Rio 2016 and disability – an analysis of the Sport-For-Development discourse and the legacies for disabled people


Leonardo Mataruna1, Daniel Range1, Andressa Guimaraes2, Thiago Melo2

1 Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relation, Coventry University, UK

2 Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and Coventry University (Carnival Project), Brazil

Citation: Mataruna, L., Range, D., Guimaraes, A., Melo, T. Rio 2016 and disability – an analysis of the Sport-For-Development discourse and the legacies for disabled people. Journal of Sport for Development. 2015; 3(5): 50-60.

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This paper investigates how the legacy of the 2016 Paralympic Games, in Rio de Janeiro, has been discussed on the Facebook page ‘Cidade Olímpica.’ The City Council of Rio De Janeiro manages this page, which uses the Sport-For-Development discourse in order to disclose information about projects that are being developed in the city, and to justify the investments that are made with public money. Furthermore, the main objective of this paper is to identify whether the Sport-For-Development discourse has been used to discuss the legacies for disabled people. This study was developed during the 2014 FIFA World Cup because it was during that period that the Brazilian government released details of some of the main projects for the Olympics and then presented the great planned impacts of these legacies. The season of that mega event was important for the country in order to promote Brazil as a strong brand for tourism and sport for development. Consequentially, this period represented an opportunity to address the Paralympic legacy topic, similar to the entire legacy of the Games and their impacts on society.


The Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 have widely been seen as a great development opportunity for Brazil.1 In preparation for the Games, the country has had to plan several interventions to expand and improve the urban infrastructure in Rio de Janeiro. According to Rio2016 the staging of the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games marks the arrival of the biggest sporting event on the planet into new territory with it being the first time in history that the competitions will be held in South America. “In the unique and privileged setting of Rio de Janeiro, a historical edition of the Games is expected, with the participation of about 15 thousand athletes from more than 200 countries.”1

Investments for the Olympic and Paralympic Games come to at least £8 billion, of which 43% is public money.2 To illustrate what fraction of this money has been committed to legacy expenses, the cost of the stadium is estimated to be R$ 6.6 billion whilst the legacy expenses run at an estimated R$ 24.6 billion.2 Evans3reminds us of ‘the new ruins of Athens: rusting and decaying 10 years on, how Greece’s Olympics turned into a £7 billion white elephant.’ Worries around a lack of legacy similar to what was seen after the Rio 2007 Pan Am Games4 and large expense incurred during times of economic uncertainty have caused a great deal of debate in Brazilian society.

The promise of economic, urban and social development is a justification used by the government for these costs.5 As stated in Rio 2016’s bid, this plan forms part of the Brazilian Government’s vision to invest in sport as a catalyst for social integration through four main programs: “social inclusion through sport and leisure; elite sport; expansion of sports infrastructure; and hosting major sports events.”1

A sporting mega event is capable of stimulating various sectors of the host country and can provide economic stimulus. Raeder6 mentioned that in Beijing 2008, London 2012 and even the Rio 2007 PanAm Games investments, mainly from the public purse, were calculated on the scale of billions of dollars. Therefore, concerns about the investments made in a host city or country can often exceed the enthusiasm bought by potential economic benefits. According to Lo Bianco7 the “legacy plan,” which can be amongst other things, regional or national, an improvement in transport infrastructure, empowerment of the national identity or ‘social welfare’ can have a major impact on whether or not a city is awarded the right to host a mega event.8

As Chalip9 points out, events are typically measured and evaluated on their impacts, whether they are social, environmental or economic. However, investment in mega event legacy and impacts is often guided by political agendas and necessities. By analysing this context, the Sport-For-Development discourse has been used to construct a justification for bidding for mega events and to gain public support for doing so. According to Coakley and Souza,10 this discourse is a political tool now widely used by countries seeking to host major sporting events. In developing countries such as Brazil, this discourse may be even more latent, as higher than typical spending will be needed to improve urban infrastructure and build sports facilities.

