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Neighbors Growing Together | Jan 23, 2018

Why Rio de Janeiro?

Jul 15, 2016

Summer is going to really heat up, figuratively speaking, the next three weeks. No, I’m not talking about temperature although it is July and the Henry County Fair is underway, so temperatures, naturally, will rise.

The summer heat I’m referring to are happenings over the next three weeks. First, the GOP National Convention is next week; the Democratic National Convention is the following week; and if you are sick of politics (which may be a safe bet), the Summer Olympics begin Aug. 5, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The Olympic Games — both summer and winter — rank high on my list of sporting activities. I enjoy watching most of the world’s best athletes compete in their specialties. And then there is the feeling of American pride that surfaces every time you see an American on the top rung of the awards stand with The Star Spangled Banner playing in the background.

This year, I have some concerns, a concern larger than whether the men’s basketball team will repeat as a gold medalist (unlike past Olympics, the team will have its hands full). My primary concern is why did the Olympic committee award the 2016 summer venue to Rio de Janeiro?

Although the committee did not know there would be an outbreak of the Zika virus, which is running rampant in Brazil (and has caused the top four men’s pro golfers and a number of other athletes to pass on Rio), that is only one of many potential problems the Olympics will have to contend with.

The others — primarily whether venues will be completed, gangs, traffic problems and water pollution — are much greater.

Recently, I read that U.S. track athletes would be housed 45-60 minutes away from their training site and the stadium. Wow, that’s a long haul and the driving time listed is without any traffic snarls.

Another story related that there are only a few signs in Rio that the Olympics is beginning soon. Promises that hosting the Games would remake even the city’s most ramshackle neighborhoods have been eclipsed by a myriad of problems, such as security threats and soaring violence, slow ticket sales and the water pollution at sites reserved for sailing, rowing and distance swimming.

That all adds up to an ominous preview of things to come in August.

Rio has installed new high-speed buses and a light-rail system to serve downtown. However, the $3 billion subway line extension to connect the beach volleyball site and the Olympic Park remains a work in progress and there is doubt the subway line will be running when the Games open.

In a poll published recently in Rio’s main newspaper, 49 percent of the residents said they were in favor of the Games — not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Wolfgang Maennig, an Olympic gold-medal rower who studies the economics of the games at Hamburg University in Germany, said in a published report that the Olympics usually produces a “feel-good factor” when they get going. But he was unsure about Rio.

“For 17 days, it’s normally a honeymoon,” Maennig said. “But you never know what will happen in the case of Rio. I’m not sure it will be a typical Brazilian Samba or Carnival atmosphere, but I’m sure it will be better than normal, or better than now.”

Ticket sales are slow, although Games officials expect up to 500,000 foreign visitors at the Olympics.

Most of the visitors won’t see the real Rio, where the poor are being pummeled by Brazil’s worst recession since the 1930s, soaring crime and unemployment topping 10 percent.

Oliver Stuenkel, who teaches international relations at a Brazilian university, told the Associated Press that the Olympics could show Brazil in a positive light but prefaced his remarks with a capital IF.

“If it’s not a catastrophe, the Olympics could provide Brazil with greater legitimacy,” Stuenkel said. “You bring in a lot of people from around the world. You have heads of state coming in. It puts you on the map, and if you’re doing well, it could have a tremendously positive impact. But it will require a lot to compensate for the negative press that is inevitably going to be out before, during and after the Olympics.”

Stuenkel said most people he talks to are not against the Olympics but indifferent to the event and very skeptical that it will have any tangible effect on Brazil beyond simply short-term visibility.

I hope I am wrong about the Rio Olympics, but I just can’t escape this feeling that it will not be an Olympics to remember for achievements but for negative things.

 

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