty towns. What is the government saying about these protests or the people who are still supporting them saying? Are they saying that it will provide an economic boost and if so how? What's their response to what you're seeing as kind of a growing discontent about this?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, what you see here, both for the World Cup and of course the Rio Olympics, is that these are happening in major cities. So Rio is the second-largest city in Brazil. You know, it's a huge place. And they are talking - they are saying that basically the Olympics is going to transform Rio. They're doing a lot of legacy projects around the games, changing the transportation system, cleaning up the bay, you know, building a new airport facility. And they say this will be the actual legacy for Rio. Of course, the other side says, it's not enough. These things are over budget. They're not putting money into health and to education, things that are really needed in a country like Brazil.

MARTIN: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro is NPR South America correspondent. Bill Douglas is a reporter from McClatchy news organization. He also runs the Color of Hockey blog. So, Lourdes, we'll keep our eyes on Brazil. Bill, safe travel home. Thank you both so much for joining us.

DOUGLAS: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.