This idea of generating legacy through the events raises the question about the specific legacy of the Paralympic Games, since the high investment made for the Games should benefit the entire population, including people with disabilities. According to Misener et al,11 the discourse of governments usually generalizes the discussion of the legacy of the Games without separately discussing the legacies of the Olympics and the legacies of the Paralympics. Despite specific legacy plans for the promotion of accessibility, there is little discussion in wider society about these.12

Accessibility is one of the main objectives of the legacy plan of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio. The investments not only focus on the venue facilities during the Games, but ‘encompassing the public transport system, the city’s hotels and main tourist attractions.’11 Amongst the planned legacy is improving the accessibility of urban infrastructure, ensuring accessibility to the Olympic and Paralympic facilities, the development of sports facilities for people with disabilities, a positive change of perception in relation to their abilities, and increased self-esteem and opportunities for people with disabilities.

As such, the legacy plan intends to renovate and adapt sports facilities across Brazil in order to incorporate these venues into the legacy of the Paralympic Games in 2016 and spread the practice of sports for people with disabilities all over the country. Through these legacy plan objectives, the government is looking to integrate disabled people by providing a better urban infrastructure and increased opportunities for mobility. There is also an overt aim of increasing physical activity among these citizens.

From these frameworks, this paper aims to identify how the discourse of Sport-For- Development highlights the legacies of the Paralympic Games in 2016, if at all. Moreover, before the empirical study, we present a literature review on Sport-For- Development and on the Paralympic legacy in order to understand how the discourse should address these impacts. We then address the empirical study of the ‘Cidade Olímpica’ on Facebook. This page is managed by the City Council of Rio de Janeiro, in order to disseminate information about the projects that are being developed in the city for the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2016.

Through analysis carried out in June and July 2014, during the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil, this paper seeks to identify how the Paralympic legacy was presented on the ‘Cidade Olímpica’ page. It starts by making use of the Sport-For-Development discourse to highlight the positive impacts of the Games in the city. This is done intentionally to build public support for the Games. It is also understood that the channel should be a space for the dissemination of Paralympic legacy, and it could potentially be a useful channel for raising awareness of disability.

The construction of the discourse of the “Sport-For-Development”

The realization of hosting a sporting mega-event is linked to a series of investments that the host countries and cities undertake in order to meet the requirements and standards decreed by the organizing and awarding bodies of these events. Expansion or creation of transport infrastructure, stadia and training centres are among other projects and construction schemes covered by often robust budgets provided by the host governments to ensure that organizing and awarding body requirements are met.13

Getz,14 referring to mega events in general, points out that there is a close relationship between politics and the realization of an event. It is from the political interests that the planning and execution of events will be moulded. Furthermore, politicians fund the events with public money and oversee the regulation of activities around the event, and thus increasingly are capable of bringing their influence to the event.

From the author’s perspective, mega events are created, hosted and sold for strategic reasons that include economic, social and cultural aspects. The administration of the legacy should be planned and managed in a positive way; the legacy board has a great tradition and is managed by the International Olympic Committee.15 These aspects are even more valuable because of the income that is generated from them. There are impacts that can offer legacies for citizens, but the often vested interests of the political sphere cannot be forgotten and can ‘often be minimised in order to not compromise the event.16

In an outlook specific to sporting mega-events, Horne17 considers that these events are central and strategic elements in modern capitalist societies. By hosting mega-events, countries seek international recognition and therefore sporting mega-events constitute a “central element” in societies. To Roche,18 mega-events must be thought of as large-scale cultural events that have popular appeal and media across practically the entire world.

Horne16 points out two major defining characteristics of contemporary mega- events. The first is related to the social, political and economic benefits that are to be paid to the city or the host country. The second characteristic is related to opportunities that the great media appeal of event offers through coverage of the event before, during and after its completion.

In this context, we see how governments can begin to justify the investments made from the public budget and which garner popular support, with the entire event happening whilst the public are often unaware of the true legacy that a certain event will leave a country.12 According to Coakley and Souza,9 history shows that the legacy reflects the interests of capital and that the benefits are enjoyed mainly, if not exclusively, by interests such as powerful businesses by some political leaders and by the organizations that run high-performance sport.

