Is Rio Ready To Host the 2016 Olympics In August?
On my flight out to Rio De Janeiro I was sat next to the British paralympic sailing team on their way to start final preparations for the paralympics. Then a couple of days into my trip I stumbled across a giant hashtag sculpture ‘#CIDADEOLIMPICA’. It was definitely getting some positive attention. Kids and adults alike scrambled on giant graffiti letters and posed for photographs to share on social media. These events prompted me to consider the imminent ‘Rio 2016’ olympics set to begin in August.
The success of ‘Rio 2106’ has been much debated in the press. The Brazilians usually love a good celebration. Rio’s annual carnival is famous the world over, but can the host nation pull off this global event at a time when the economy is in chaos and social tensions are high. Brazil has witnessed significant growth and development in the last decade to reach the position as one of the 10 largest economies in the world. Despite this Brazil is currently in the worst recession since the 1930s. Unemployment has reached 10 percent and street crime is on the rise. The now ex-Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff faces an impeachment trial in a national corruption scandal. She is accused of fudging Brazil's financial accounts in order to present a better picture of the country's economy prior to her reelection bid in 2014.
Rio has to find a way to increase its tourist housing over the olympic period from 52,000 to 1 million. As with other host nations most likely this extra capacity will not be utilized after the event. Transportation also needs to be improved. Traffic in Rio is already congested during most hours of the day. An estimated $5 billion has been set aside to expand the subway and to renovate transportation facilities from the Olympic Village. Both airports in Rio, along with four other nationwide airports will undergo remodeling and the traffic to and from the airport is planned to improve with more shuttles and bus routes.
Rio’s citizens are excited about the Olympics but there are concerns about the large number of infrastructure projects and the expenses required to fund this event. Now in June some vital construction work still needs to be completed, including the flagship velodrome. The Olympics have the potential to encourage growth of the country if structured properly and finances are allocated appropriately. The Barcelona games is a shining example of success but Greece spent one-fourth of their current budget deficit on the Olympics and is now in economic crisis (of course the Olympics cannot be be seen as as the sole contributor to this situation).
There are some other problems too. Controversially 8,000 families have been, or are at risk of, removal from their homes for construction linked to the Olympics and the World Cup in 2014. Negotiation is believed to happen behind closed doors, sparking intimidation rumours from residents who wonder how much people are receiving.
The sailing and windsurfing events are being held in Guanabara Bay’s polluted waters, filled with raw sewage and large amounts of rubbish. While part of Rio’s Olympic bid included a promise to clean up the bay by 80 percent, Rio is currently only at 49% of their cleanup goal. Falling in the water leaves sailors at risk of catching gastrointestinal infections, mycoses, otitis or hepatitis. During racing they are also likely to encounter hitting anything from plastic bags to car tyres, pieces of wood, and even furniture!
Brazil is suffering from the effects of the worst drought in 40 years. The southeastern city of São Paulo has started rationing water and Rio could be next. Brazil gets about 70 percent of its energy from hydropower. If water levels dip below 10% capacity the turbines on Brazil’s principal hydroelectric plants will stop running. They’re currently at 17%. The Brazilian government spent $5 billion to subsidize fossil fuels to make up for lost hydroelectric power in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup and may have to do so again for the Olympics.
To top it off a Zika virus epidemic is sweeping the country which prompted more than 200 scientists to ask officials to delay the Olympics. Quite rightly a request which has since been quashed. It would have been a logistical and organizational nightmare to delay such an event so close to the start date.
As of late May olympic ticket sales are sluggish, only 67 percent of tickets have been sold and just 33 percent of tickets to the Paralympic games. In contrast tickets to the 2012 London Olympics had sold out for every sporting event except soccer by February of that year.
The Olympics will only be worthwhile if the games create a form of benefit for Brazilian society as a whole. Brazil may not continue to see tourism and profits from the Olympics post-2016, but hopefully the infrastructure and security investments will be worthwhile. This goal relies on the government and committees to fully keep their promises. It is a first for any South American country to host the games. A proud moment for a nation. I wish Brazil the best of luck in pulling off a successful games.