Ready or not, Rio hosts Olympics

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

RIO DE JANEIRO — No Olympic host city has con­fronted the list of crises pum­mel­ing Rio, which proudly cel­e­brated be­com­ing the first South Amer­i­can site of the Games and Brazil’s mo­men­tum as emerg­ing world power with a eu­phoric dance party on Copaca­bana beach seven tu­mul­tuous years ago.

But the main thing to emerge since then is dis­ap­point­ment. Brazil’s city of ex­tremes fran­ti­cally pre­pares for the Aug. 5 Open­ing Cer­e­monies while be­set by a crip­pling re­ces­sion, a cor­rup­tion scan­dal that has en­snared the im­peached pres­i­dent, con­gress­men and cor­po­rate ex­ec­u­tives, in­creas­ing crime, the threat of ter­ror­ism, Zika-car­ry­ing mos­qui­toes, and pol­luted wa­ters where sailors, row­ers and swim­mers have dodged raw sewage.

The news out of Rio reads like a black com­edy: Body parts wash­ing up at the beach vol­ley­ball venue; ath­letes un­able to move into the Olympic Vil­lage be­cause of blocked toi­lets and ex­posed wiring; un­paid po­lice of­fi­cers greet­ing vis­i­tors at the air­port with a “Wel­come to Hell” ban­ner. Dur­ing the Torch Re­lay, a jaguar was shot to death af­ter es­cap­ing her han­dler, and a by­stander tried to douse the flame with a fire ex­tin­guisher.

The Rus­sian dop­ing scan­dal also means Rio will stage a di­min­ished Games.

Con­fi­dent Car­i­o­cas who heard the same pre­dic­tions of dis­as­ter be­fore the 2014 World Cup re­peat the say­ing that no place knows how to throw a party like Rio, but grum­ble un­der their breath that what was sup­posed to be a glo­ri­ous com­ing-out festa will leave Rio with a bru­tal hang­over.

“Hav­ing al­ready failed, the Rio Olympics may now suc­ceed,” said Paulo Sotero, di­rec­tor of the Brazil In­sti­tute at the Wil­son Cen­ter in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. “The Athens, Bei­jing and Sochi Olympics and the World Cups in South Africa and Brazil were sup­posed to be night­mares, but in Brazil any­way only the soc­cer team was. We saw a pat­tern of flop-to-suc­cess re­ver­sal in all these events. Rio could be the ex­cep­tion but ex­pec­ta­tions are so low it won’t be dif­fi­cult to beat them.”

The gover­nor of bank­rupt Rio state de­clared a “pub­lic calamity” in order to wrest $890 mil­lion in emer­gency funds from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to com­plete Olympic projects and pay hos­pi­tal work­ers, fire­fight­ers, po­lice­men and univer­sity pro­fes­sors. Rio’s mayor has called the Olympics “a missed op­por­tu­nity.”

When Rio won the Olympic bid in 2009 dur­ing oil-drenched boom times, there was a feel­ing Brazil was fol­low­ing the same path as pop­ulist pres­i­dent Luiz Ina­cio Lula da Silva, a charis­matic man who had risen from the en­trenched poverty of his youth as a shoeshine boy and steel mill worker to leader of a na­tion of 200 mil­lion fi­nally ready to cross the thresh­old and be rec­og­nized as an eco­nomic and political power rather than merely the home of soc­cer, samba and “den­tal floss” biki­nis.

But, like a gym­nast los­ing her grip on the un­even bars, Brazil soared high and crashed hard. Nei­ther Lula, in­dicted for ob­struct­ing a cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion of state oil giant Petro­bras, nor his suc­ces­sor Dilma Rouss­eff, sus­pended and ex­pected to be re­moved from of­fice, will at­tend Open­ing Cer­e­monies.

“Tak­ing on the World Cup and the Olympics was an ex­am­ple of hubris, of over-reach­ing,” said Ju­liana Bar­bassa, Rio native and au­thor of the en­light­en­ing book “Danc­ing With the Devil in the City of God: Rio de Janeiro on the Brink.” “They bet big and the peo­ple will be left with the bills. Brazil was poised for trans­for­ma­tion then ran into the per­fect storm of ridicu­lous prom­ises, mis­man­age­ment, eco­nomic col­lapse and the ve­nal elite again gov­ern­ing for it­self and fun­nel­ing pub­lic funds into its own pock­ets.”

The rule-bend­ing, prob­lem-solv­ing con­cept of jeit­inho doesn’t work when try­ing to fin­ish the subway line that’s a year over­due or clean garbage out of con­tam­i­nated Gua­n­abara Bay with in­ad­e­quate Eco boats or fix the Vil­lage con­structed by a com­pany whose CEO is in jail.

“You can’t wrap 19 un­fin­ished build­ings in duct tape,” said Bar­bassa, won­der­ing what will hap­pen with plumb­ing in the Vil­lage once it’s oc­cu­pied by 10,000 ath­letes.

On the streets of Ipanema and Copaca­bana, where ven­dors sell mos­quito-swat­ting rac­quets and Brazil­ian flags, res­i­dents joke that they no longer know the names of the Sele­cao, the na­tional soc­cer team that was hu­mil­i­ated 7-1 by Ger­many in the 2014 Cup semi­fi­nals, but they have learned the names of the Supreme Court jus­tices sen­tenc­ing Petro­bras em­bez­zlers. Most say that with 10 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment and 9 per­cent in­fla­tion they don’t plan to buy tick­ets to Olympic events. They haven’t lost their warmth and hu­mor but they do seem weary of the Olympic bur­den.

The Games will cost $4.6 bil­lion, or 51 per­cent over bud­get in a city where 20 per­cent of the 6.5 mil­lion res­i­dents live in fave­las, the shan­ty­towns perched on hill­sides. The once- promis­ing Paci­fi­ca­tion Po­lice Unit (UPP) ini­tia­tive is fall­ing apart due to lack of fund­ing, and drug gang vi­o­lence has in­ten­si­fied.

“Imag­ine if Rio had in­vested all this political will into pro­grams to help the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion,” Bar­bassa said.

Nev­er­the­less, there is op­ti­mism that Car­i­o­cas’ mood will lift, the Games will pro­vide their usual drama and the home team will in­crease its medal to­tal to 25-30.

“The Olympics are co­in­cid­ing with signs of an eco­nomic turn­around in 2017,” said Ar­mando Caste­lar Pin­heiro, an econ­o­mist for the Ge­tulio Var­gas Foun­da­tion’s Brazil­ian In­sti­tute of Eco­nom­ics. “I think the Games have been bet­ter man­aged than the World Cup, will in­crease fu­ture tourism and will leave a legacy of ur­ban re­newal.”

While Sotero gives Rio’s lead­ers a D for ex­e­cu­tion, he praises the pop­u­lace.

“Brazil­ians are go­ing through a lot of stress, but they will be very wel­com­ing, the mu­sic will be great, the food de­li­cious,” he said. — Mi­ami­her­ald

The Olympic rings re­tain their mys­tique in some quar­ters but many peo­ple are con­flicted about this sum­mer’s Games.

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