Among the discourses identified in the context of the sporting mega-events, we found “Sport-For-Development.” This discourse seeks to justify the appropriation of the “public good,” which is then used for national and urban development for promoting new infrastructure and attracting capital and tourism to cities and countries that will host sporting mega-events.9,19 As Matheson and Baade12 verified, the substantial economic impact that the event can guarantee provides a justification for the use of public subsidies. That is, the development discourse presents expenditures as investments that will generate positive economic returns, and also in many cases, urban improvements and a better quality of life for the population after the event.

In developing countries, the discourse of “Sport-For-Development” is very popular. This is due to the costs that these countries have to meet to satisfy the requirements and standards set by the organizing and awarding committees of events. In general, these countries will require more investment and improvements compared to a developed country,12 With these larger sums the justification for the use of public money should be more robust.

According to Coakley and Souza,9 although most research on this topic has focused on Northern Hemisphere nations, the results of their research do have important implications for cities and nations in the Southern Hemisphere. In these countries, sporting mega-events are increasingly seen as vehicles for obtaining political power and reputation in both national and international relations, including the opening of a relationship channel with countries of the “first world.” All of this goes hand in hand with the social, economic and political developments that take place in that society that hosts the mega event as a result of their hosting.9,20-22

“Sport-For-Development” is further reinforced when the possibility or certainty of hosting a sport mega event creates an “emotional community.”9 Often this is most visible through an increase in patriotism or national pride. The rhetoric of development is thus accepted because the thought of hosting a major event helps make local people feel represented in the global context. The euphoria that is associated with the possibility of using the event as a platform to expose the culture of the country to the rest of the world in a positive light is then used to counteract the critics of the event. Criticism in the Southern Hemisphere calls into question the investments needed to host the mega-event and is classified as “cynical” and “afraid” of working towards a better future.9

Waitt23 noted that in the Sydney Olympics, the Australian community support (referred to as “civic boosterism”) was convened to create a positive image of the event and to decrease or negate the negative reviews. While the 2000 Olympic Games were used to reposition Sydney in the global context, they were also sold to the population through a dialogue that explored the Olympic symbolism and rhetoric, and the promise of great social and sporting legacies.

Discourse analysis of “Sport-For-Development” also reveals the intention of securing public approval for investments. Here, the dialogue proves to be even more of a policy tool. An example of this is the creation of the emotional “communities” cited by Coakley and Souza.9 This discourse in developing countries has populist connotations that are often manipulated for political gain. These are political interests which are not restricted to the economic advantages that the sporting mega-event can bring. In the construction of the discourse of “Sport-For-Development,” the media plays a fundamental role in spreading the message. But now, with wider access to social media and the Internet, the governments increasingly assume the role of creating narratives.24 Thus, not only can they present the legacies, but also they can discuss disability in order to influence public perception around this strand of the legacy. This is pertinent to the legacy plan of the Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Paralympics and its legacy

The legacy of the Paralympic Games is usually related to the legacy of the Olympic Games.25 However, some scholars point out that there are specific outcomes that need to be considered. Landry26 highlights the Paralympic Games as an opportunity to develop awareness about disabled people and also their integration in all fields of society, including sport. Integrating disabled people into wider community life also means providing the necessary infrastructure in order to ensure their mobility and to protect their rights.

By investigating the preparation for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Weed and Dowse27 have found that less was discussed about the Paralympic legacies compared with those of the Olympics. Public debate covered in the media and announcements made by government were mostly related to the legacy of the Olympics in general. “In this climate, opportunities relating to the Paralympic Games, perhaps because they are perceived to have less economic potential, have only rarely been discussed.”26

The authors highlight that, just like the Olympic Games, the Paralympics can offer opportunities to promote culture, health, sport and community and social wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of disabled people in all aspects of their lives. Besides this, the Paralympics can change public perceptions of disability by enhancing positive attitudes towards disability and disabled people.

The Paralympics, in this perspective, is, according to Weed and Dowse26 “a significant national project in the global spotlight,” which provides “an important social vehicle” to promote social changes for disabled people. These changes would occur with regard to attitudinal, economic, social, political and environmental barriers that have been seen to limit the role of disabled people in society. “As with the Olympic Games, opportunities exist for the Paralympic Games to take advantage of social, media and political attention to drive changes in attitudes and provision.”

