Rousseff’s Impeachment: The Impact of Political Chaos on the 2016 Olympics

By Carrie Mittl

Brazilians celebrating in the streets after the Lower House voted to impeach Dilma Rousseff (Source: Mario Tama, Getty Images)

Brazilians celebrating in the streets after the Lower House voted to impeach Dilma Rousseff (Source: Mario Tama, Getty Images)

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Plagued by economic recession, political secrets, and questions about her involvement in the Petrobras scandal, Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s current president, awaits impeachment. The Brazilian Congress’s 513-seat lower house reached 2/3 majority vote on April 17th, 2016 in favor of impeaching Rousseff[1]. When the vote that sealed the deal was counted, Brazilians who lined the streets and glued their eyes to the television screeds erupted with joy and the sound of vuvuzelas. They rejoiced with hopes that political change could stabilize Brazil. Rousseff and her party denounced the voting, claiming that the decision is a coup d’etat “like the one in 1964, but with the role of the generals played by biased media, a “selective” judiciary and compromised legislators”[2]. She has vowed to fight the decision. The Senate will to vote in mid-May, and if all goes as expected, Rousseff will be asked to step down so that her vice president, Michel Temer, can assume the presidency[3].

The biggest argument for her impeachment stems from her involvement with the state-run energy firm Petrobras, one of the world’s largest corporations[4]. An investigation in 2013 revealed that nearly $5.3 billion dollars switched hands while Rousseff was the chairwoman of Petrobas’s board. To describe the situation, Zack Beauchamp of Vox World says that “construction executives secretly created a cartel to coordinate bids on Petrobras contracts and systematically overcharge the company. They then sent some of the profits they made from this to Petrobras workers as bribes, as well as to politicians” [5]. Even though there is no direct evidence of her involvement in the illegal wrongdoings, there is much to be said about her poor judgment and responsibility if all of these events occurred under her watch. The scandal demonstrates a trend in Brazilian history: inequality[6]. Over many decades, the wealthy elite ride roughshod over the poor and can get away with manipulations of the law. Exposing this situation has caused millions of Brazilians to rally around a call for change and a new leader of the country[7]. Moreover, her leftist Worker’s Party (PT) had always stood on a platform of sticking up for the commoners against the power of the elite. Due to the involvement of politicians from the PT in the Petrobras scandal, Rousseff no longer has a foot to stand on.

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's Recently Impeached President(Source: Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s Recently Impeached President (Source: Ueslei Marcelino, Reuters)

The political scandal has contributed to the poor preparation for the Olympic games. Because of all the political upheaval and economic turmoil throughout the country, the Olympics have become an after thought of Brazilian authorities. The question remains whether or not the unrest will affect the Games. Organizers postponed a test run of some events that was going to be used to work out efficiency and organization kinks. Originally planned for May, the testing will now take place in late June.[8] Furthermore, construction at the Deodoro Olympic Complex, due to host 11 sports, has been halted due to a cut of funds due to the construction company’s involvement in a corruption scandal[9]. There’s a high risk that a metro designed to connect tourist friendly cities to Barra da Tijuca, the Olympic hub, will not be finished in time. The question still remains whether or not all of these projects will be wrapped up in the coming months or if the Olympics preparation will crumble amidst escalating political turmoil within Brazilian society this summer.

The "Christ the Redeemer" statue above the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro (Source: Yasuyoshi Chiba, Getty Images)

The “Christ the Redeemer” statue above the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro (Source: Yasuyoshi Chiba, Getty Images)

History reveals that despite political instability and corruption within the host country, the Games can still run smoothly. The hope is that history will repeat itself and that Brazil’s internal struggles will not ruin the execution of the games.

Examples within the past 12 years have demonstrated that turmoil within the host country had less of an effect on the Games than the media speculated prior to the event. For example, just 2 years ago during the 2014 Sochi Games, questions hovered before the lighting of the torch about whether or not the corruption in Putin’s government would impact the Games[10]. In 2004, the Athens Games kicked off among economic collapse[11]. In both cases, the worst-case scenarios never occurred and the Olympics ran relatively smoothly.

Perhaps the best example comes from the 1968 Olympics in Mexico. This event was the first time that a Latin American country won the bid. Never before had the Games been held in a developing country. There was speculation that the government would not be able to hold all the moving pieces together, but the Games were successful and are remembered for this fact[12].

This situation sounds eerily similar to Brazil’s current condition.


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[1] “The Darkest Hour,” The Economist, April 23 2016,

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Zack Beauchamp, “Brazil’s Political Crisis, Explained in 500 Words,” Vox, April 13 2016,

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jules Boycoff, “Rio Olympics Must Face Reality of Brazil’s Political Turmoil and Economic Chaos,” Los Angeles Times, April 15 2016,

[9] Ibid.

[10] Shannon Sim, “Will Massive Political Unrest Derail Rio Olympics? History Suggests No,” Forbes, April 14 2016,

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

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How to cite this article: “Is Rio Ready?” Written by Carrie Mittl and Sam Shapiro, Olympic Football 2016 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University,, (accessed on (date)).