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Is Brazil ready?
A question that is being asked quite a lot. Is Rio, Brazil ready to host the ‘Greatest show on Earth’? The short answer is, ‘They have no choice BUT to be ready.’ The athletes have arrived, the spectators from all over the world will join them and the 31st Olympic Games will begin at midnight (GMT) on Friday 5 August.
But what are the concerns? Let’s start with the one that Brazil isn’t to be held responsible for. The recent allegations of “state sponsored” doping amongst Russian Olympians has cast a dark, heavy cloud over the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and in turn the Games. This damaging news has taken as much as eight years to uncover, with Russian medallists from the Beijing Games in 2008 only recently being stripped of their Olympic medals after investigations and re-testing of samples identified cheats. Samples from the London 2012 Games have also thrown up suspects.
There were calls for all Russian athletes to be barred from the Rio Games, a call which was ignored by the IOC as they handed the judgement calls on individual athletes to the governing bodies of the individual sports. The perceived failings of the IOC, sporting governing bodies and the World Anti-Doping Agencies (WADA) have caused a PR nightmare for Rio. Each Olympics the athletes, judges and coaches take an oath to compete fairly and cleanly. One good thing to come out of this is that I expect Rio 2016 will be the cleanest games of any kind in recent history.
Another issue that can’t be blamed on the organisers of the Rio Olympics is that of the Zika virus. Transferred via mosquito bites it causes babies to be born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains. Concerns surrounding this have caused the world’s top four golfers to pull out of the Olympics, which has in turn caused worry as Rio will be the first Olympics for 112 years to feature golf and poor success could see the sport axed from future Olympics.
However, the Brazilian Olympic Committee (BOC) can be held accountable for a few failings. The first of these is the Olympic infrastructure. Venues are being finished right up to the day of the opening ceremony, and the main ramp at the sailing venue at Marina da Gloria collapsed just five days before the games were due to start. On Sunday, heavy rain caused parts of Copacabana Beach to flood, where the beach volleyball venue and TV studios are being housed. The venues have always been a concern for the IOC, with critics saying the BOC have spent too much money on marketing Rio and the Games and not enough on the venues themselves. Bar these few issues, though, they will be open and ready for business.
Athletes and journalists have highlighted problems with the Olympic Village where they will be resident for the duration of the games. Guests have been greeted by broken tiles in the bathroom, poor irrigation and “dangerous wiring”. The Chinese and Australian athletes have been very vocal about the accommodation with Team Australia opting to stay in hotels until the residences were brought up to scratch, citing “uninhabitable” conditions with wiring and gas problems. (No complaints from Team GB, however.)
Another concern for the marathon swimmers, triathletes and sailors is the quality of the water at Guanabara Bay. Water contamination levels are “dangerously high” due to raw sewage, human waste and human remains. This was a known problem but the BOC pledged to reduce water pollutants by 80% in its bid. Experts state it has improved by only 20% and that it could be harmful for athletes to swim in.
Crime has been a reported problem with drug dealers selling ‘Olympic’ branded cocaine, athletes have been mugged, there have been burglaries in the Olympic village and New Zealand Jiu-jitsu athlete Jason Lee was kidnapped by two people in police uniform who forced him to withdraw money from an ATM. Although Jiu-jitsu is not an Olympic sport, this targeting of athletes has caused concern amongst the Olympians.
Lastly, Brazil has been going through a rough time both politically and economically. The country is not the booming, up-and-coming economy it was when it won the bid for the games back in 2009. Many of Rio’s citizens have seen no improvement in their communities whilst the games have cost £11.3bn. Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes argues the games have brought regeneration to the city – which was once was the capital of Brazil.
Proponents of the Games point out that the money hasn’t come solely from the government – the private sector has invested heavily. Construction companies stand to make substantial profits from Olympic buildings and spaces once the Games are over which brings into question the lasting legacy for Rio and its citizens. Brazil is also in the middle of a political crisis, with President Dilma Rousseff currently suspended from office pending an impeachment trial. A report is expected to be approved by the impeachment committee on Friday and then by the full Senate the following Thursday. A verdict could be handed down before the Paralympics open on 7 September.
Rousseff is accused of breaking the constitution by altering official economic figures and using funds from state-run banks to cover up the real state of the economy in the run up to her re-election. Her Vice President Michel Temer currently holds the post of Acting President and is accused by Rousseff of staging a political coupe against her. Temer expects a hostile reception at the opening ceremony. No doubt the spotlight being taken away from Rousseff will be a bitter pill to swallow.
But Rio is not the only host nation to face problems in the run up to the Olympics. Athens had concerns over whether the Olympic stadium would be ready on time. London had to pull in the army to manage security after the security company awarded the contract admitted they wouldn’t be ready. Salt Lake City’s Winter Olympics were hugely over budget, Sochi faced criticism over LGBT rights, and China faced global protests over Tibet. Even Tokyo, the host city for 2020, is facing a political crisis over their bid and their financing of the games. Two governors of Tokyo have already resigned and a French investigation into alleged money laundering and bribery has been launched. What is clear is Brazil and Rio is ready for a carnival – they hosted the world cup just two years ago with few problems, and know they can do the same again.
I love the Olympics – it’s about the only time I really get into sport, including sports we don’t hear much about during the four-year gap between games. It’s a time when relative unknowns become household names through their sporting achievements.
London 2012 was immense as a spectator – even one sat at home. The opening ceremony surpassed expectations, Team GB united the country and won their best medal haul, national pride was at an all-time high. I think Team GB are as ready for Rio as they were for London. I see the target of 48 medals, the best at an overseas games, as achievable. I would love to see them come closer to the 65 medals won in London, and with UK sport being quietly confident about surpassing that score it could shape up to be a great Olympics for Team GB.
We all have our sporting memories from London, be it Super Saturday, Michael Phelps becoming the greatest Olympian, Usain Bolt, The Brownlee Brothers, Nicola Adams or Tom Daley. My instinct tells me that once the games open all Rio’s woes will be forgotten and we will just be able to enjoy the moment. #BringOnTheGreat