Ewan MacKenna: How the Rio Olympics are exposing the deepening cracks in Brazil's society

Brazil-based 2012 Irish Sports journalist of the year lifts the lid on the build-up to the Games

Brazil, Rio, Olympics

A man sweeps in front of a sand sculpture along the promenade on Copacabana beach Monday, Aug. 1, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The iconic Copacabana beach will be the starting point for the road cycling race, marathon swimming and triathlon competitions during the Olympics. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Around the same time that thousands on the Copacabana beach were celebrating victory in a bid to host the Olympics, a report on their real effect was released in 2009.

Researched and written by Andrew Rose, an economist at the University of California, and Mark Spiegel, who worked for the Federal Reserve, they discovered that the idea of staging a Games being economically advantageous was a massive myth at best and a corporate trick at worst.

Much of the appeal was to say that a country was open for business by welcoming the world in, but those that just bid and lost achieved this without the vast spend. Meanwhile the benefits of infrastructure could be had far cheaper without the outlay on endless black-hole arenas.

At the time though, Brazil didn't care. Flush with cash, and well on the way to being the next global superpower, sport was set to be a way to showcase its new-found bling. Seven years on though and it's hard to work out if the nation is in greater economic, political or societal turmoil, but that sickly combination means it really shouldn't be hosting this at such expense - both open and hidden.

Let's be clear though. This must be separated from the idea that the country can't hold these Olympics given the dizzying priorities of the ruling and organising elite. The glitches around the athletes' village are and have been fixed, the stadia are ready, the water will be okay if not great for those sailing, 20,000 security personnel on the streets will keep internal and external crime down, and Zika isn't an issue in winter. Much like the World Cup it will be last-minute but memorable for many.

But just like the World Cup we often overlook just who it will be memorable for and in what way.

Rio Olympics Sand Sculpture on the Copacabana beach ahead of the Rio Olympic Games, Brazil. Picture by: Mike Egerton / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Right now Brazil has record unemployment of 11.4%. Inflation in the country isn't far behind, squeezing people from food and shelter in extreme but not uncommon cases. Recently police on strike greeted visitors flying into Rio with a banner that read "Welcome to Hell". In one instance a teacher took her own life having not been paid for four months. Schools that were underfunded are now at breaking point. Public universities don't always open after holidays. Hospitals are locking their doors. Yet consider one story as a microcosm of how all this has worked.

The road that brings you from the international airport to the upper-class south zone is known as the Red Line and runs alongside the Complexo da Maré, a collection of shantytowns that house 130,000 people in huge poverty. But in recent weeks the view has changed, as €56 million worth of Olympic posters have been plastered along the 7 kilometre stretch. Officials say it's to help get the city in a sporting spirit; locals have dubbed it the wall of shame, hiding away Rio's reality.

But if an Olympics are supposed to give a flavour of the city and country they are held in, then Rio de Janeiro and Brazil have done a superb job without meaning to. Of late there has been a right-wing shift in government, ending years of Socialist Party rule with president Dilma Rousseff suspended and awaiting impeachment. Her removal though was a particularly gruesome affair with one deputy in parliament, Rio's own Jair Bolsonaro, dedicating his vote to suspend and investigate her to Carlos Brilhante Ustra, a colonel who lead a torture operation during the dictatorship that included her torture for three years following her capture in 1970.

Her temporary successor Michel Temer has since been accused of a coup, with many in his cabinet in trouble for the sort of corruption they could never find Rousseff guilty off. (Amidst a massive corruption and kickback scandal involving state-owned oil giant Petrobras that found it overpaying for construction projects with the money making its way back to politicians, she has instead fallen foul of a not uncommon but wrong practice of propping up budget figures with money from state-owned banks). It's all split a country on racial and class lines to the point of a cold civil war.

The Christ the Redeemer statue stands in front of the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, Aug. 1, 2016. The Summer Games start Aug. 5. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)

Yet if that shift back towards the days of elitism and away from the years of reforms that did much good for the masses is the new face of Brazil, these Olympics are a look-a-like.

Rio de Janeiro first put in a bid to host the 2012 Games and their plan revolved around rejuvenating the downtrodden Ilha do Governador area but this was turned down by the IOC. When they returned from the drawing board and offered to make the main hub in 2016 the affluent suburb of Barra da Tijuca, they were victorious. The consequences of all that has happened since though goes far beyond the next couple of weeks as Rio has been reshaped thanks to a massive transfer of land and wealth from public holdings to private pockets.

In Barra, for example, last year The Guardian interviewed one of those set to profit most from the development as Carlos Carvahlo owns 6 million squares metres of land there. Asked about Olympic developments that will become private housing, he gave disturbing insight.

A demonstrator holds a sign with photos of suspended Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff and former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and reads "You bankrupted my country, prison" during a protest demanding her impeachment, on Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, July 31, 2016. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

"The gardens that are planned for the inside will be at a level that only kings have previously had," he said.

"We think that if the standards were lowered, we would be taking away from what the city – the new city – could represent on the global scene as a city of the elite, of good taste. Ilha Pura [Pure Island as the village will be known when sold off as apartments] could not scratch this destiny that has been given to the region. For this reason, it needed to be noble housing, not housing for the poor."

This in a place with 600 slums or favelas that contain around 1.3 million people

The organisers publicly talk about wider ranging reforms that benefit people across the city, but these things are all relative and the real winners from these Games have already been set in stone. No doubt the coming weeks will be celebrated as a success by those that put them together be it Brazilian or IOC politicians. And for athletes and visitors they'll prove to be hugely enjoyable.

However it's when the flame is extinguished that the real legacy begins. At least for the self-chosen few.