Will the widespread Zika, financial and Political unrest make this the worst Olympics ever?
BY ARPAN JENNIFER VIMAL
The eyes of the world will be on Rio de Janeiro as the Olympic Games arrive in South America for the first time. Police protests, the threat of the Zika virus, incomplete transport links and a “state of financial emergency” — the build-up to South America’s inaugural Olympic Games on August 5 has been rocky.
Organizers hope to put all those various problems behind them when athletes from across the world march into the Maracana Stadium for the Opening Ceremony and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.
Locals in Rio de Janeiro sometimes refer to their city as “a cidade maravilhosa” – “the marvellous city”.
With its forest-clad mountains, famous long beaches and diverse communities living cheekby- jowl, there has probably never been a more stunning backdrop for an Olympic Games. Those who backed its bid for the 2016 Olympics against much more “established” and “stable” venues in the northern hemisphere say Rio is now a city transformed.
Most Olympic Games face questions over whether they are really worth the money. Billions of dollars are invested in redeveloping the infrastructure of host cities, but just what is the legacy from these sporting jamborees that are held every four years?
“In its favor, Rio has avoided expensive iconic architecture, opting for the dull, the functional and the temporary,” said author David Goldblatt, who has written a history of the Olympics, in the Guardian. “Consequently it is set to produce fewer and less expensive white elephants than the leaders in this field, Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).”
For the Olympics there are 32 venues in Rio de Janeiro with the cities of Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Manaus, Salvador and São Paulo also hosting football matches during the Games.
“With just over one week to go until the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, new and renovated sporting venues stand ready to welcome the world’s greatest athletes to Rio de Janeiro,” says the Rio 2016 website. But if Beijing had the Bird’s Nest and London showcased a towering sculpture of twisted steel, perhaps it’s telling that arguably the most iconic Olympic sight in Rio remains the 78,000 Maracana — built in 1948, though redeveloped for the 2014 World Cup. The Maracana will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games.
Perhaps “dull and functional” is understandable, given Brazil has suffered economic problems since winning the right to stage the Olympics.
“We’ve had to make adjustments in terms of meeting new budget constraints and finding ways of saving money,” said Bill Hanway, who works for AECOM, the company that won the right to design the master plan for the Olympic Park. “But at an Olympics you can’t just skip the main stadium or the basketball arena. You can’t make those giant cuts.”
If the venues are up and running, the construction of the Olympic Village has proven to be a bit more of a stumbling block.
“Rio 2016 Chief Operations Officer Rodrigo Tostes confirmed that all amendments have been completed at the Olympic Village and the task force has finished its work,” said a Rio 2016 statement. “The village is now in normal operational mode. Currently 3,578 people from 151 countries, including 1,129 athletes, are in the village.”
Amid the facelift that Rio has undergone, the city’s residents continue to question whether it has all been worth it. “Rio’s plan, in hosting the Olympics, was to get the city on the world stage, attracting tourism and investment,” wrote Rio blogger Julia Michaels. “We’d compete with other metropolises, brand ourselves.
It’s the virus that has caused some athletes to steer clear of the Olympic Games, particularly the world’s best male golfers. World No. 1 Jason Day has opted to skip golf’s return to the Games, as has four-time major winner Rory McIlroy.
Zika is an illness spread through mosquito bites that can cause birth defects and other neurological defects. It has been linked to microcephaly, a congenital condition linked to impaired brain development.
Long jump gold medalist Greg Rutherford, concerned that contracting the virus could affect his plans to have more children, took the step of freezing a sperm sample ahead of the Games.
The latest World Health Organization report, stated 67 countries had reported evidence of mosquito-borne Zika transmission since 2007, with 64 of them reporting it since the start of 2015.
On May 3, President Dilma Rousseff lit the Olympic torch as it arrived in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia. Shortly after, the country’s senate voted for Rousseff’s impeachment and she was suspended as president for up to 180 days.
Brazil’s first female president was accused of manipulating government accounts in the run-up to 2014 elections and was replaced by vice president and political rival Michel Temer as investigations take place.
Rousseff hit back, stating that her impeachment was a “coup” by her opponents and that she was the “victim of a great injustice.” While she maintains the title of president, Rousseff will not be fulfilling the duties of office as the Games get underway.
On top of all this, a long running corruption scandal involving state run oil firm, Petrobras, has snared many of Brazil’s leading politicians.
The health crisis, the construction, the corruption, the absence of an important leader for the government to lead the way for Brazil into the Olympics — (it’s) all very difficult situation for the Olympics, for Brazil, for Rio de Janeiro.