Written By – Ronak Pol
Published on 23rd July 2016
Olympics are no joke. They are the highlight of most sporting careers, a place where history is made. But they have also been a part of sizable share of controversies. Over the years host nations have faced political demonstrations (Mexico City 1968) , hostage crisis(Munich 1972), financing issues(Montreal 1976), bombing (Atlanta,USA 1996) and most recently, Pollution Problems (Beijing 2008).
Year after year we hear of athlete doping scandals, political debates surrounding financing the games and still athletes prepare their entire life to gain their spot on the National Team that is sent to the games. Every athlete that competes has his name engraved in the sporting history.
But it is important to realise that games of this magnitude are all about politics, they are about having an opportunity to change a country.
China used these games to change how the world looked at them, it went from a developing superpower with ambiguity regarding human rights and transparency issues, to a country that is viewed as a modern global giant with enormous infrastructure capabilities and sporting talent.
In todays article we will primarily focus on the RIO OLYMPIC GAMES, looking at the political tension that is building in the country, the current state of infrastructure for the games and also look at other nations that have held these games. If history is any indicator of what the future holds, we can use these as a case study to understand what problems lie ahead for Rio and people in Brazil.
Anti-World Cup protests in the year 2014 had made Brazil the center of global attraction. Back then Brazilians were fighting against high cost of stadiums, corruption, police brutality and involuntary eviction of citizens from their homes. Years have passed but the scenario has not changed much, with the country preparing itself to host the Olympic Games, Political turmoil and Infrastructure Race still plagues the country which this time around is also dealing with Zika concerns.
Problems in Brazil can be grouped into 5 major concerns
- Political & Economic Instability
- Infrastructure problems & Security Issues
- Zika Concerns
- Water Pollution
- Ticket Sale and Local problems
Here we have ignored the possible exclusion of the Russian Squad because of drug abuse which will also create its own share of problems and controversies.
Political & Economic Instability
Brazilians find themselves in the worst political and economic state as of now. With impeachment hanging over their president and a corruption scandal that has most of their prominent politicians on the stand, Brazil is facing one of its worst political crisis. But this is in no way helped by the economic scenario of the country. Last year(2015) the country’s GDP fell by over 3.7 % and the outlook for 2016 also looks grim, with unemployment levels reaching all time high and budget deficit exceeding 10% of GDP, the economic situation is deteriorating rapidly. Declining Oil prices have hit the country and the country is now in the worst recession since 1930’s . Moody’s has now become the third rating agency following S&P and Fitch to label the country’s debt as junk.
Infrastructure Problems and Security issues
Rio would not be the first nation to hold Olympics and struggle financially. The famous Montreal Olympics with its leaning tower and retractable roof (which did not work during the opening ceremony) were called “The Bankrupt Olympics” , olympic debt of the country in the year 1976 was $1.48 billion . So financial mismanagement and Olympics have always gone hand in hand.
Carlos Nuzman, the president of the organising committee in Rio promises to deliver “spectacular Games”, which I do not question. The question is what will be the most memorable thing about this gaming carnival. With incomplete stadiums, collapsing infrastructure and serious transportation setbacks we can definitely expect spectacular games.
(the elevated cycling path which collapsed cost them £8m and the critical metro extension is still incomplete).
For an olympian travelling to Rio, their safety and security is also questioned. With athletes being robbed at gun point to orchestrated attacks on hospitals, the city administration is showing incompetence in keeping both its citizens and incoming athletes safe. In a bid to pay for the olympics the city has failed to pay its public workers (including police) who have now organised peaceful demonstrations voicing their problems.
Rising crimes can be attributed to the deteriorating economical condition of the country, citizens who are now surviving on bare minimum have either taken to the streets in the form of peacrfull demonstrations or have decided to take the road less travelled. In the end the question persists that are Olympic games worth all the money that the city is investing in it, which could alternatively be used to construct sustainable infrastructure for the country and address its debt issues.
Sudden outbreak of the Zika virus has been declared by WHO as a global health emergency, with nearly 1.5 million people affected, Brazilians have found themselves at the center of yet another global crisis. This mosquito borne disease can cause significant brain damage to the development of an unborn child and to make the matters worse there is no known vaccination available.
Newborns who are affected by this disease suffer from what people call microcephaly where the child has a smaller head relative to the body. Athletes have been issued guidelines on how to protect themselves against this disease which if not controlled can soon become a global epidemic. Pregnant women travelling for the games are strongly advised against it.
The International Olympic Committee and the organisers have maintained a stand that the Olympics will not be affected by Zika, but have asked athletes to take necessary precautionary measures.
Waterbodies where Olympics are scheduled to take place have been found to be infected by drug resistant “Super Bacteria”. They heighten the concerns about the sewage infected water bodies being unsafe.The Super Bacteria can cause hard-to-treat urinary, gastrointestinal, pulmonary and bloodstream infections, along with meningitis. Studies have shown that these bacteria contribute to death of upto half of their infected patients.Studies have found that five of Rio’s showcase beaches are infected by Super Bacteria which becomes a serious concern even for tourists that plan to visit the country.
The organisers have issued statements assuring that they will clean all the water bodies of the bacteria before August 5th.
Ticket Sale and Local Problems
All the aforementioned problems are bound to negatively affect ticket sales. Brazilian locals have shown strong opposition towards the games, but the protests are more subdued than they were during the 2014 Fifa World Cup. Ticket sales for Paralympics have barely taken off while there are over 2 million unsold Olympic Tickets, as compared to London Olympics where 11 of 11.3 million tickets were sold.
Now companies are coming up with highly subsidised packages as hotels don’t want their rooms to go empty. This might be a bad news for the organisers but is a very good news for Olympic attendee hopefuls.
What happens when the torch goes out
Countries pay huge bills to host the olympics, building massive infrastructure that if not maintained well can be the symbol of a nations failure in economic management. In the past things have gone either way for host cities, we have success stories like Barcelona(1992) and London(2012) and unprecedented failures like the 2004 games in Athens. One of the biggest mistake an Olympic host nation can do is to plan for the games, not focussing on developing a business plan for the future. Substantial amount of revenue can be generated if the legacy of the games is kept alive.
The future for Rio lies in the specifics of both these stories.
Barcelona used the olympics to revitalise the run down water front Industrial properties, building appropriate infrastructure that focused on a more inclusive approach. This has helped to reconnect the city with its beautiful water front and now touris flock their beaches. They have struck the balance between maintaining the sporting heritage and finding ways to keep their stadiums alive while promoting tourism focused around these massive properties. While London Legacy Development corporation said that future of all eight of their stadiums is secure, using them as concert halls, while making them a more inclusive part of the society through cafes and fitness studious. This goes on to show how long can simple inclusive management go in making post game stories a success.
On the other side of the scale is the City of Athens, host of the 2004 games. Soon after the games the city ran into massive debt and has been struggling financially ever since. These stadiums have become a symbol of lack of government foresight and inadequate financial management. Most of them are abandoned sites with graffiti covering the walls.
Now what lies ahead for Brazil with circumstances that they are currently facing is evident. But the country has the power to change this if it so wishes. Olympics can be the platform that is used to fix Rio’s problems, though only a tectonic shift in individual morale and serious government effort will make this happen. But if pulled off successfully Rio has the potential to give us a spectacle for all the right reasons.