The Rio Games from ‘backstage’

Los Juegos de Río desde el ‘backstage’ - Johan Cruyff Institute

Students and alumni of the Johan Cruyff Institute who have taken part in the Olympic Games in Rio, tell us about their experiences working in the sports industry’s competition par excellence

If qualifying to participate in the Olympic Games is the best reward for any athlete for the effort of a lifetime, for professionals in all areas of the sports industry, having the opportunity to engage in an Olympic event is also a great recognition of their work and an extraordinary experience. The international academic network of the Johan Cruyff Institute had not only more than 60 students and alumni competing in the Olympic Games in Rio, but also specialists trained in our classrooms who lived the competition from another perspective.

The Olympic spirit and the benefits from the integration of sport have left a deep mark on the most disadvantaged people of Rio. The inhabitants of the favelas also held their own ‘Games’, even if they were removed from the venues and the Olympic Village. It was perhaps one of the few times that the inhabitants of the poorest ghettos of this Brazilian city have not looked askance at the luxury in which visitors to their city live.

Tessa Veldhuis, former Dutch rugby player and alumna of the Master in Sport Management at the Johan Cruyff Institute Amsterdam, was part of the team of ‘The Other Games‘. “The goal of this organization,” says Tessa, “was to show the world the other side of the Olympic Games, through eight projects which involved 25 collaborators, from Dutch companies, to former and current Olympic athletes and governmental organizations, and other projects at the local level, in order to benefit some 2,000 people”.

The Rio Games from ‘backstage’ - Johan Cruyff Institute

Tessa Veldhuis, having fun with the children of the Favela Games

A week before the start of the Olympic Games, the ‘Favela Games‘ opened, a tournament in which more than 350 children from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro took part in games inspired by five Olympic sports. “The aim is to make a difference, not only in sport but also in society in general,” explains Tessa. The event was organized for two reasons: to offer a unique experience for children, and to raise funds for the REMER project, which has been promoting sport and education in the streets of Rio for 25 years.

Miguel Tafich, a former student of the Master in Sport Management Online, lived the Olympic Games from a production room, as producer of the Mexican channel Claro Sports. “I was the producer of a morning round-up program, in which we were broadcasting the best of the previous day, what was coming up and also a late night show”, says Miguel. Many hours spent indoors in order to broadcast “more than 54 hours of entertainment and sport, not forgetting all the effort Claro Sports made to bring to Latin America each and every sport simultaneously and totally live”, he emphasizes.

The Rio Games from ‘backstage’ - Johan Cruyff Institute

Miguel Tafich (in the middle), producer of the Mexican channel Claro Sports

The experience of living together with professionals and athletes from around the world is one of the best memories Miguel Tafich has taken with him from Rio. “The spirit of the Games is contagious; being able to share with so many people from different parts of the world, getting to know the true stories of athletes, learning what it took them to be there, it makes you think that their love for what they are passionate about can change anything. And seeing that you also added your own little grain of sand to all that makes you feel special in a way. It was a lot of work, we slept little, we ate badly, and we were far from our family for many days, but everyone was in good spirits, from the volunteers, to the athletes, the organizers and the media. It is not every day that you get the opportunity to experience the Games, is it?”, says Miguel.

The Rio Games from ‘backstage’ - Johan Cruyff Institute

Lisa at the balance beam where Sanne Wevers won Gold

The work of another alumna of the Master in Sport Management at the Johan Cruyff Institute Amsterdam was definitely a good source of information for Miguel Tafich and all the special correspondents sent to cover the Games. Lisa Deen was working in the Olympic press service. “We were like a mini news agency during the Games, producing information about the previews, statistics and curious facts for the various competitions. The most important were the statements of athletes just after competing, for their freshness and because they were published in very little time in the ‘Info system’, which all the journalists had access to”.

Lisa was stationed in the pavilion where the gymnastics were held, an event she had already followed at the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and the Europeans in 2015. “In Brazil, it was the first time that the Netherlands competed with both a women´s and men’s team, so I was really excited to see them perform. And I experienced an unforgettable moment: before the final took place, the organization allowed those of us working in the press service to enter the performance area to take some photos as a personal reminder. I chose the balance beam because it is my favorite apparatus and it turned out that moments later I saw Sanne Wevers winning the gold in this event! It was extraordinary to see her and get her statements in the mixed zone,” recalls Lisa excitedly.

We have to move to another venue, the volleyball one, to hear about the experiences of Marloes Wesselink, a journalist from the Dutch channel NOS who studied Sport Marketing at the Johan Cruyff Academy in Amsterdam. “Living the Rio Games as a volleyball commentator was fantastic. I was fascinated to witness that very fine line between euphoria and disappointment. As a former beach volleyball player, it was very interesting to be able to bring a personal touch to the broadcasts for all the Dutch people who were following us from home and to comment on the fantastic bronze medal of the Brouwer-Meeuwsen partnership and the fourth place of the women’s team”.

The Rio Games from ‘backstage’ - Johan Cruyff Institute

Marloes Wesselink, volleyball comentator for Dutch channel NOS

For a man who is a sports manager of a Country Club in Rio de Janeiro, directly witnessing the Olympic Games was a priceless experience. That was the case of Adailton Sousa, a Brazilian who got to know the Johan Cruyff Institute through the free online course on sport sponsorship. “I was at the Pan American Games in Rio in 2007 and the World Cup in 2014, but nothing compares to the Olympics,” says Adailton. “All the time I could feel the energy of the people, the old, the young and children from all over happy to support the sport and their country. I had the chance to see how Nadal and Lopez won the gold for Spain in the tennis doubles final, some table tennis and, in athletics, the women’s 200m final and the great Usain Bolt qualifying for the final”.

The Rio Games from ‘backstage’ - Johan Cruyff Institute

Adailton Sousa, in front of an olympic venue

Alongside the competition itself, the Brazilian highlights two initiatives that he considers a good example in sport management and promotion opportunities generated by sport. “I liked that countries like Japan, Switzerland, Germany and some others set up areas they called ‘houses’ to show the public a little about their cuisine, music and culture. It is a good way to get to know other worlds. The same with the movement of volunteers from other countries. From my point of view, this exchange is a great idea because, while you engage in activities linked to sport, you meet people from all over the world. It has been an amazing experience. Rio people are very proud that the Olympics have been held in this city and that everyone enjoyed them”.

These are just a few examples of the extraordinary variety offered by the sports industry and a source of inspiration for those who continue to dream of becoming part of it.

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