The Olympic Games are meant to be inspiring and uplifting, focusing on the promise of our youth, focusing on our shared humanity, and, ultimately, providing income and positive press to host countries all over the world. But the broader impact on this year’s Games in Rio de Janeiro and its surrounding areas has not been as positive – as has been the case for many host countries. As we discussed in last week’s blog post, it’s been a tumultuous experience for the country, which is going through a major recession and experiencing a great deal of violence, both related and unrelated to the Olympics.

In an effort to reframe the discussion and prepare for a better Olympic future, it’s important to explore what we can learn from what’s happened in Rio, and what we can do better next time. Here are some of our ideas:

Prioritize host country residents

Rio Olympics - WhyWhisper Collective

Because many countries view hosting the Olympics as a positive thing, both in terms of pride and even financially, selected host countries often go out of their way to bolster their infrastructure and hide anything that could be deemed as an obvious shortcoming from the international eye. As a result, planners often disregard the needs of the host country’s residents, and even displace them for the sake of the games. In fact, more than 77,000 people were forcibly evicted in preparation for the Rio Games, in order to build more infrastructures.

While this may have been deemed necessary in the short-term, in the long run, the relocation of these individuals and families will likely prove to be problematic. Regardless of the work that needs to be done to support the Games, it’s in the best interest of the host country to find ways to incorporate the necessary infrastructure without permanently affecting its residents.

Make sustainability a major part of the plan

Rio Olympics - WhyWhisper Collective

Though Brazil made big promises around sustainability to the International Olympic Committee in its 2009 bid, they haven’t followed through on many. In fact, the environmental situation in Brazil is looking as bad as it ever has. Right before the Games started, Olympic water tests showed 1.7 million times what would be considered a concerning level for viruses.

Also, before the Olympics even started Brazil already had a major problem with traffic (as the fourth most congested city in the world). To alleviate that, the city built a subway expansion that ended up costing $3 billion. They also constructed a bike path, which collapsed before the Games started. While we commend these efforts to plan for more sustainable transportation options, in the end, Rio’s already heavily polluted air will only be worse off as a result of the Olympics.

From the infrastructure, to the transportation needs, to way in which the Games are powered, sustainability needs to be an integral consideration in every step of the planning process if we want to see improvements next time around.

Incorporate social and environmental responsibility into corporate sponsorships

Rio Olympics - WhyWhisper Collective

 As we discussed last week, corporations who sponsor the Olympics have a tremendous opportunity to add social and/or environmental value to the Games’ host countries in their sponsorships. What that looks like, specifically, will and should depend on who the sponsor is, and what their own values are.

One great way that corporations can make a difference is by working with planners to make the Games more sustainable. Some great options are donating or subsidizing eco-friendly products and transportation options, providing recycling opportunities to attendees, or offering alternative energy sources to offset the enormous environmental costs of powering the Games.

Beyond sustainability, corporations can help solve a lot of the other problems that the Olympics cause for host countries. To name just a few, they can partner with local organizations to determine how to best serve a host country’s residents, or even awareness campaigns around issues like human trafficking and increased violence around the Games. If corporations take the time to be strategic about the ways that they can most effectively create positive change in host countries, align their sponsorships to their values, and set attainable goals, a lot of good can come from corporate sponsorships.


Do you have ideas for how the Olympic Games could be developed and held in more sustainable and socially responsible ways? Share with us! Let’s get these ideas out there. Here’s how: Connect with us on social (TwitterFacebookInstagramLinkedIn), send us an email, or comment below.

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