Author:De Lisio, Amanda


Previous literature has noted the connection between sport and corporate environmentalism, especially that which has positioned the sport mega-event as a facilitator of "sustainable" development. David Chernushenko (1994) was the first environmentalist to propose a model of ecologically sustainable development for sport and recreation management, which was criticizedfor the notable appeal to neoliberal-capitalist advancement. (1) Due to eco-driven protests in Denver (1974), Toronto (1989), and Rome (1997), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) amended the Olympic Charter to reflect growing environmental concern. Yet the IOC model has--much like the work of Chernushenko--continued to favor finance. Recent literature has documented the extent to which the Olympic pillar of "sustainability, " intended to "integrate sustainable development into their policies and activities, " has allowed for deceptive corporate marketing to merely greenwash the Games. (2) It is from this context that the Aedes aegypti or Yellow Fever mosquito rapidly emerged--now host to Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika, Mayaro, and other viruses. We borrow from Lauren Berlant the notion of "cruel optimism " to describe structural/institutional ideologies (e.g., allegiance to the monogamous, heteronormative family) that facilitate capitalist expansion, even in the midst of (environmental) crisis. (3) While the literal destruction of the cityscape (whether sport-prompted or not) has cemented an economic logic into the physical landscape and modern mind, we contend that scientific-technological communities need to (more carefully) protect and privilege the pre-existent "nature-made " strategies of sustainability. So, to make an authentic commitment to the environment, the IOC--as emblematic of an international conglomerate repeatedly encouraged to rewrite and recreate sovereign law--would need to legally enforce the protection of local ecologies as it has legally enforced the protection of corporate sponsorship and the Olympic brand.


To examine the interconnectedness between law, land, and transnational bodies is far from a straightforward affair but, indeed, a needed one. In this article, we work to illustrate the manner in which the sport mega-event (via the Federation Internationale de Football Association [FIFA] and the International Olympic Committee [IOC]) is called to facilitate (trans)national development priorities that repurpose and reconfigure host cities. We borrow from Lauren Berlant the notion of "cruel optimism" to recalibrate an approach to development that is realistic--not romantic--about the destruction known to follow development strategies. (4) It is from this cruel context that the Aedes (Stegomyia) mosquitoes--innocuous since 1947--have resurfaced to ignite newfound anxieties related to Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika, Mayaro, and other dangerous viruses. Amid the health uncertainties associated with these new viruses, research is certain: The proliferation of insect-borne illnesses is associated with anthropocentric crises. (5) A case in point was the 2016 Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreak in the Global South, which positioned Olympic host (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) as felon--perpetrator of contagion--in such a way that it served to detract attention from the harmful resource extraction occasioned via transnational parties. (6) While much of the reaction to the Zika virus centered on the future health of heteronormative (white) families and the unborn (affluent) child of the Global North, we were interested in documenting the lived realities of women in the Global South--women who were unable to travel elsewhere and/or invest in mosquito-repellant technologies. To do so, we attend to the litany of legacies; not the sport legacies promised in the Bid Book, (7) but the hidden legacies of destruction that resource local land, law, and bodies in service of corporate interest.

The incursion of sport into the discussion of urban reform is littered throughout government-endorsed documentation across former and future host cities. (8) Local authorities uncritically position these events as a much-needed injection of capital across (future) celebrated host communities. Crucial to the work done to evaluate mega-event urbanism is the manner in which it cannot be contained within or used solely to advance fantasies of those within the creative, cosmopolitan class. (9) Despite attention directed at the (supposed) positive impact of the mega-event on the formal market, there is scarce literature on the impact of mega-event urbanism on communities not yet inculcated within colonial-capitalist fantasies. In previous research, we examined the impact of colonial-capitalist expansion on racialized, sexualized minorities--particularly those reliant on their bodies in the absence of land to realize economic opportunities. (10) In an extension to this research, we continue to examine several socio-legal phenomena that impinge upon local land and bodies within 2014/2016 sport mega-event host communities across Rio de Janeiro. In particular, we interrogate the manner in which the medicalized rhetoric related to the ZIKV detracted from the reconfiguration of sovereign law in service of development strategies that catered to an international audience (or para Ingles ver in Portuguese) despite everyday realities of eco-degradation.

