As the Marvelous City welcomes the world’s biggest sporting event, questions – and optimism – abound
Nearly seven years and three Olympics –Vancouver, London and Sochi – have come and gone since October 2009, when the International Olympic Committee sent most Brazilians into paroxysms of joy by naming Rio de Janeiro the host city for the Games of the XXXI Olympiad.The announcement meant that for the first time, the Olympics and Paralympics would be hosted by a South American City.
Following the announcement, a teary-eyed president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared, “I confess to you that if I died now, my life has been worthwhile.”However in the intervening years the outlook for the city, and the upcoming Games, has dimmed in the midst of political and economic turmoil.
These days, Lula, as he is known, has other things to cry about.The Sao Paulo’s prosecutor’s office has reportedly presented charges against the two-term president, accusing him of being embroiled in a bribery scheme involving state-owned oil company Petrobras. He staunchly denies any wrongdoing.
Lula’s troubles are just the tip of the legal iceberg in Brazil; his former chief of staff and successor, current president Dilma Rousseff is herself facing impeachment charges stemming from related bribery allegations.
Since the 2009 Olympic Committee announcement, work has been proceeding apace on the facilities and infrastructure improvements that Brazil promised in its $14 billion winning Olympic bid – a number that’s almost certain to rise when the final accounting is in; this is the Olympics after all, and ballooning budgets just seem to be as much a part of the spectacle as the torch run. And no Olympics in modern history would be complete without some pre-game media hand-wringing; who can forgetVancouver’s unseasonably warm winter, London’s traffic woes, Sochi’s barely-finished hotel rooms?
On the other hand, Rio has been plagued with a heap of other difficulties in the runup to the opening ceremony of the Games on Aug. 5. In addition to the political turmoil in Brasilia, the nation has been rocked by the longest running recession since the 1930s, and health officials are struggling to stem the spread of mosquito-borne diseases like the Zika virus and dengue fever which threaten to keep away athletes and spectators alike.
The economic downturn has put a damper on domestic ticket sales; at latest count only about half the tickets allotted for purchase by Brazilians have been bought, and international sales also appear to be lagging. Not only do poor ticket sales spell trouble for the operating budget, but there’s also an image problem – events held in half-empty stadiums televised to potentially 5 billion viewers around the world. Nevertheless, organizers remain optimistic, saying that Brazilians are just not used to purchasing tickets in advance.
Build It & They Will Come
However large the crowds may be, it looks like those venues dedicated to the Games will be ready for them. Already the main Olympic Park is almost done, and test events have already been held in more than a dozen sports. A few facilities are reportedly behind schedule, but with three months to go, it’s likely these will be completed.
Not so certain is the status of the largest infrastructure project associated with the Games, the 10-mile stretch of Metro tying