Cruel Optimism: Zika, Lex Sportiva, and Bodies of (Alleged) Contagion

By De Lisio, Amanda; Fusco, Caroline | Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, Fall 2019 | Go to article overview

Cruel Optimism: Zika, Lex Sportiva, and Bodies of (Alleged) Contagion


De Lisio, Amanda, Fusco, Caroline, Columbia Journal of Gender and Law


Abstract

Previous literature has noted the connection between sport and corporate environmentalism, especially that which has positioned the sport mega-event as a facilitator of "sustainable" development. David Chernushenko (1994) was the first environmentalist to propose a model of ecologically sustainable development for sport and recreation management, which was criticizedfor the notable appeal to neoliberal-capitalist advancement. (1) Due to eco-driven protests in Denver (1974), Toronto (1989), and Rome (1997), the International Olympic Committee (IOC) amended the Olympic Charter to reflect growing environmental concern. Yet the IOC model has--much like the work of Chernushenko--continued to favor finance. Recent literature has documented the extent to which the Olympic pillar of "sustainability, " intended to "integrate sustainable development into their policies and activities, " has allowed for deceptive corporate marketing to merely greenwash the Games. (2) It is from this context that the Aedes aegypti or Yellow Fever mosquito rapidly emerged--now host to Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika, Mayaro, and other viruses. We borrow from Lauren Berlant the notion of "cruel optimism " to describe structural/institutional ideologies (e.g., allegiance to the monogamous, heteronormative family) that facilitate capitalist expansion, even in the midst of (environmental) crisis. (3) While the literal destruction of the cityscape (whether sport-prompted or not) has cemented an economic logic into the physical landscape and modern mind, we contend that scientific-technological communities need to (more carefully) protect and privilege the pre-existent "nature-made " strategies of sustainability. So, to make an authentic commitment to the environment, the IOC--as emblematic of an international conglomerate repeatedly encouraged to rewrite and recreate sovereign law--would need to legally enforce the protection of local ecologies as it has legally enforced the protection of corporate sponsorship and the Olympic brand.

INTRODUCTION: AEDES MOSQUITO V. THE INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE

To examine the interconnectedness between law, land, and transnational bodies is far from a straightforward affair but, indeed, a needed one. In this article, we work to illustrate the manner in which the sport mega-event (via the Federation Internationale de Football Association [FIFA] and the International Olympic Committee [IOC]) is called to facilitate (trans)national development priorities that repurpose and reconfigure host cities. We borrow from Lauren Berlant the notion of "cruel optimism" to recalibrate an approach to development that is realistic--not romantic--about the destruction known to follow development strategies. (4) It is from this cruel context that the Aedes (Stegomyia) mosquitoes--innocuous since 1947--have resurfaced to ignite newfound anxieties related to Dengue, Chikungunya, Zika, Mayaro, and other dangerous viruses. Amid the health uncertainties associated with these new viruses, research is certain: The proliferation of insect-borne illnesses is associated with anthropocentric crises. (5) A case in point was the 2016 Zika virus (ZIKV) outbreak in the Global South, which positioned Olympic host (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) as felon--perpetrator of contagion--in such a way that it served to detract attention from the harmful resource extraction occasioned via transnational parties. (6) While much of the reaction to the Zika virus centered on the future health of heteronormative (white) families and the unborn (affluent) child of the Global North, we were interested in documenting the lived realities of women in the Global South--women who were unable to travel elsewhere and/or invest in mosquito-repellant technologies. To do so, we attend to the litany of legacies; not the sport legacies promised in the Bid Book, (7) but the hidden legacies of destruction that resource local land, law, and bodies in service of corporate interest. …

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