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Rio has won the battle: now the real fight starts | Joao Marcello Erthal

4th October 2009

Winning the bid for the 2016 Olympic Games represents, above all, an opportunity to transform the city

For the citizens of Rio de Janeiro, winning the battle for the 2016 Olympic Games represents, above all, an opportunity to transform the city.

The elation of the crowds on Copacabana beach was a mix of celebration and relief. In the words of President Lula: Rio, which was home to the empire before losing it and capital of the republic before losing that, can now once again enjoy the feeling of victory at the prospect of hosting the Olympics. The victory may have come in the form of a sporting event, but its impact will go far beyond the Olympic spirit.

The long-term benefits of a big sporting event may be questionable when the substantial finances needed to prepare for it are taken into consideration; it is estimated that something like R$25bn (£8.8bn) will be invested in infrastructure.

But this is nothing compared to the necessity to solve the city's historic problems in just a few years.

The rise in violence over the past three decades has been directly related to the economic emptying of this large city which, like many metropolises, has not been able to find a new employment model following a large-industrial era. With an impoverished population, the outskirts, lacking in public services, have become a fertile ground for organised crime, drug trafficking and, more recently, armed paramilitary groups.

The rebirth of this cycle of growth has come recently with the expansion of the oil industry and, in lesser part, given the city's natural beauty, with the influx of tourists. But decades of economic stagnation have created an abyss in which Rio's poorest now find themselves. For the authorities and the population, the activity that will surround the Olympics appears like a chance to galvanise the people in a process which must involve education, something to which sport is so closely linked.

Before the Pan-American games in 2007, even Rio's most optimistic residents had doubts about the city's ability to receive so many people and to adapt itself, even momentarily, to offer comfort and security to its visitors. Fortunately the city passed this test.

And so if, of all the cities short-listed for the Olympics, Rio seemed the least technically prepared, the internal mobilisation and the desire of the people to overcome adversity will certainly make up for the extra work and investment that an Olympic Games will demand.

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