Weed and Dowse26 also draw attention to the fact that the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) attempted to adopt an inclusive approach by referring to either “the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games,” or simply “the 2012 Games.” This latter nomenclature used by LOCOG can lead to the Paralympic Games becoming invisible, or to foster the belief that legacy planning would refer to both the Olympic and Paralympic Games, “when, in fact, it has been planned with only the Olympic Games in mind.” As argued by Mataruna- Dos-Santos,28 Brittain,29 Legg and Steadward,30 Dickson, Benson and Blackman,31 Heisey,32 since the 1988 Seoul Games and the 1992 Albertville Games, the Olympics and the Paralympics have taken place in the same year and in the same city, and therefore carry a shared social legacy. These authors reported that some facilities were in the same (in the case of Seoul and London) or different venues (Sydney and Beijing). In fact, the 1988 Games was the first time that the Olympic Organizing Committee had a Paralympic Games Department.33 The Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games were in the same bid to host both events, however, the London 2012 events were the first to propose joint legacies.4,27,32

However, during the preparations for London 2012 there was a tendency for policymakers and politicians to relate almost solely to legacies regarding sporting development. This led Weed and Dowse26 to observe that “not only is this approach disingenuous, but it implies that there are no specific opportunities for the advancement of social wellbeing offered by the Paralympic Games other than those related to the development of disability sport.”

By looking at Sydney 2000, Darcy34 observed that the development of Paralympic sport was a priority for the policymakers and suggested that disabled communities were not best served by these legacies and the initiatives proposed.

Misener, Darcy, Legg and Gilbert,10 pointed out four components presented by the International Paralympic Committee as important planning activities and legacies of the hosting experience. These components are: “1) Accessible infrastructure in sport facilities and in the overall urban development; 2) Development of sport structures / organizations for people with disability, from grass-roots to elite level; 3) Attitudinal changes in the perception of the position and the capabilities of persons with a disability as well as in the self-esteem of the people with disability; 4) Opportunities for people with a disability to become fully integrated in social living and to reach their full potential in aspects of life beyond sports.”

According to Misener, Darcy, Legg and Gilbert,10 infrastructure is one of the main legacies of hosting a mega-event, specifically new facilities for sports, housing and transportation. Although it is an important element for any host country, this infrastructure is even more relevant in developing countries, especially when it comes to ensuring accessibility alongside building and upgrading infrastructure to be more accessible to people with disabilities. This can be one of the most important legacies of the Paralympic Games.

In Sydney 2000, for instance, there were plans to integrate accessibility into the venues and surrounding areas, as well as upgrading public transportation networks in order to serve all citizens, including those with disabilities. In Beijing, for the 2008 Paralympic Games, plans were also made to improve accessible facilities with regards to public transportation, accommodation and sporting venues. After 2008, the Chinese host city was equipped with a fully accessible infrastructure, which included 2,835 low-floor buses and many bus stations with pathways featuring raised tiles within sidewalks to mark the way for blind people, as well as ramps and wheelchair waiting areas. Following the examples of previous cities, London also planned and developed a fully accessible infrastructure for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. However, as Misener, Darcy, Legg and Gilbert10 pointed out, this plan was centralized in the Olympic Village and into the venues of the Games and so the legacy was not shared around the whole city.

According to Dallasta, the Paralympic legacy in Brazil represents an opportunity to enhance the rights of disabled people. Brazil lacks consistent and well-developed policies that ensure accessibility for disabled people. In order to reduce social inequality, the creation of public policies, the effective participatory integration of people with disabilities in various aspects of social life, and some improvements in the urban infrastructure have all been proposed. “So that these policies benefit people with disabilities, it should be noted, including the relevant legislation of each state, each city in order to examine, in detail, the peculiarities related to each location.”35

Hylton et al36 discuss the mutual areas of interest which integrate polices which reduce the social exclusion in the Sport-For-Development perspectives. These include community development, lifelong learning, social cohesion, community safety, active health lifestyles, social and economic regeneration, job creation, equal opportunities, crime prevention, and environmental protection. All of the polices mentioned reinforce the idea that sport cannot and should not be considered in isolation of other aspects of society and should be inclusive to all regardless of an individual’s physical, sensorial or mental condition or disability; race; ethnicity; colour; religion; political; gender expression or identity; diversity; ancestry; national or regional origin; sexual orientation; marital status; social status, military or veteran status; age; and ideology.35,37-40

Through empirical analysis, the next topic section will present how the Sport-For-Development discourse highlights or fails to highlight the Paralympic legacy of the Rio 2016 Games.