To do so, we collected and analyzed qualitative data to better understand: (i) the consequence of the Zika outbreak--an environmental consequence of destructive-development processes--on the everyday realities (i.e., access to labor, health, and urban life) of those involved in sexual commerce/sex work; and (ii) the manner in which sovereign land and law are reconfigured in service of transnational extra-legal entities, such as the IOC and pharmaceutical companies. These curiosities stem from the work of indigenous feminist theories that posit the defense of land and the revaluation of queer socialities as integral to strategies of decolonization. (11) In this article, we use the case of FIFA/IOC, as a transnational, male-dominated institution, to demonstrate the most recent rendition of state legal exceptionalism and perpetuation of colonial-capitalist expansion.

As part of a broader research project on sex work (used interchangeably with sexual commerce) in the context of the 2014/2016 sport mega-event, we were interested in the technologies of healthification, (12) which were created in the Global North in reaction to the ZIKV outbreak in the Global South. As an extension to ethnographic work already situated in Rio de Janeiro, the first author started to assemble and collect qualitative data related to the ZIKV outbreak after the first reported diagnosis in May 2015--believed to be affiliated with the influx of event tourism (i.e., either the 2013 Confederation Cup and/or the 2014 FIFA World Cup). (13) In December 2015, the Brazilian Ministry of Health estimated between 440,000-1,300,000 people had contracted ZIKV in the soon-to-be Olympic host nation. (14) In order to best examine the manner in which event urbanism, environmental collapse, and insect-borne viruses (re)write everyday realities for local women involved in informal (sexual) commerce, the subsequent ethnographic methodologies were employed:

  1. Critical document analysis of relevant documentation (e.g., Olympic-related media, disease-control information/agencies);

  2. Participant observation of previously identified sex-related businesses, agencies, and clientele, with particular emphasis on any effort made to address ZIKV; and

  3. Semi-structured interview data collected with those identified as and/or referred to by working women in the field.

Interview and observational data were intermittently collected between April 2014 and December 2017 within four key zones of sexual commerce: (i) Copacabana, the infamous beachfront which housed FIFA Fan Fest; (ii) Vila Mimosa, or the red light district of Rio de Janeiro, located less than one kilometer from Maracana, and therefore in designated FIFA territory; (iii) the Caixa in Niteroi, a port district overlooking Centro, or downtown Rib de Janeiro, which housed the official Olympic Fan Zone; and (iv) Barra da Tijuca, home to the newly-built Olympic Park. As a result of the extended time in the field, more than 100 women involved in sexual commerce were interviewed in a location of their choice (place of business, home, restaurant, or park/public area). While it was common for women to discuss fear of illnesses, the Zika virus was not an obvious theme of conversation until women started to note uncertainties related to insect-borne viruses (i.e., August 2016). At that point, the first author started to ask for more detail related to anxieties, precautionary strategies/remedies, and client response. The first author also obtained information related to 2016 Olympic construction online as well as information shared by an employee of the municipal office. This municipal employee was interviewed twice. The employee then introduced the authors to another employee of the same office, who was also interviewed. Importantly, both employees worked for the Mayor from the time of Olympic bid submission (September 2007) to candidate selection (October 2009) and the completion of the Olympic/Paralympic event (September 2016). In addition to documentation related to Olympic construction, we also collected and coded ZIKV-relevant travel material made available via scientific communities, media, etc. (15) All data obtained in Portuguese were transcribed and translated with the aid of research assistants. (16) In order to conduct ethnographic fieldwork, ethical approval was obtained from the University of Toronto in Canada as well as Bournemouth University in England. The first author also worked as a research affiliate for the Prostitution Policy Watch...

To continue reading