Unseen Rio: Independent photojournalists reveal the darker side of the Olympics

Protests, prostitutes and police violence — Featuring citizen journalism collective Mídia Ninja, the Real Game project shows the Rio Olympics in a way you won’t see in the mainstream media.

The international media have descended on Rio de Janeiro and their coverage of the Olympics is just as superficial as you would expect: filling the airwaves with mindless commentary, perving on female athletes and drooling over greased-up, topless Tongans.

It’s time for a break from the regular scheduled programming.

Outside of the stadiums, the enforced ‘politics-free-zones’ and the swanky TV studios, there are very different games playing out.

Featuring Brazilian citizen journalism collective Mídia Ninja, Real Game is a collaborative photojournalism project which explores the social context, conflict and consequences of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Evictions. Photo by Lianne Milton / Panos Pictures

Evictions. Photo by Lianne Milton / Panos Pictures

Unbeknownst to the talking heads flown in by the big TV networks, Rio has been at boiling point for months. The city has seen huge protests against the games, evictions of poor residents to make way for stadiums, rising crime and gang violence, heavy-handed policing to ‘pacify’ favela communities seen as a risk to foreign tourists and its state government declare bankruptcy.

All of this while Brazil grapples with the Zika virus, economic collapse, its biggest ever political corruption scandal and a right wing elite coup to remove elected President Dilma Rousseff.

Mídia Ninja’s team of independent Brazilian and international photographers have been getting deep in the protests, talking with residents excluded by the games, meeting the armed drug dealers in supposedly pacified favelas and hanging out in the brothels with the prostitutes who travelled to Rio with their own dreams of gold.

Here is the best of the project so far.

Rafael Sanchez-Fabres – Pacification

The ‘peace process’ in the favelas, where armed police occupy areas formally controlled by drug gangs.

Rafael Sanchez-Fabres 1 Rafael Sanchez-Fabres 5 Rafael Sanchez-Fabres 4 Rafael Sanchez-Fabres 3 Rafael Sanchez-Fabres 2

André Mantelli – The Exclusion Games

Red Cross volunteers take care the protesters harshly repressed by the police with gas bombs.

André Mantelli

Pedro Prado

A Black Block protest in Rio.

Pedro Prado

Daniel Marenco

“Sometimes we feel separated,” says Eudesia, who lives on the other side of the wall that hides Vila do Pinheiro Favela from tourist’s eyes in Rio de Janeiro.

Daniel Marenco

Antonello Veneri – Families inside the favelas

Dona Penha, community leader and transsexual, has a small kindergarten for the children of working mothers at her home.

Antonello Veneri

Marlene Bergamo

Protesters stand against parliamentary coup and interim president Michel Temer in Rio de Janeiro.

Marlene Bergamo


The military step up security during the last stage of the women’s marathon, near Comunidade São Carlos, where countless protests against interim president Michel Temer took place.

Midia Ninja 2

Sebastian Gil Miranda – Favela Champions

Favela Street, a football social project for children, train in a small soccer field at the top of Vila Cruzeiro. With a team of girls they won the Street Children’s World Cup in 2014. The project has had an incredibly positive impact on the children and their community.

Sebastian Gil Miranda 1 Sebastian Gil Miranda 4 Sebastian Gil Miranda 3 Sebastian Gil Miranda 2

Giorgio Palmera

Giorgio Palmera

Weslei Barba

Paulista Avenue, São Paulo. Protesters play a street football match to condemn the huge sums spent on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.

Weslei Barba

Luisa Dorr – Another Olympic Dream

They all have three things in common: having sex for money, hating their jobs and coming to Rio with the dream of making a small fortune during the Olympics.

Luisa Dorr 1 Luisa Dorr 4 Luisa Dorr 3 Luisa Dorr 2

David Bert Joris Dhert

People mourn an innocent victim of a shootout between gangs and a pacifying police unit in the favela of Pavão-Pavãozinho, near Ipanema beach.

David Bert Joris Dhert

Dado Galdieri / Hilaea Media – The Cost of Olympics

Dado Galdieri : Hilaea Media 3 Dado Galdieri : Hilaea Media 2 Dado Galdieri : Hilaea Media 1

Find out more about the Real Game project.

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