As we start to follow the Olympics, a number of researchers and academics have kindly agreed to submit posts relating to this topic. Welcome to the second of such presentations, which also feature on the AHRC Website, where events, case-studies, features and the latest funding opportunities may also be viewed.
In this guest post written by Professor Stephanie Dennison from the Faculty of Arts Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures at the University of Leeds , she demonstrates how their AHRC Funded project on Soft Power, Cinema and the BRICS (BRICS is the acronym for an association of five major emerging national economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) has kept their interest in such matters and how this has influenced their observation of Brazil and the Olympics.
In 2009 The Economist announced Brazil’s arrival on the world stage with a cover depicting Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Christ Statue literally ‘taking off’. Its economy was buoyant, it had already been confirmed as host of the 2014 World Cup, it was brokering new international partnerships, such as those that would lead to the formation of the BRICS, and, in the midst of such international profile-raising fervour, Rio de Janeiro won the race to host the 2016 summer Olympics. It was precisely at this time that Brazil began to be included in discussions on soft power, a term coined by Joseph Nye to describe a new trend in International Relations according to which nations gain favour based more on attraction and their persuasive ability than by military intervention and sanctions (hard power). By 2012, Monocle magazine was declaring that ‘the sun is shining on brand Brazil’. Now, within days of the start of the Rio Olympics, the picture is quite different: Brazil is in its worst recession in 25 years, the elected president has been removed from power by way of an ongoing and legally suspect process of impeachment, and criticisms in both the international press and by a wide range of Brazilians of different political persuasions of the preparations for the summer Olympics have been relentless.
Members of the AHRC research network Soft Power, Cinema and the BRICS are keenly observing both the impact in the international media and within Brazil of the Rio Olympics. We can already see that, despite Brazil’s habit of equating cultural diplomacy with reputation management, which itself derives from a long history of being misrepresented on screen and in print, there has been no such drive coming from official circles in Brazil to correct, challenge or even reflect on the relentlessness of the criticisms aimed at the country in the run-up to the Games. This may well be explained by the Games being a municipal and State-focused initiative, where, for example, the World Cup wasn’t, and also by dint of its association with the Workers Party, who were in power when the Games were awarded to Brazil, and whose legacy the interim government seems determined to overturn. There is also nothing new to bashing Olympic hosts (London being no exception). But, it’s what comes next that promises to be particularly meaningful for our research: unless an unprecedented infrastructural failure takes place (which is highly unlikely at this stage) soft-power gains stand to be made by Brazil from an opening ceremony that captures the imagination of an international audience, and from the performance and medal success of Brazilian athletes. To date neither of these aspects has been the subject of interest of the international news media.