Johannes Ebert am 3. August 2016
Konferenz „Mega Sustainability” in Rio de Janeiro

Keynote von Johannes Ebert anlässlich der Konferenz „Mega Sustainability” in Rio de Janeiro

Ladies and gentlemen,

Mr Brengelmann,

In Munich, I live near the venue where the Olympic Games were hosted in 1972. It is now called Olympia Park and has become one of the most popular leisure facilities in the city. I jog regularly and take walks there with my family. I am very fond of the famous roof construction, which now is more than forty years old but still looks modern and up to date. Olympia Park is still in use today and is a good example that sustainable solutions for mega events are quite possible. The 1972 Olympic Games in Munich made a major contribution to the development of infrastructure, transportation and housing, especially in the north of Munich.

In this case, the most obvious positive long-term result of the Olympics lies in the aspect of urban development. (Other positive examples are the 1988 Olympic Games in Calgary or the 1992 Games in Barcelona.) There are many aspects of sustainability that the experts invited today will discuss later in their working groups.

Mega events like the World Cup or the Olympic Games have the potential to move people emotionally all over the world. Sports have a very great capacity to inspire and bond people and to create interest in and attention for the country that is hosting the event. For the Goethe-Institut this last point is an important one: mega events can be a platform for cultural exchange and are a chance for the host country to present itself to the rest of the world.

As much as mega events create an opportunity for exchange, this global attention has also often been grounds for justified criticism when it comes to diverse aspects of sustainability. Two referendums were held Germany; one in 2012 on the 2022 Winter Olympics in Munich, Garmisch and Berchtesgaden and one last year on the participation of Hamburg. Both public votes, as you all know, were negative. There will be no Olympic Games in Germany.

The 2020 World Cup in Qatar is now already subject to criticism, especially with respect to employment conditions and human rights. The winter games in Sochi were highly criticized for their ecological impact. Large sections of natural forest were cleared and the water quality of the Mzymta River, which supplies the area’s drinking water, declined by 30% when the river bed became surrounded by new infrastructure, while dumping grounds were located in the nearby mountains. The World Cup in South Africa had similar impacts: Mbombela Stadium stands empty 350 days a year and costs 450,000 euros in annual maintenance in an area that cannot provide running water and electricity to all its citizens.

But we can learn from these experiences and, step by step, make future events of real value to everyone in the long term. Mega events are always a source of enormous investment. That can be an opportunity. But it is important to use these investments and turn them into something valuable by making smart choices.

The question we are asking ourselves today is: What can we do to use mega events like the Olympic Games in Rio to our maximum advantage and to initiate change and trigger innovations?

The Goethe-Institut is committed to continue working on these issues now and after the Olympic Games. We look back at very productive cooperation with GIZ, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development as well as the government of Rio and a large network of NGO partners. We hope to continue the good work in the future.

I am glad we could bring together such an interesting group of experts today to discuss what we can do to have everyone profit from the investments that are made for big sport events – socially, economically and ecologically. 

I am looking forward to the two keynote speeches by Tania Braga and Dr Dawid Danilo Bartelt. I am sure you can offer us very important insights on the challenges that Brazil is facing and interesting stimuli for the discussion later on.

In my opinion, the best way to create real sustainability is through participation on different levels. We need experts to exchange their knowledge, to come up with sustainable technologies and materials. But we also need to spark this general mind-set in everyone in order to catalyse innovative ideas, to create a culture of sustainability, if you will.

This conference is an attempt to take a step in this direction. We have managed to bring together experts from different fields and provide a platform to develop great ideas together as well as an open forum later today where we can discuss these ideas with a bigger audience.

I want to thank you all very much for coming. I am looking forward to the recommendations that the four working groups will present later today.

One day in 1972 when I was nine years old, my grandfather took my brother and me for a ride in his car. He didn’t tell us where we were headed and we ended up at the big stadium of the Olympic Games in Munich. The sun was reflecting on the fabric of the famous tent-like roof. My grandfather had only two tickets for the three of us and he smuggled me in. The three of us shared two seats and I remember being very excited and nervous. It was a wonderful day with lots of competitions. We watched German long jumper Heide Rosendahl win a gold medal. It was a special day for me as a child and a very personal experience that I still remember fondly today.

Thank you very much.

(es gilt das gesprochene Wort)

Gehalten am 3. August 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.