Sexuality Policy Watch

The ‘sexual games’ are over: what’s next?

games over grande

Since August 5th, as in an extended Carnival, ordinary life in Brazil, particularly in Rio, was suspended.  At their end the Olympic Games 2016 have been predominantly experienced and assessed by both Brazilian and foreigners as a major success story, despite the many threats that haunted the event until the very last moment before they began: the national political crisis, the financial bankruptcy of the State of Rio de Janeiro, corruption scandals, infra-structure problems and, most principally, security hazards.  No major crisis or accidents have taken place, no terrorist attack occurred and the press did not reporte about higher levels of urban violence.  Brazilian and foreigners fled to Rio and poured into the stadiums or happily strolled in the streets of the Olympic zones.  Furthermore and not surprisingly, perhaps, sexuality was everywhere. As analyzed by SPW partner Fernando Seffner in the article Rio 2016: the Sexual Games?

The Games were also a privileged stage for the exhibition of young male and female bodies: fit, muscled, with zero fat, firm breasts, colorful spandex outfits, and shiny oiled skin. Bodies that often touched each other, in struggle in caresses after victory, and in friendly hugs after defeat. Bodies that were intensively filmed and photographed and which were often portrayed in highly intimate close-ups. It was hard to restrain one’s libido and erotic desires while watching these bodies, particularly if one was a member of a society that has transformed sexuality into flashy markers of national identity and a tourist attraction. But even the athletes themselves were overtaken by the ethos of bodily exhibition, performing public scenes of quasi-nudity and anxiously doing their best to grab the cameras’ attention.

Last but least, in Rio, the highest number of gay, lesbian and bi-sexual athletes got out of closet and in which the gold medals victories of Rafaela Silva (Judo) and Caster Semenya (800 meters race) opened an outstanding opportunity for the intersectionality of race and sexual orientation and gender identity to be addressed.

However, this was not exactly tropical paradise. As it has also happened in the 2014 World Cup before and during the Games media reports and NGO campaigns have flared discourses and campaigns on the risks of trafficking for sexual purposes and sexual exploitation of children, a hypothesis once again proved wrong, as noted by the researchers of Prostitution Policy Watch of the Federal University in their assessment of the ethnographic study performed during the games. Two episodes of sexual violence involving male athletes occurred at the Olympic Villa that were subject to immediate and rather draconian police and judicial procedures, aimed to prove the efficiency of the Brazilian police in regard to ‘sexual matters” [1].  As reported by Laura Molinari and Jimena de Garay, gender paradoxes were also quite easily identified whenever the surface of the Games’sexual liberated atmosphere was scratched.

Finally, but not less important, the question of sexual markers, gender identity and intersexuality that has been extensively addressed by academics and the international media in recent years not so long ago was treated by the Brazilian press in careless and transphobic terms when tackling the case of Judo player Edinanci Silva few years back.  But during the Rio games, the national press was almost entirely silent on the topic. The suspension of the IAF rules on hormones levels was not debated, the participation of the trans woman Lea T. as the bike chariot rider preceding the Brazilian delegation at the Opening Ceremony was barely mentioned, and no substantial information was provided on the relevance of Caster Semenya’ presence and victory in Rio. We have therefore invited the transmen activist Leonardo Peçanha to share his views on this rather unexplainable gap. But now that the games are over the ‘desert of the real’  is once again on the pages and screens.

And now that the games are over: more of the same 

The first signs of the potential success of the Games could be grasped as the Opening Ceremony evolved on the screens.  Its colorful and sophisticated arte povera esthetics,  and the sequence of Brazilian music icons it offered,   gathered applauses from all quarters.  Even in those social media circles that are usually the champions of criticizing anything official in these times of interim illegitimate government.  As the show progressed, the predominant tone of Facebook commentaries was that we as Brazilians  “deserved something so beautiful to improve the national self esteem”. The booing of Michel Temer’s minimal speech,  it should be said, has also added to’ the sentiment of satisfaction.  Consequently, those of us who tried to immediately raise interrogations in regard to the problematic narrative of the spectacle found ourselves preaching to the sands.

For these critiques to be aired and heard, the Games and their magic of suspension had to be over. One of these critiques, was developed by the historian Lilian Shwarcz and is titled Sound of Silence (in Portuguese). She praises the aesthetic quality of the show and elaborates on how the dire predictions on the very bad things that could happen in the Games pushed the ceremony creators to beyond expectations. These predictions and concerns, she suggests, partially explains the tone of its overarching frame combining values that are collorfully Brazilian but also universal. Shwarcz also dares to ask the question that should be asked:

Why is it that Brazil, in international events as the  Games, always shows its exotic facets and, most principally, reiterates the image of a peaceful people that resolves everything through the means of “cordiality” ? Cordiality is,  in fact,  the most chastised concept of the national literature,  a  ‘specter’  that haunted its author Sérgio Buarque de Holanda, for the 33 years during which he wrote and re-wrote “Raízes do Brazil” (Roots of Brazil, firstly published in 1936 and then revised and republished in 1969). Holanda said that cordial comes [ etymologically]  from “cur”, which means heart [in Latin],  an organ that has both good and evil sentiments; all together. Cordiality is not just goodness but also enmity, hierarchy, asymmetric relations, violence, all at once.   

