Q&A Paula Walsh - HM Consul General in Rio de Janeiro
The Report Company: In your opinion, what will be the main differences and impacts of the Olympic Games in Rio as compared to in London?
Paula Walsh: I think it’s quite difficult to say. Every city is entirely different because every city has a different objective for the Games. There are some similar challenges – everyone has a challenge over transport and everyone has a challenge over security, and getting the buildings done on time, but within that there’s a big contextual difference.
One of the things that London showed is that every Games should be different and that’s actually the pleasure of them. London didn’t need to compete with Beijing and Rio doesn’t need to compete with London. Their identities are different and what they want to get out of the Games is different.
One of the important things that you do as a future host is to talk to every host city over the last few years. We’re talking with Rio about the London experience. I think Rio will be a fabulous Games; it’s the first Olympics in South America and the city is just an amazing backdrop for these sorts of events. It’s a great opportunity for Rio. They’re going to have a fantastic journey. There are lots of challenges and I think there was a huge sigh of relief after the Games in London. It went really well, but that was the result of a lot of hard work and planning and these things don’t happen by accident.
TRC: How important is the Olympics to Rio in terms of projecting and promoting its identity?
PW: Brazil and Rio have a hugely rich history and culture that they can show the world. The world knows bits of it but they don’t know the full extent of what Rio has to offer. In the closing ceremony in London, they had the chance to show some different parts of Rio and challenge the stereotypes. The Games is an opportunity to present to the world an up-to-date image of what Rio is.
TRC: Do you think that Brazil is going to be on time and deliver?
PW: It will be. The great thing about the Olympics is that you have to have it on time. I think it will be a fantastic Games.
TRC: Ties between the UK and Brazil have strengthened due to the Olympics. How do you keep this momentum going?
PW: In lots of ways the opportunities are becoming clearer and clearer. We have done 160 missions between the UK and Brazil since the signing of the 2009 agreement of cooperation between the two countries. Over the Games we had over 120 Brazilian government officials in London. I think the people who were involved in London were delighted to share their experience. They are huge proponents of the whole Olympic movement and they’re really enthusiastic in imparting that knowledge and helping Brazil and Rio make a great success of their Games, too. We’ve got a lot of people who were involved really keen to share and we look at that and help facilitate that as the UK government so this can happen to the benefit of both the UK and Brazil. For us it has been such a fantastic coincidence to have the Games in London and then in Rio, with the benefit it brings to the strengthening of our bilateral relationship, not just in sport but across the board in terms of discussions that people have had on health or on customs issues or legislation. This is increasing the understanding between the two countries in a way that would have taken a lot longer without something like the Olympic Games.
TRC: What’s next? What collaborations are planned over the coming years?
PW: We’ve had 20 commercial missions this year; we’ve had visits from the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the foreign secretary. Prince Harry came in March. 2012 for us has been this amazing showcase year across the world but particularly focussed on Rio with all of those visits. Looking forward to 2013 and 2014, we’ve got the World Cup, the Federations Cup the World Youth Day; the great thing about Rio is that it doesn’t really stop. It’s an amazing calendar of events that keeps the spotlight on Rio over the years to come. One of the things we’ve been doing is the UK-Brazil season which is from September to March. It’s a focus season where we look at the cooperation between the two countries. We have over 60 events over that period of time in areas of commercial, scientific, educational and cultural interest. Recently, there was a Hitchcock on the Beach event with the British Council and the Rio Film Festival. The British Council itself has a 4-year program which goes up to 2016 so i think it a lot of these connections will last us all the way up to 2016 and then there will be other things.
TRC: To what extent would you agree that there is little understanding globally about what is happening in Rio?
PW: I think that a large part of the world doesn’t really know what is going on in Rio or in Brazil and the Games provides that opportunity. You’ve got that audience and the attention of the world’s press for four years beforehand, which brings opportunities and challenges, but if you work it well it’s a great opportunity. Rio is one of those cities that people want to know about, it’s got lots of opportunities beyond the major events, there’s oil and gas here, the economy is doing well and Rio does well almost regardless of what Brazil does. I think that people don’t always hear that side of Rio in the international press and this gives them an opportunity to really show that side of the city as well. It’s also an opportunity to show off the beautiful beaches and mountains that they will want to capitalise on for tourism.
TRC: Apart from the obvious oil and gas sector, in which other sectors do you think UK investors can have a competitive advantage in Rio?
PW: There’s huge synergy with the offshore and marine oil and gas sector. The UK is the fourth largest investor in Brazil and a lot of that is oil and gas related although mining is another area. A lot of opportunities are in the supply chain. Infrastructure is also a big opportunity. Somewhere like London that has regenerated a poor area through transport links has a lot of great experience and we’re finding companies who have come from the UK with that experience and Brazilian partners are very interested to talk to them. The UK is strong in financial services, and Sao Paulo and Rio have insurance and hedge funds.
TRC: What do British investors have to keep in mind in order to be successful in Brazil?
PW: The really important thing is to find the right Brazilian partner. Companies need to understand that it will take them a bit of time, that they will need to go through due diligence, and have patience with that process. The companies that we find are most successful have taken their time to find the right partners and have built up trust and understanding. There is a huge interest from UK companies in the Brazilian market. It’s not a market for everyone. It’s not going to be your first choice as an exporter. It’s very much a face to face culture; you have to put the time in.
TRC: What do you think is going to be the biggest legacy for Rio after the Games?
PW: The authorities talk about transformation and if Rio gets it right that is exactly what you will see, whether it’s a transformation in the security, transformation in transport or in the general infrastructure of the city. The Olympics gives you a deadline and an opportunity and I think the authorities in Rio are absolutely determined to take that opportunity and make sure that they are able to transform their city so that post-2016 they’ve got a strong legacy and story to tell.