The paper was part of a session on the London, Rio, Tokyo Olympics Symposium 8-10 June at Goldsmiths University of London which was exploring how the promise of legacy could be ameliorated and whether there are ways of holding mega-events which might bring real benefits to a broad spectrum of communities.
As part of a sessions on the new inequalities set in motion by the Olympics, the paper presented by Phil Hubbard and Thayane Breitas on sex work in the context of host communities presented some preliminary conclusions about the impact of Rio 2016 on the lives of sex workers in the city. Rather than suggesting that the Olympics represented a moment of exceptionalism and a moment of extreme repression of sex work, the presentation focused on sex work as always existing in a space of exception, and the idea of the Olympics as business as usual for prostitution in the city: that is, a stigmatized but important form of works whose place in the city is always shifting according to changing patterns of gentrification, policing and social censure.
The “competitive city model” (Kipfer & Keil, 2002) has been previously employed to theorize the redevelopment of the urban environment as an ultra-modern sanctuary for (heterosexual, monogamous) bourgeois bodies, with the sport mega-event (SME) a celebrated example. This (re)construction requires the imposition of a “state of exception,” paving the way for unfettered commercialism via the repression of dissent, an overstated “legacies” rhetoric, and the demonization of all economic activities that do not benefit “official” power blocs. It is in this context that those involved in sexual commerce seek parallel opportunities to attract foreign men, imagined to be drawn to host cities for sport and sex. This presentation will empirically-trace the consequences of these parallel imaginaries. Drawing on empirical data relating to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, we demonstrate that those involved in sex-related industries were once-again forced to circumnavigate repressive forms of regulation and policing in search of entrepreneurial freedoms. We hence show how event-inspired spatial governmentality (re)wrote and (re)configured routine state violence and, in the process, created new possibilities for desire and deviance.