Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has been impeached by the country’s Senate amidst massive economic turmoil and a major corruption scandal. When included with the Zika crisis, unfinished venues and the nearly 60,000 murders the country deals with yearly, I think it’s time we have a serious talk about moving or canceling the 2016 Summer Olympics.
The 2016 Olympics are scheduled to kick off in Rio de Janeiro on August 5 and right now it looks like the games could be a disaster of epic proportions. So let’s deal with each major obstacle facing the quadrennial spectacle and break down why each should cause the games to be moved, canceled or postponed in its own right.
As we all know by now, the threat of the Zika virus is absolutely real. The mosquito-borne sickness has spread across the world and has been most prevalent in South and Central America. Brazil has been the epicenter of the current outbreak and Rio has had the most cases of any state in the country. Some believe holding the Olympics there could spark a full-blown global outbreak. With around 500,000 foreigners expected to travel to Rio for the games, it’s not hard to imagine that nightmare scenario becoming a reality.
The International Olympic Committee currently says it sees no reason to cancel, delay or move the Rio Games because of Zika. In reality, there are plenty of reasons, not the least of which is the health of the athletes and travelers heading to the event, and everyone else they later come into contact with. Sadly, after years of money being dumped into the games, the IOC doesn’t want things to be changed. This is purely a financial decision, not a logical one.
The president of Brazil has been impeached and a temporary government will take over while she sits on trial. This change signals a titanic shift within the country that has been led by the left-wing Workers Party for more than 13 years. Vice President Michel Temer will take Rousseff’s place and has announced immediate austerity measures to deal with the country’s enormous budget deficit.
This is not some kind of smooth transition that the country will handle well. It’s not akin to an election loss like we would experience here, it is a complete 180 for the country’s future. There are bound to be massive demonstrations and protests from both sides of the aisle before, during and after the Olympics this summer. Is that something the IOC and the athletes heading to Rio want to deal with? Of course the competitors will go if they can but the IOC must consider sparing them from the clashes that could erupt as a result of the political situation in Brazil.
Violence and crime
Brazil clocked 58,000 murders in 2014, a rise of five percent over the 2013 total, and Rio was the second-most dangerous state in terms of total number of violent deaths. Brazil is the murder capital of the world and now there has also been a massive uptick in robberies at the country’s famed beaches.
Meanwhile, Rio’s slums, known as favelas, sit in the shadows of the city and remain largely run by gangs and drug dealers. Nearly 1.4 million people live in Rio’s slums, that’s about one-fifth of the city’s total population. In 2008, the country’s Army began a gradual attempt to pacify the favelas, but many are still riddled with gangs and crime. And sometimes, the violence from police is worse than that of the gangs controlling the areas.
With an economic crisis fueling a rise in unemployment, crime is certain to increase even more as the Olympics approach. Thrusting half-a-million foreigners into that toxic environment is a recipe for disaster.
And to those who point to the fact that violence in the country was largely suppressed during the 2014 World Cup, this is an entirely different situation. Back then the economic situation wasn’t nearly this bad. Additionally, the Olympics will be held almost exclusively within the confines of Rio, so the massive influx of people into such a small area could create a one-stop shop for the criminal element.
Problems with venues
Just two months ago the IOC expressed “deep concerns” about the state of the venues built by Brazil. With budget cuts made to the Olympic games by the country and a potential struggle to provide power to all venues, the IOC wanted the situation closely monitored. Additionally, budget cuts have led to the elimination of several facilities and temporary structures.
Many other concerns were expressed, including the “well-being of spectators.” As we’ve already discussed, the “well-being of spectators” is clearly not actually a concern for the IOC if they are willing to allow fans to travel en masse to such a dangerous, unstable country.
In addition to structures not yet being completed or being up to “Olympic standards,” there is the issue of water contamination in aquatic venues which appears to be a problem that simply will not be addressed.
When Rio proposed hosting the games, it vowed to clean up “80 percent of the sewage in its waters and a ‘full regeneration’ of the Rodrigo de Feitas Lagoon, which will host the sprint canoe/kayak and rowing events.” That hasn’t happened. In fact, a complete lack of attention has been paid to the country’s horrendous sewage situation.
Last summer the Associated Press independently tested Rio’s waters and found it teeming with viruses that could cause serious long-term health problems for anyone who came into contact with them. So what has been done about those issues? Not much. In fact, the IOC and Rio’s planners seem to believe there isn’t much of a problem.
Meanwhile, it appears that several of Rio’s major sewage treatment facilities weren’t adequately doing their jobs, leading to mass pollution and accusations of fraud. One expert estimates that only about 20 to 30 percent of Rio’s sewage actually receives treatment. Brazil sounds really glamorous, doesn’t it?
So along with the very real fears of Zika, the IOC appears more than willing to subject competitors to the dangers of swimming and interacting with raw sewage during competitions.
Conclusion: Cancel, delay or move the games
I realize it’s likely too late to move the 2016 Olympics to another country. It would take a massive undertaking to do so and that would take months. But it’s not like God directly dictated the games must happen on a certain date every four years. Nothing bars the IOC from postponing the event for a year, moving them to a more adequate location, or even pushing them back to give Brazil more time to prepare. In an alternate scenario, they could always hold them this summer, but place the events at venues all over the world. At worst, the IOC could just cancel the games altogether.
Rio was awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics on October 2, 2009. The city and country has had nearly seven years to hammer out all of its issues and clean up its act. It has not held up its end of the bargain. Brazil can’t even ensure the safety of athletes while competing in events due to its failure to properly treat sewage. The fact that sentence actually exists in 2016 is astonishing.
By allowing Rio’s failures to go unpunished, the IOC is telling the world that it cares far more about money and holding to arbitrary schedules than the actual health of its competitors and spectators. The mission of the International Olympic Committee is to bring sports to the world and show them in the best light. There is almost no chance of that happening in Rio this summer.