Sport-For-Development discourse and Paralympic legacy in Rio 2016

The ‘Cidade Olímpica’ Facebook page, (Olympic City, in English) is an official channel for the Rio de Janeiro City Council, which broadcasts the progress of projects and services that are planned for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in the city. The study was developed during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, between June 12 and July 13. The period of analysis takes into account the fact that hosting the World Cup placed the country in the international spotlight, and so it is to be believed that the government took this as an opportunity to promote major projects during this period. Thus, this study aims to verify whether the Sport-For-Development discourse has been used to illustrate the legacy of the Olympic Games and particularly the Paralympic Games. In addition, it will judge to what extent the Paralympic legacy has been discussed. As previously observed in the legacy plan for Rio 2016, a key element is to provide an infrastructure for people with disabilities to get around the city as well as ensure access to wider services. It is also clear that this infrastructure must be in place ahead of the Olympic Games in 2016 as the Olympics take place before the Paralympics. Here it is clear that the discourse of “Sport-For-Development” should address these issues in order to justify the investments made for the whole society and for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Thus, the study on the ‘Cidade Olímpica’ page was developed using quantitative and qualitative methodologies, which uses content and discourse analysis of weblogs in the manner suggested by Hering et al.41 We argue that it is possible to identify, qualify and quantify the content of posts on the page and to develop an understanding of both the dynamics of the network and approach of the Brazilian government to disseminating information via social media. In this study the legacy of the Olympic and Paralympic Games for disabled people and the presentation of legacy is framed by the “Sport-For-Development” discourse. It takes into account the issues discussed and language used, in order to observe how disability is covered on the ‘Cidade Olímpica’ Facebook page.

The analysis ran during the 2014 World Cup and identified 33 updates on the page. Six main themes were observed, and are shown in the following graph:


Table 1

The mobility theme featured heavily with many posts about public transport in the city, and especially an express bus service called Transcarioca. On match days at the Maracana stadium, schedules and itineraries for this were advertised and promoted. In none of these posts was there any information on the accessibility of buses or bus terminals operating along the route.

Figure 1

Other posts on mobility were identified; one of them was specifically about a free cable car that was installed in a community called Providencia. According to information from the page itself, at least 10,000 people would benefit from this rapid transit service. But, once again, there was no information on accessibility for disabled people on this service.Other themes that should be highlighted are Culture, Leisure and Infrastructure. There were many posts about new recreational areas and parks that have been developed or redeveloped within the city. These include an update about Madureira Park, which will be expanded to 8 more boroughs and a port area called Porto Maravilha. Similar to the posts around mobility, there was no mention of any access to these parks and recreational areas for people with disabilities.In fact the only posts that specifically mentioned disability were those about the expansion of the Deodoro Sports Complex. Updates on the 3rd and 7th of July point out that the facilities in 2016 will be the stage for 4 Paralympic sports, in addition to 11 other Olympic sports that will also be played there.

Figure 2

The analysis of ‘Cidade Olímpica’ on Facebook showed no attempt by the Brazilian government to highlight issues relating to disabled people and disability. From the total of 33 analysed posts, there was only one that referenced the issue and, tellingly, this reference was linked directly to the Paralympic Games. There was no reference to the legacy that projects will provide for citizens who have a disability. When it comes to the “Sport-For-Development” discourse, it was restricted to the construction of narratives that exalted great architectural infrastructure, mobility and leisure whilst failing to address issues of equality and access.

The posts focused on the regeneration of the city and the benefits provided but they did not make clear at all that these benefits could be accessed by all citizens. The page appears to have been used more to promote activity and the provision of material goods. People with disabilities did not receive adequate attention on the page and this leads to doubts over the long-lasting legacies for them if they are overlooked during this early stage.

