Rio 2016: the other side of the medal

The Olympics is one of the biggest events worldwide. It has the power to remind us of the importance of values such as love, peace and respect, but also, it’s an opportunity to discover new things about a host city.

However, it is also a big opportunity for scandals, and the 2016 edition of the Games hosted in Rio de Janeiro is no different.

Aside from the images of beautiful sunny beaches, we’ve been shown the other side of the medal, and it isn’t gold.

Not prepared
First of all, the city wanted to built a new metro line to connect the Olympic Park and Village in less than 15 minutes. Surprise, surprise – the subway won’t be ready on time, even though Rodrigo Vieria, Rio de Janeiro’s transportation head, had ensured citizens and visitors it would.

Not so long ago, Rio de Janeiro’s government declared a state of “public calamity”, saying drastic actions were required to save it from “total collapse”. Meanwhile, Brazil itself is experiencing its worst recession since the 1930s and after the Olympics, things are only expected to get (economically) worse.

Then there’s the massive street protest over the presidential impeachment and failure of the country’s public transportation. And the worst drought in living memory, which has left millions without water, or hydroelectric power. In addition, the multi-billion dollar Petrobras scandal toppled dozens of top politicians and implicated the country’s entire political process. While none of these are directly due to the Olympics, they’ve completely undermined Brazil’s ability to deal it.

Despite their critical cash flow problems, Brazil invested almost US$10 billion to renovate Rio. In less than four years, the city was bombarded with new buildings and roads. However, by last April, one of the new bike paths had already collapsed, killing several people.


General Fear
Crime is a major worry for arriving athletes and visitors. It was a month ago when Brazil’s emergency responders greeted arrivals with a banner that read ‘Welcome to Hell’, highlighting the fact that the police and firefighters were not getting paid – this in a city that had 3,100+ murders in 2015.

Just yesterday, the Rio Olympics’ private security firm was fired – it was supposed to hire over 3,000 staff, but only employed 500, most without background checks. Security will now be handled by the local police force – the same team that held the ‘Hell’ banner.

For this edition of the Olympic Games, scandals are joined by fear. Many athletes have already refused to participate due to Zika. Despite the Brazilian government’s assurances, multiple times, of the low possibility of getting sick, many golfers have already declared they’re out.


Dangers for Athletes
Now that the athletes have arrived, things aren’t much better. Recently, Jason Lee, a Kiwi jiu-jitsu athlete who was living in Rio for 10 months, was kidnapped. According to him, some people masquerading as policemen abducted him and forced him to withdraw money from an ATM. Last month, two members of the New Zealand paralympic team and several Chinese athletes were robbed, in addition to multiple claims of credit card fraud.

Meanwhile, athletes at the Athletes Village were forced to slum it; broken sinks, flooded rooms, some didn’t even have electricity or water. It’s Sochi all over again. It’s generally been criticised by (at least) the Chinese contingent as ‘the worst Olympics’ ever.

As the games draw closer, olympians competing in Rio’s contaminated waters (ie. rowers, sailors) have been advised not to ‘put their heads underwater’. Tests have found 1.73 billion adenoviruses per liter of water (or 1.7 million times the safe limit in the US), which doesn’t bode well for the 10 boat-based athletes from Singapore.

So, how will Rio fare during the course of the next 3 weeks? NYU professor and former NBA executive David Kahn told CNN, “This has been by far the saddest, most sorrowful runup to any Olympics we’ve had in modern time.”

Let’s hope that Tokyo 2020 won’t be the same fiasco.

by Marta Ciaraglia