File this under It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time: Seven years ago, after awarding the 2016 Olympic Games to Rio de Janeiro, IOC President Jacques Rogge declared, “There was absolutely no flaw in the bid.”
And now? Not so much.
With the games set to begin Aug. 5, there are absolutely nothing but flaws — viruses, rampant street crime, rising murder rates, recession, political upheaval, horrific pollution, widespread poverty.
Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? All that’s missing is an earthquake.
As recently as a few weeks ago there were calls to move the games to another city. How about Baghdad? Is Caracas busy?
The Brazilian economy was booming when Rio won the Olympic bid. Now it is suffering its worst recession in 80 years, bringing with it a host of attendant problems.
The Washington Post reported this week that homicides in the state of Rio were up 15 percent through April while street crime has risen 24 percent. With some cruel irony, Anna Paula Cotta, who tried out for Brazil’s Olympic shooting team, was shot and killed during a robbery attempt. Two members of Spain’s Olympic sailing team were robbed at gunpoint in a tourist area of Rio one morning.
On Sunday, an armed gang attacked a hospital in Rio de Janeiro to free a drug trafficker, setting off a shootout with police. The hospital is one of the medical facilities recommended to tourists who need medical attention during the games.
The Post reported that Brazil plans to send 85,000 soldiers to Rio during the games.
Meanwhile, Brazil will spend about $10 billion to host the games after spending about $15 billion to host the 2014 World Cup. Which is bad timing, if nothing else. Recently, Rio Gov. Francisco Dornelles declared a state of financial disaster. He’s pleading for financial assistance to avoid a collapse “in public security, health, education, transport and environmental management.” Some Olympic facilities have had water and power cut for failure to pay their bills. The government has been trying to cut the Olympic budget and has even considered asking athletes to pay for air conditioning in their dorms.
All this raises again old questions about the wisdom of cities spending billions of dollars every two years to build facilities and infrastructure for the Winter and Summer Games. (This is a nice little business model the IOC has going, isn’t it? Rake in cash while cities beg for the privilege of paying the overhead.)
And the bad news just keeps coming. Brazil is battling the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which poses a serious health threat for everyone, but especially pregnant women and their babies. Health officials worry about visitors and the potential for spreading the disease worldwide. The CDC issued a Level 2 alert. There are financial shortages for hospitals, health care and research to eradicate the virus while much of the country’s money goes to the Olympics.
In the middle of all this, impeachment proceedings are underway for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who was suspended last month.
And still there is more. Raw sewage and garbage flow into many of the Olympic water venues, which understandably has created serious concerns for sailors, triathletes, etc. According to an ESPN report, barriers will be installed in more than a dozen of Rio’s rivers to try to prevent it from drifting into the competition, and boats will patrol the waters looking for debris and human waste, which appears on Rio’s beaches. There are doubts that Rio has lived up to its promises to clean up its water, and the barriers and boats might be merely a stopgap. It’s all enough to make the athletes long for the days of Beijing and its chewable air. Beijing came up with its own stopgap measures, banning automobiles and shutting down factories. Yet the Olympics continue to be justified as a way to improve the quality of life for host cities.
Well, at least the competition will be golden, right? Well, the entire Russian Olympic track and field team, winner of 18 medals in the last Olympics, has been banned from Rio after the discovery of a government-run doping program, recalling the systemic doping programs of the Eastern Bloc countries in the ’60s and ’70s.
Another one of Jamaica’s sprinters — who suddenly and suspiciously began dominating the sprints in 2008 — has been busted for a positive drug test. Nesta Carter, who ran on the country’s gold medal 4 x 100 relay teams in 2008 and 2012, is one of four medal-winning Jamaican sprinters who have failed drug tests the last three years, all of which casts further doubt on the legitimacy of Jamaica’s athletes and testing program. Rene Shirley, the former head of the Jamaican anti-doping program, said in 2013 that the organization performed just one out-of-competition drug test in the five months leading up to the London Games.
Other than the tainted athletes and the sewage and the recession and the street crime, the Rio Olympics promise to be a wonderful sporting spectacle.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: email@example.com