It is also important to emphasize that the ‘Cidade Olímpica’ page could be used as a channel to strengthen awareness of people with disabilities and that the accessibility legacies should be a way to promote integration. The lack of discussion of these issues on the page, which has the stated and overt aim of disseminating the legacy of Rio 2016, is a poor reflection of the attitude towards raising awareness of disabled communities as a legacy of the 2016 Games.

Figure 3

Here, opportunities to promote important values of sport for development are missed and wasted many times over. Social media has the opportunity to directly reach people and in the case of a Facebook page, this can lead to an interactive relationship that can improve the source and maximise the impact of the information given or product promoted.42-46 It is in this sense that Lobel, Sandler and Varshney47 argue for the joint approach of social media and institutions as a way to sell products, to promote brand awareness and expand the connections. This is best considered with regards to a company that designs its referral program with two objectives in mind: to extract immediate revenue and to advertise to potential customers.

Figure 4

The Olympic Agenda 2048 recommendations made clear that the priorities for the Olympics movement include to be aware of the use of the internet platforms and social media.49,50 The focus of the agenda for 2020 was not directly aimed at the Paralympics, however the report could be used as a benchmark towards sport for development.

Meanwhile, more than producing isolated contents or promoting the Fan Page with little theoretical foundation of using sport for development, the institution responsible for the fan page should identify the potential consumer in order to ensure that appropriate language is used and that an approach is taken that works towards achieving targets and aims. Sports fans are consuming more news, information and sport content via media and mobile devices than ever before; hence the growth of the Internet represents an opportunity to interact with other athletes, fans or teams.51 The media play a crucial and growing role in the dissemination of sports information available on different platforms.

Indeed, this could improve the communication between the parties (web pages and their users/clients).48 Therefore, Rubio52 and Darnell20 reinforce that mega-events are a strong vehicle to connect politics, stakeholders and society whilst further exploring some elements in social media. This approach is recommended by Jarvie and Thornton53 in the context of Sport-For-Development.

The Facebook page ‘Cidade Olímpica’ should follow the United Nations Sport for Development and Peace54 recommendations and ensure that engagement covers as many sectors and implementation partners as possible to help to realize the potential of sport to advance the inclusion and well-being of persons with disabilities.

Recommendations include:

  • Include persons with disabilities in their education materials as examples of participants.
  • Make persons with disabilities a target group in their campaigns.
  • Provide information to persons with disabilities on the location of accessible sport facilities.
  • Encourage service providers and sport clubs to target persons with disabilities for inclusion in their activities (e.g., make sure that court time is provided to them).
  • Educate physical education teachers, sport service providers, and sport clubs on methods of adaptation and inclusion in sport.
  • Plan national sports days or events that highlight the inclusion of persons with disabilities.
  • Have politicians and government leaders recognize persons with disabilities in sport and make special appearances at their events.


The Facebook page ‘Cidade Olímpica’ is one example of a dissemination channel for the legacy of the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. However, the justification of using the discourse of Sport-For-Development to emphasise the posts is not connected with the actual outcomes. The City Council promotes the investments made in infrastructure in the name of the Games and the benefits that these bring. However, they do this without any connection to people with disabilities. Although there is dissemination of information about the Olympic legacy, during the analysis period, these did not benefit the legacy for disabled people.

The updates praised major projects, but offered no information as to who could access them or how. Providing this information would show an integration into and an awareness of the promised Paralympic legacy.

By not considering Paralympic legacy, the ‘Cidade Olímpica’ page fails to fulfill one of its roles, which is to clarify and discuss the issue of disability in the host country. This is one of the objectives of the Rio legacy plan in 2016, which includes the development of accessibility as a way to promote the integration of people with disabilities in society.

From a theoretical point of view, it is revealed that the lack of attention to the Paralympic legacy has happened in the last editions of the Games too. Although there are plans for urban development, little is discussed about the ability of these schemes to impact on the lives of people with disabilities.

In the discourse of governments, where the Paralympics are present, what is reinforced is the development of sports venues adapted to these citizens in order to develop high-performance sport. However, the discourse of Sport-For-Development does not cover other legacies that the Paralympics can generate. This is highlighted very clearly through our research and is both a missed opportunity and a failure.


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