The Olympic Games should be serving as an international showcase for both the city and country that is hosting them. But unless you’ve been living somewhere devoid of internet access and / or newsagents, you’ll notice that’s not exactly the picture painted in the English-language media.
Of course, Rio 2016 is happening at a troubled time: a complicated, at times toxic, political backdrop; an impending presidential impeachment; a nationwide corruption probe; concerns over security; an economic recession; and, not-least, the zika virus. There was never going to be blanket positive coverage – and I personally can’t remember an Olympics where there weren’t question marks over readiness and overspending.
But, from a communications perspective, could more have been done to paint a picture of the positives and the opportunities, what could have been done to offer a more balanced perspective?
For those of us living in the country, there is a feeling that Brazil has sleepwalked its way into the role of whipping boy for the international press.
Of course, bad news will be privileged over good by any editor worth their salt, but there is a prevailing sense that this editorial trend has been largely unchallenged by Brazilian politicians and institutions.
And it is clear that in some cases, some of the stories written in the international press have been, at best, rapidly produced, and at worst poorly researched or based on questionable syndications.
It has been crying out for a proactive PR response campaign, but it has not happened. Why?
Brazil has always been introspective, but given its current problems, and the fact that most of the would-be spokespeople for the Olympics are politicians, primarily concerned with communicating to their own electorate, there has been a vacuum of replies and alternative points of view offered to the international media.
Put simply, the Government’s communications teams were more concerned with minimising the domestic scandal than the country’s global image.
What simple stories and points of view could have been offered to counterbalance the negativity? A few examples…
On the issue of security – the Rio police are being reinforced by offers from neighbouring states and a 2100 from the armed forces.
On the issue of traffic – the cities normal routes are being modified so that delegations and organizers have special passage through the city streets with exclusive lanes.
On the issue of the zika virus – the government is mobilising 220,000 soldiers of the armed forces to provide aid in a campaign involving 356 Brazilian cities.
On the recession – with rising unemployment rates, the Rio de Janeiro tourism sector is creating an additional 4080 temporary jobs during the period of the Games.
On the mood – point to the example of the World Cup. Brazil 2014, itself subject to numerous criticisms, was notable for its feel-good factor (albeit discounting the semi-final). As soon as the tournament started, the country was orderly, hospitable and unified in support. Its self-esteem was clearly raised. With the broken records and outstanding performances doubtless to follow from both Brazilian and international Olympic athletes, who is to say we won’t see a repeat performance?
The fact remains though, with no-one to makes these arguments and mount a credible, proactive PR defence to bad news stories, international journalists will inevitably maintain a negative bias in their coverage and what positive stories exist will be lost in the doom mongering.