With the Olympic games fast approaching, Brazil is ill-prepared to host the games. But they have made a lot of progress, more than we all expected. But will it be enough?
Rio in a State of Emergency due to low oil prices/low revenues
Crime rates severely reduced: but still too high
Rumors of a truce with the drug lords
Terrorism threat is high: Former Guantanamo inmate missing. Rumored to be in Brazil
Waters still polluted. Risky for athletes
After declaring state of emergency last month, the acting governor of Rio de Janeiro, Mr. Francisco Dornelles, said that the State was facing a severe economic crisis and that he would not be able to comply with the government’s constitutional responsibilities. Together with many other state governments in Brazil, the harsh economic crisis affecting the country reduced the tax revenues in Rio de Janeiro. The state is also the biggest oil producer in the country, and the low international prices sunk the revenues coming from the royalties paid to the government to explore fields in the state. Although creating an initial uncertainty, the major state responsible for the Olympic organization is the municipality of Rio. Its mayor, Mr. Eduardo Paes, went public right after the decision of the State government to remind that almost all of the arenas and Olympic venues are ready for the game.
The state government is constitutionally responsible for the maintenance of security during the games, and the state of emergency was a way that the State found to pressure the federal government for additional transfers to guarantee the payment of police forces. Also, the federal government confirmed the deployment of federal forces to ensure the success of the games.
Crime has been an old acquaintance of the city of Rio de Janeiro. Part of the bid for hosting the Olympics back in 2007-2009 involved a plan to reduce violence and crime rates over the years to come, both to ensure the success of the Games and deliver a legacy to the city after the Olympics were over. The UPPs, Rio’s pacification policy, were intensified in the period of 2008-2012 and were successful in reducing crime rates in the the favelas (shantytowns) spread all over the city. The pacification also involved improvements in infrastructure and urbanization.
However, the recent slow down of the economy, together with higher inflation rates, a record high unemployment and the cut of government investments in urbanization, housing, education, health and infrastructure contributed to the deceleration of the pacification policy in Rio. The PAC program (acceleration of growth program, with many investments in infrastructure) had many initiatives on the favelas, but it was extinct after the government announced its austerity plan back in 2015. Recent violence reports in Rio, although less frequent than in the past, seem to be too high for a city ready to host the biggest international event this year.
Domestic politics seem to be settling down, with Temer taking power and everything calming down. The Zika virus fears have somewhat subsided, however the Zika virus has cost many athletes, as numerous golfers have pulled out of the games over fears of Zika, the latest being Dustin Johnson, the US Open champion. This marks 8 of the top golfers having withdrawn over the Zika virus. It makes sense that Golf would be the sport to withdraw, as they must spend hours outside waling every day, so their exposure risk is significantly higher than other sports.
A Truce With the Bad Guys?
Part of what granted Rio the honour to host the Olympic games was its experience with organizing big events. The city hosted the 2007 Pan-american Games, showing a good capacity both to deliver infrastructure of arenas and the Pan-american village and the security of the athletes and visitors. With higher crime rates back then, the city managed to go through the event without major incidents. Back then, some said that a truce was made between the drug lords and the government. Despite the rumours, both state and federal police forces acted to guarantee the success of the event.
Also, the recent 2014 World Cup confirmed the capacity of the city in dealing with these challenges. Hosting many matches and the final ceremony of the event, Rio showed once again its expertise on the field.
The Real Threat May Come from Outside
Olympics are more than just the country that hosts it. Its international visibility brings also threats of radical groups, which are being closely monitored by authorities and an international team responsible for the counter terrorism activities during the games (the same responsible for the safety of the 2012 London Games).
Over the last weeks, authorities have been following a former Guantanamo inmate that was granted asylum in Uruguay and disappeared after a Brazilian airline company issued a report saying that he is possibly on Brazilian soil after entering the country with a fake passport. Brazil has no history of terrorism threats or any major international history that would justify an attack, but as the 1972 Munich games showed, Olympics can be an effective way to deliver terrorist groups messages.
The Olympic Legacy
A temporary effort to guarantee the safety of the event in the weeks that the city will host the Olympic and Paralympic games is feasible and can be effective to assure the event without major incidents – such as seen in the Pan-american Games and the World Cup. The day after is the main problem, though. Still under an economic crisis and facing the challenge to deal with the aftermath of the event, the legacy of the games to the city can be lost after the closing ceremony takes place.
One of the major commitments of the government was to clean the waters of the Guanabara Bay and the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, venues that will be used by athletes in water sport competitions. Both venues remain polluted, not allowing citizens to enjoy this environmental legacy and threatening the health of athletes competing in these waters.
In terms of security, a deceleration of the pacification policy and the harsh reduction of investments and increase of unemployment due to the end of the Games may bring hard times for the Olympic city. Such as in Barcelona 1992, Rio went through one of the major urbanization transformations of its history. The “marvelous city”, as known by Brazilians, will have a much greater challenge when the Games leave the city in September heading to Tokyo: assure that a decade of investments and efforts gives way to a new Rio de Janeiro like it gave to Barcelona.