We are only weeks away from lighting the torch and kicking off the anticipated 2016 Summer Olympics. When the games kick off in August, all eyes will turn to the host, Rio De Janeiro, Brazil for a multitude of reasons; due to the games of course, but also because the country is currently facing a myriad of crises, including corruption, an economic downfall and a public health emergency.
When Brazil bid on the opportunity to host the games, the country was excited and optimistic about their future. Six years ago, Brazil’s economy was flourishing. An oil discovery promised a bright future and political unrest seemed a thing of the past. The country was excited, and the rest of the world seemed to share that excitement, granting Rio the 2016 Olympic Games.
Currently facing their worst economic crises in decades, the country is also facing the colossal responsibility of preparing for a worldwide sporting event.
Topping a list that includes economic unrest and widespread protests is the recent loss of their president, Dilma Rousseff, who was forced to step down amid allegations of corruption, allegations that don’t stop at the president; those being investigated include state-controlled energy company Petrobras, high-ranking members of the governing Workers’ Party and the president of the Senate and Rio de Janeiro’s governor.
The investigation also includes major construction companies, some of which hold contracts for Olympic structures. Some athletes are scared to compete in a country facing an outbreak of the Zika virus, or swim in waters teeming with sewage, and the rest of the world is questioning what exactly they will see when the cameras whir to life in August.
Those faced with the responsibility of covering the event are also unsure of what they will face when they land in Brazil. Joe Rexrode, sports columnist for the Nashville Tennessean, covered the London Games in 2012 but says this time is very different.
“Then, we were just looking forward to the sports and being in London. This is a daily, ‘waiting for the anvil to drop on your head’ feeling.”
Joe says he’s taken part in a lot of discussions regarding safety, water concerns, Zika and more. They were urged to keep their computers clear of data in case they were stolen and were told not to show their cell phones when walking around.
“You hear that and you’re just like, ‘Wow, what are these 3 weeks going to be like?’”
While the hope is that a mega event like the Olympics will boost the economy and contribute to economic growth (the country will be receiving investments from both the public and private sector), looking back on past events and at other countries tells us that this may be an overly optimistic outlook.
It’s true that temporary jobs in manual labor will help the rising unemployment rate and the investments will assist with growth, but a case study from the Seven Pillar Institute shows that investments given to Olympic hosts tend to only benefit the wealthy and much of the profits made go right back to the investors. Sadly, the new construction and service jobs will disappear when the Olympic Rings find another home and the torch is extinguished.
Previous hosts like Barcelona and Los Angeles both found the games to be profitable and saw an economic boost, however, it doesn’t work that way for all hosts. Spending billions of dollars to host a one-time event is not a solid, long-term growth strategy. Some hosts, including Greece and Montreal, have even ended up in debt. Athens and Sydney, for example, spent one-fourth of their budget deficit on infrastructure for the games, facilities that now sit empty.
Despite the turmoil, officials out of the country are assuring the public that everything will be ready in time. The World Health Organization is insisting the Zika virus is not a large enough threat to justify a move and the structures are almost 100 percent complete.
Others are hopeful that the jobs being offered during the lead-up to the event will have a positive effect. Back in 2015 it was announced on the Rio 2016 website that a partnership with ManpowerGroup would see 5,000 positions filled and 85,000 jobs contracted out. While many of those jobs are temporary, the hope is that the recruitment drive will provide a range of new skills for the workforce, leaving behind a legacy rather than just jobs.
In a press release on the Rio 2016 website, Rio 2016 human resources director Henrique Gonzalez was quoted as saying, “We are not only offering jobs, but a chance to grow and have a unique life experience…Few people have the chance to work on a project surrounded by the Olympic and Paralympic values, which promote teamwork, sport, education, health, integrity and peace between nations.”
Jobs are just one aspect of the Olympics those in Brazil hope will hang around when the cameras are off. While it’s true that many of the buildings built in preparation for the event do stand empty when the stands have cleared, Barra da Tijuc, the athlete’s village, is becoming one of the most sought-after residential areas in the city. According to an article in The Guardian, the majority of the 3,604 apartments have already been sold.
Looking past the pitfalls to the event itself seems to be what gives both residents, spectators and those involved in the event, hope. It’s what kept Rexrode and his team, even though they were given the opportunity, from backing out of taking the trip.
“It’s a privilege to be included in something like this,” he says. “Part of the story is what’s going on around the games and it’s our responsibility to cover it.” He is cautiously optimistic about the outcome. “I think the right measures are being taken. I think it will happen and it will be better than people fear right now.”