Note from BW of Brazil: As it goes every four years, everyone knew that the United States would be the leader in gold as well as overall medals. Considering the country’s dominance in the Olympic Games, this was a no-brainer. Since the beginning of the Olympic competition, the United States has amassed more than 2,500 medals, more than 1,000 more medals than its closest competitor, the Soviet Union/Russia. As such, the heroics of the latest American superstars such as swimmer Simone Manuel or gymnast Simone Biles were to be expected from the Olympics most dominant country. It was also expected that Jamaican sensation Usain Bolt would leave all of his competitors in the dust. And even though the US earned in this most recent Olympic Games almost as many medals as Brazil has earned in its entire Olympic history (121 to 128), it would be an incredible disservice to ignore the achievements of Brazil’s medalists in this year’s Games. With a total of 19 medals, the Brazilians racked up the most medals in a single Olympics in its history! And considering the obstacles that many of these athletes experience in just attracting sponsors and the full support needed to a groom champions, their success must be celebrated! Below, we feature just a few of the Afro-Brazilians who brought home the coveted medals at home during Rio2016.
Brazil’s black Olympic national heroes!
By Diego Cruz
Rio’s Olympics ended with the unprecedented gold in men’s futebol, won after a difficult campaign and a cast paid their weight in gold and treated to sponge cake by the sponsoring companies. But it is no exaggeration to say that these were the games of the women. The women’s (futebol) team, with Marta leading, held a beautiful campaign, dribbled around the sexism of commentators, the discredit and neglect by the CBF (Brazilian Federation of Futebol) itself and thrilled millions who cheered like there wasn’t much to cheer for.
The judo artist Rafaela Silva, Brazil’s first gold at the Olympics, faced sexism and racism in her tortuous route from the Cidade de Deus (community in Rio) to the highest rank of the podium. But the Minas Gerais native Maicon Siqueiro, forced to divide his time between bricklaying assistant and training, won the bronze in taekwondo. A trajectory that maintains a certain resemblance to the volleyball líbero, Serginho, a son of coffee farmers and resident of Pirituba, north of São Paulo.
Isaquias Queiroz, already the biggest name in canoeing in Brazil with three medals, was born in a poor family in Bahia. He faced years of neglect from the Federação Brasileira de Canoagem (Brazilian Canoe Federation) to the point of nearly dropping the sport. An origin also similar to that of countryman Robson Conceição, of Salvador (Bahia), a gold medalist in boxing.
Individual histories of force and resilience, as the press says? Much more than that. A small sample of potential that has the country if sport was really taken seriously.
To get an idea, the name that is at the head of the Ministry of Sports is the Leonardo Picciani, a member of the Picciani clan in Rio. Affiliated to the PMDB (political party), he was at the forefront in defending (suspended President Dilma) Rousseff in his party in the impeachment vote in the House, to disembarking from the sinking ship of the PT (Workers’ Party) and taking a post in the (interim President Michel) Temer government. This same physiological logic reproduces itself in states and municipalities where the sports secretariats are offices of exchange and the selling political favors.
Whoever is dedicated to sport as a profession is bound to face a precarious life, begging for sponsorships to survive. Or the marketing program of the Armed Forces, which pays a salary of R$3,000 (per month) for sportspeople already established with the hope of seeing them give a salute on the podium.
The country does not have a public policy geared to the sport. Let alone a basic policy that encourages children, teen and potential athletes. It sounds hypocritical, as such, the COB’s (Comitê Olímpico do Brasil/Olympic Committee of Brazil) goal of making the country reach 10th place in the list of medals and ranks among the major powers.
But what did these Olympics have that was so special? Sport is representative of the many and complex human aspects. One is the resistance. Refusal to survive the injustices and certain conditions imposed. Among those who suffer most from the lack of public policies and the successive state courts, are blacks and women. It’s like this in health, in education, and thus also in sports. A privilege of few in such an unequal country. Blacks and women still face racism and sexism whose extremes are realized in femicide and the genocide of black youth.
Thus, when Rafaela Silva, Isaquias, Robson Conceição, went up on the podium, or even when our futebol players shine on the field, they are, why not, practicing an act of resistance. Something the government, politicians, multinationals and the logic of the capitalist system could not prevent.
The country that dreams of being an Olympic power feeds itself on unlikely heroes
By Mariana Lajolo
In the final stretch of the Olympics, Brazil got an unlikely hero. Maicon Siqueira, at age 18, worked as a bricklayer and waiter to help with the family’s bill. At 23, he became an Olympic medalist in taekwondo.
A quick look at our list of medalists in Rio’s Games, however, shows that his history is no exception.
Rafaela Silva, the girl from Cidade de Deus overcame adversity and prejudice to become the first champion of Brazil at the Olympics at home. Black, favelada (from the slums) and a woman, the face of the country, the face of those who, in general, are alienated from sport. She was a gold medalist in judo.
Robson Conceição, the boy from Bahia who tried the sport to be able to fight better on the street. If he hadn’t put on the gloves, we probably would never would have heard of the brief life history that he would star in. He won gold in boxing.
The young Isaquias Queiroz who used to play in the river that runs through the small, poor Bahian town of Ubaitaba. Who found in the canoe the chance to paddle to a new destination. He’s the only Brazilian to ascend the podium three times in a single edition of the Games.
They are beautiful stories, exceptions in society.
The country that dreams of being an Olympic power still feeds itself on these unlikely heroes. There aren’t the exceptions.
But to grow as a power, to transform the fact sport in fact into something impactful on society, we must work to change this reality.
Britain became in Rio, the first country to improve their performance in the next Olympics to that that it received at home. A gigantic feat with half the investment that Brazil made to try to reach the top 10 in this cycle.
How? One explanation is the living conditions. Athletes, in most cases, don’t have to worry about if they will have a place to train, if their parents will able to buy meat at the end of the month, if they’ll get shot while going to night school.
The discussion here is if it’s worth investing so much money to win medals if the majority of the population flirts with sedentary lifestyles and new idols don’t encourage children to let go of the tablet and the cell phone to practice sports.
It is another level of debate that Brazil should start doing, but doesn’t. Exhibiting medals is easier and brings more IBOPE (TV ratings) than discussing this structure. And for many, brings in more money.
The Brazilian delegation did not reach its goal of medals. Winning only two more than the London Games (2012) is a bad result. But even if the scenario were a party and Brazil would appear among the top ten in the world there would still be plenty to transform.