Rio Looks Risky

Sarena Malsin, Sports Editor

In the ongoing debate over whether countries outside Western Europe or North America should host international sporting events like the Olympics and the World Cup, two conflicting points emerge. On one hand, the international nature of these competitions should reflect and represent the entire world, not just countries with the most power or global representation. But on the other, what is the cost? The economies and political structures of many potential non-Western host countries may not be able to support these events.

Recent catastrophes in Brazil, with about three months left until the 2016 Summer Olympics is scheduled to begin in Rio de Janeiro, are bringing this hosting debate back to the surface — especially since Brazil is still dealing with the economic aftermath of the 2014 World Cup. Most recently, part of a newly built elevated bike path collapsed into the sea on Thursday, killing at least three people. Even though the bike path wasn’t directly related to Olympic venues, shocked responses to its collapse are the culmination of a long-brewing fear that Brazil isn’t stable or safe enough to host an expected 500,000 people in August.

Preceding this tragedy, Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies recently won its majority vote to impeach Prime Minister Dilma Rousseff on chargers of manipulating budget accounts to ensure her re-election in 2014 by increasing government spending. This was likely in large part to combat the backlash she faced after the World Cup drained Brazilian cities of their resources, and cost billions of dollars from public funds.

It’s easy to see why leaders and officials would take any measure possible to see these events have appropriate fanfare and run smoothly in the international spotlight: hosting them holds the promise of international acclaim and legitimacy, advertising campaigns, tourism and validation that these countries can support such a large undertaking. However, Brazilian citizens have made it clear to Rousseff that cutting corners and making underhanded deals to make the country look good doesn’t fly, especially after the fans and athletes return home and the festivities leave nothing but destruction in their wake. And if Rousseff had to fudge finances in 2014, budgeting doesn’t seem to be getting any better this time around. Anticipated costs of the games’ infrastructure have consistently proven to be greater than anticipated — they were 25 percent higher than planned in 2015. Bottom line: Brazil is not ready for Rio, and the country’s past week has brought debates of Olympic hosting back to the surface.

For what it’s worth, Brazil was able to more or less hold it together for participants and fans during the World Cup. However, cover-ups and overly optimistic predictions seem to be the response to questions about the most basic event preparations for the Olympics, and concerns about these issues were raised Tuesday. International sports federations expressed concern about gymnastics arena lights malfunctioning, which seems like a pretty critical oversight given that the 2016 opening ceremony is slated for Aug. 5. Apparently, things aren’t just wrong with gymnastics facilities — to quote Association of Summer Olympic International Federations President Francesco Ricci Bitti, “[The Brazilian Olympic Committee] misses some very important details in each field of play.” Bitti then told his delegate friends that President of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach is “worried like you, like me,” which isn’t the biggest vote of confidence.

Carlos Nuzman, head of the Rio organizing committee, continues to assure federation officials and nervous audiences that everything will shape up on time, but it doesn’t seem like the Olympics will convince the world of Brazil’s stability. In fact, it’s only highlighting the serious problems the country is facing. Many of the deficits in facilities, including missing floors in training rooms, are due to financial issues. Brazil is facing its most serious economic recession since the 1930s. Besides glaring facilities flaws, the Rio 2016 games will have to institute a number of cost-cutting measures, such as having a reduced number of trained volunteers on staff.

Health issues are also at the forefront of concerns for Rio 2016. The two bodies of water in which athletes are competing, the Guanabara Bay and the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, are riddled with pollution and have made athletes who have already trained in them sick with diseases like MRSA Staph Infection. According to Kristina Mena, an expert in waterborne viruses, “The levels of viruses are so high in these Brazilian waters that if we saw those levels here in the United States on beaches, officials would likely close those beaches.” However, Nuzman and other Brazilian officials have made assurances — again — that everything will shape up by August.

Another global threat is the Zika virus, which has torn through Brazil and other South American countries and continues to be a health concern now with 500,000 visitors coming from around the globe. In fact, Brazilian researchers say they believe the outbreak of Zika in Brazil was caused by Polynesian visitors from the World Cup, which bodes poorly for this upcoming larger international gathering. But even in response to Zika fears, Nuzman and the World Health Organization have responded that visitors should be fine attending the games. As long as you’re not pregnant, that is.

The extent of the anticipated failure of the Rio 2016 games has people questioning, now more than ever, on whom the burden of being an Olympic host should be placed and, at this point, whether the Olympics are worth hosting at all for any country. Rousseff’s impeachment has only added fuel to Brazil’s fire and has shed disturbing light on the cover-ups and performative optimism that have characterized Brazil’s legacy as an international host. Hosting the Olympics is an honor, and one that should be shared throughout the world. However, Rio 2016 could serve as a depressing and dangerous example of the lengths to which countries go in order for events like these to happen, at the expense of transparency, stability and their citizens.