RIO’S RACE

As the Marvelous City wel­comes the world’s big­gest sport­ing event, ques­tions – and op­ti­mism – abound

Business Traveler (USA) - - DESTINATIONS -

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

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