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Olympics

Brazil is struggling to keep the Olympics free of politics

Brazil Olympics protest
National Public Security Force officers remove a protester from the stands during the Olympic archery events at the Sambodromo in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday.
(Diego Azubel / European Pressphoto Agency)

Over the weekend, a video of three soldiers forcibly removing a fan from the Olympic archery competition at Rio’s Sambadrome was widely circulated on social media. He was accused of shouting “Fora Temer!” (“Temer out!”) — a reference to interim President Michel Temer, an unpopular vice president who took power in May after the controversial impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. 

In Belo Horizonte, military police ordered 12 fans to leave the U.S.-France women’s soccer game for holding signs that said “Come back, democracy” and wearing T-shirts printed with letters of the alphabet which, when they sat together, spelled out "FORA TEMER.” 

Brazilians, long used to a raucous and often-political soccer arena culture, wondered what had changed — or if the crackdown had anything to do with their nation’s tumultuous political crisis.

The International Olympic Committee Charter has long prohibited “political, religious, or racial propaganda in any Olympic sites.” On Monday, the Rio 2016 organizing committee  issued a statement reminding the public of the so-called “clean arena policy,” saying that spectators will be asked to stop if they engage in protests, and will be “kindly requested to leave” only if they persist.

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“The clean arena policy is for the benefit of the athletes and spectators, to allow them to focus on the performances,” Rio 2016 said in a statement. “Brazil is a democracy and outside of the venues there is no restriction.”

The clampdown on protests has sparked debate over how to maintain the Olympic policy without infringing on freedom of speech during a politically charged moment in Brazil’s history.

Former Brazil Supreme Court President Ayres Britto weighed in on the debate, telling Buzzfeed Brazil that there is no local law that allows for a fan to be expelled for making political statements.

Live coverage of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio » 

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“If you bring a sign saying ‘Out’ to whomever it be, peacefully, that is a legitimate manifestation of your freedom of expression,” Britto said.

“I don’t really understand Brazil’s politics, and I don’t think this is the right venue to make a statement,” said Pedro Lorca, a 27-year old visiting from Santiago, Chile, who says he didn’t hear or notice any political messages as he watched women’s judo. “But if they do protest, they shouldn’t be stopped or removed, either.”

“We suffered so much this year with what’s happened, and we’ve had so many protests, now is the time to enjoy sports,” ‎said Saundra Faury, 59, from Sao Paulo, who said she doesn’t support the “Fora Temer” message or believe Brazil is suffering a “coup,” as some protesters allege. “They shouldn’t be removed, but I think the IOC position [of asking protesters to stop and removing them if they don’t listen] is about right." 

Mario Andrada, communications director for Rio 2016, said in a statement that enforcement would be limited to signs, not boos or political chants, since “if that wasn’t accepted, half of Maracana would have to be emptied,” referring to the stadium where Michel Temer was roundly booed during the opening ceremony on Friday.

Rio 2016 spokespersons declined to comment on whether soldiers and police at the Sambadrome and in Belo Horizonte had overstepped the required enforcement by removing a man accused of shouting and expelling the 13 protesters, all of whom had agreed to stop.

Fans in other Olympic venues have been extremely vocal about politics, without consequence. On Sunday night at the beach volleyball court, when action slowed on the sand below, fans offered up shouts of “Fora Temer,” which built into a low roar for a few seconds before the game started again.

At a Brazil soccer match at the same time, a video caught parts of the huge Engenhao stadium echoing the same chant in much larger proportions. The fans also chanted “Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Marta, Marta,” a reference to the star of the successful Brazil women’s team meant to shame the men’s squad as they flailed against Iraq.

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As Day 3 of the Games unfolds, the fight over what is acceptable within Olympic walls continues on the streets of Rio and across Brazil’s social networks. “The IOC should change the Olympic charter to a make a pact with democratic values,” said Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist at Rio de Janeiro State University who was penning an op-ed on the subject Monday.

“Those protests should only be restricted in exceptional cases, such as if they impede the actual sports or incite violence or discrimination. That’s not the case with the calm and peaceful protests against Temer.”

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