Rio Olympics will be a feast for the eyes – but a nightmare for the nose
Organisers of Games have failed to abide by their promise to clean up the city’s raw sewage problem
Barra da Tijuca in Rio, where the Olympics will be held. Photograph: Dado Galdieri/Bloomberg
As any recent visitor to Rio de Janeiro will have noticed, the city hosting this summer’s first Olympic Games in South America currently resembles one big building site.
Despite being awarded the right to host the event more than seven years ago, Brazil has held true to its traditions and is leaving much of the preparation for another sporting megaevent to the last minute. This means that many Olympic venues remain to be fully tested, and key transport infrastructure will only just be ready for the arrival of the Olympic torch at Maracanã Stadium, on August 5th.
But the world’s media has so far shown little interest in this race to be ready, perhaps a little gun shy after its World Cup experience. The build-up to the 2014 soccer tournament saw several years of stories about Brazil’s inability to prepare adequately; the only thing that ran according to schedule was the fleecing of the public purse by football authorities in connivance with the country’s government.
Since Germany lifted the trophy, many of the public works planned remain only half-built or have been scrapped. But the fears that planning incompetence would disrupt the tournament itself proved unfounded.
On television it looked pretty spectacular, which is pretty much all the few billion armchair sport fans care about, and the media has little heart for another round of will-they-or-won’t-they-be-ready stories.
That is probably understandable given Brazil’s recent demonstration that it does last minute (and over budget) pretty well. Also, the leadership of the Brazil
Olympic Committee, charged with delivering the Games, are a more capable and responsible calibre of administrator than those from the Brazilian Football Confederation, some of whom are in jail awaiting trial on corruption charges following investigations by prosecutors in the US and Switzerland.
Some shadows are hanging over the Olympic build-up – there is the perennial issue of drug cheats, plus worries about the cost of accommodation for visitors – but, reluctant to rehash the infrastructure issue, the media has focused instead on the quality of Rio’s water.
As visitors soon learn, poor sanitation means that the city often stinks of its own human waste. The original bid to host the Olympics promised to clean up the problem as one of the event’s principal legacies. That has failed to happen, and raw sewage remains an issue at the sailing, rowing and canoeing venues. Several athletes in town to train at these have fallen ill. Prepare to read more stories about faecal bacteria in the run-up to the opening ceremony.
The country’s political and economic crises are another issue. It is uncertain whether the president, Dilma Rousseff, will be around to welcome the world to town come summer, as she now faces efforts to impeach her.
She could be gone by August, but the country’s rapidly shrinking economy is unlikely to have pulled out of its tailspin by then. This has forced organisers to try to cut about 30 per cent – almost €500 million – from the event’s operating budget.
At one stage they even floated the idea of charging athletes staying in the Olympic Village for the use of air conditioning. As these summer Games are actually taking place during the southern hemisphere’s winter, it should not be too uncomfortably hot.
But the proposal was dumped, and now officials say they’ll make savings in a way that will be imperceptible to competitors and spectators alike.
That should leave athletes and fans free to enjoy what is great about the Marvellous City. Eat your heart out, Sydney: Rio will be providing the most spectacular Olympic backdrop yet. It will be up to the competitors to provide us with sporting drama worthy of the theatrical setting.
There will be more disciplines and medals than ever, including two returning sports close to Irish hearts. After a 92-year absence, rugby will grace the Games once again, although in its Sevens as opposed to XV format.
Both the Ireland women’s and men’s teams are still in with a chance of qualifying, although both face the daunting task of winning a 16-team final qualification tournament in June to grab the final berths available.
After an even longer absence – 112 years – golf is also back. That means a serious Irish gold-medal hope in Rory McIlroy, who will share some of the burden of green expectations with Katie Taylor, whose boxing gold in London salvaged Team Ireland’s otherwise underwhelming showing at that tournament.
Another nation hoping to improve its medal haul this summer is Brazil itself, a perennial Olympic underperformer considering its huge population. The country is targeting its first top 10 finish in the medal table.
But there’s no need to worry if it fails. As the World Cup showed, Brazilian success on the field is not a prerequisite for its ability to host a wonderful party.