Reported by Matthew Thomas
Preparations for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games have been labelled the “worst” ever by IOC members but can Brazil pull off the impossible and host last year’s Football World Cup as well as the biggest sporting event of them all, the Olympic Games, all inside the space of two years?
Olympic preparations got off to a troubled start. Despite more recent progress on the main infrastructure there are still huge issues that the government have to address. To make matters worse the political atmosphere has soured greatly since the World Cup and the Brazilian currency has lost 35 percent of its value against the dollar since Germany lifted the title back in July. President Dilma Rousseff’s government has cut services and raised taxes to avoid a revenue shortfall which has been met with violent protests. Gang violence and muggings are on the rise whilst stray bullets at a recent protest left 30 injured and 5 dead including two young children. Is this the best place to host the Olympic Games with all eyes firmly on it?
Rousseff’s popularity has also plunged due to a corruption scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras as well as an investigation into concessions made to the developer of the Olympic golf course, all of which continue to taint the value of hosting such an event. Rio’s faults are masked by its image of beaches and a party atmosphere, with visitors expecting a fun time despite it being one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Brazilians pride themselves in dreaming up quick solutions to impossible problems, and currently pulling off the World Cup shields the Olympics from similar criticism.
It is difficult for ordinary Brazilians to fathom the value of hosting these two colossal events if they find themselves with rising crime, poorer services and sub-standard amenities. Brazil spent $12 billion on the World Cup, mostly on road and rail projects which will certainly benefit ordinary people in the long run but the football stadia seem to remain a symbol of corruption that surrounds big business in these parts. Travel links are progressing but a 16-kilometer subway extension may not be fully operational in time for the games due to construction difficulties. Both the sailing venue at Guanabara Bay and the lagoon that engulfs the Olympic Park are full of sewage and bacteria. As recently as April, thirty-two tonnes of dead fish had to be removed from the location with government officials conceding that they would not meet their target of reducing water pollution by 80% in time for the games.
Compounding Rio’s unenviable task is the well-organized Olympics that preceded them in London and the military precision of Beijing 2008 before that. The bar has been set unbelievably high in terms of transport links for spectators, stadia, infrastructure, commercial revenue streams and athletic performance to boot. Can the Brazilian’s ever hope to match these standards such is the scale of a modern day global sporting event? Certainly an area the Brazilian government should be focusing on is what happens after the athletes have left. One of the corner stones of London’s Olympic bid was its supposed ‘legacy’. It aimed to mobilize a generation out of idleness and apathy. As Sport England participation figures show hosting the Olympics isn’t exactly dragging children away from their tablets and playstation’s as they would have hoped. Also there was the promise of redistribution of funds to improve grass roots facilities. All weather pitches, more 50 metre swimming pools, specialist gymnasiums and new cycle centres were all touted as possible benefactors at the time. These crucial breeding grounds of future champions are quickly being forgotten.
Brazil can certainly create a feel-good factor like no other. However fiscal transparency, improving living standards for everyone and not tarnishing the Olympic movement in the process may be much harder to achieve.