Now that the games are over the veils of fetishized cordiality are rapidly dissolving and realities as they are regain their contours.   The financial crisis of the State of Rio that is far from resolved.  Many structural urban problems of Rio have not been addressed simply because are situated beyond the Olympic zones and corridors.  The “ordinary” very high levels level of violence in the favelas and the neighboring metropolitan area —  which became briefly visible during the games when a soldier of the National Force killed by narco-dealers –-  are back on daily screens. Nothing indicate that long standing tradition of unrestraint police violence will recede even if the power of policing was not exerted during the Games with the same brutality as in the 2014 World Cup. On August 16th, the interim Minister of Justice declared in a press interview that the problems of public security do not require more investment in research but rather the purchase of more armament.

abortoFrom the point of view of sexual politics yet more drastically, the city that projected the global image of a Mount Olympus of fit and sensual bodies, as soon as the games were over, has once again revealed its face as gendered slaughtering ward. On August 24th the press reported that Caroline de Souza Carneiro, 28 years old, has died of a clandestine, unsafe botched abortion.  Her corpse left over in the street repeated the cruel pattern of abjection that has also characterized the deaths of Jandira and Elisângela em 2014.  Significantly enough the news broke on the same day that a lawsuit petition on women’s rights in the context of the Zika crisis — including to pregnancy termination- was presented to the Supreme Court. In an article published in Folha de São Paulo as soon as the new began circulating, the journalist Claudia Colucci asked “For how long will be collecting women’s corpses on the streets?   and added:

[Abortion related] deaths that reach the media are not sufficient to disclose the very grave public health symptom that abortions means in Brazil….. Policy managers and politicians more concerned with their electoral interests do not care either about these women who die in despair and abandonment. Or even with those who will suffer from emotional and physical sequelae.  This is not something that will happen with their wives and daughters as,  in case needed,  they will have the best care.  It is the obligation of a state ruled by the principles of laicité to protect women’s health in order to prevent clandestine abortion deaths. This issue can not continue to be subject to political bargains aimed at gathering the support of the religious electorate.


Colluci’s plea takes us directly to the stage of national politics, where the end of the Games coincides with the final stages of the parliamentarian tour de force that has led to the impeachment of Dilma Roussef and has been interpreted by a wide range of observers as a parliamentarian  coup. On August 29th, for almost 15 hours of interrogation, Roussef, calmly and firmly, defended her mandate. In contrast, the accusation attorney Janaína Paschoal, probably speaking directly to the religious conservative quarters,  could not refrain from conjuring the name of god as the doer of the political shift underway. [2]

All predictions indicate that, despite the consistency of her defense arguments — which recognize the legality of the process but not the substance of the accusation — Roussef will be impeached.  What will then ensue remains to some extent unpredictable in political terms, because this is when the rejection to Temer the interim president may emerge in full force, but also because the country is rapidly headed towards municipal elections on October 3rd . But with regards to federal policies and the Congress, predictions can be made that are pretty dire: an announced (but yet not fully defined) fiscal adjustment aim at suspending earmarked publics investments in health and education and, in particular, a potential revamping of numerous highly regressive legislative proposals now pending in Congress, whose processing has been slowed downed over the last few months because of impeachment procedures and the parliamentary recess in July. These potential legal blows, which are now palpable at the level of Congress,  give reason to Seffner when, at the end of his paper, he says that the Rio Games can be also be read as a privileged site of resistance to dogmatic and conservative strands that, in Brazil and elsewhere, are employing their full powers restore sexuality and gender orders to what they always have been.

Image: the second image is a remake of the newspaper front page photo illustrating the report on Caroline Carneiro botched abortion death. The text reads: Woman body found with a fetus inside her belly. 



[1] Although it is not possible to expand the analysis these  police and judicial procedures raise concerns about the ways in which the 2009 law on Violation on Sexual Dignity is being interpreted and applied, which unduly expand the notion of rape  by there blurring the gradation of the acts of sexual violence.

[2] Paschoal said: “God made that many people perceive what was happening in our great country and to have the courage to raise up and do something about it“. As reported in the SPW April, 2016 article on Brazilian sexual politics, Paschoal and two other members of the accusation theme have connections with Catholic constitutionalism conservative streams and think tanks.

Skip to content