Every Olympic Games host country has its own unique challenges to overcome when readying themselves for the main event. Few, however, have had a health crisis quite on the level that is now facing the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro with concerns about the Zika virus, among other things, topping most of the headlines. At the heart of these issues is the heavily polluted nature of the water, which is full of sewage and other filth. And now it appears that they are flat out giving up on even attempting to meet their promise to clean it up.
When awarded the Olympics by the International Olympics Committee, officials in Rio promised to reduce the amount of pollution in the water by 80 percent. That goal has proven to be a bit lofty, and the water still reeks of the garbage that fills it. The city is still planning to have safe areas cleaned up enough for use by the athletes competing in the events, but nobody is holding their breath. Well, except those downwind of the city, of course.
The cleanup hasn’t been the only issue Rio has faced ahead of the games either. The nation is undergoing an economic recession and inflation has run unchecked in the nation, which have, in turn, syphoned money away from the budget for the Olympics. This has led many to question whether or not Brazil has either the will or the capability of hosting the games, though it’s far too late to move to another location.
Rio is far from the first city to face such issues. The 2008 Olympics in Beijing were plagued by criticism of the city’s smog problem, and the 2000 Sydney Olympics were marred by similar water quality issues, though not as severe as those in Rio.
As for the 2016 games, many athletes are preparing themselves for a dip in the filthy water, and many are even considering not attending. Kenya may pull out entirely for fear of the Zika virus. Others feel that the risk of illness is low enough, Zika notwithstanding, that they are willing to take the chance.
“From everything I understand, the worst that can happen with the race is that a couple of days later, I might get a little sick,” said American athlete Sarah True. “In the very large scheme of things, that’s a risk I’m willing to take. I’m far more concerned for the people who live there, who were made these grand promises to improve their environment.
Which brings us to the final point: Even if the Olympics were not to be hosted there, shouldn’t the country do its level best to ensure the safety and health of its citizens? Polluted water is hardly an issue contained to Brazil, and there are hundreds of millions of people worldwide who live in areas where the water and air are dangerously contaminated, to say nothing of the environmental impact beyond humans.
Hopefully the situation in Rio will be resolved to the point where its citizens as well as the visitors coming for the games will at least be at a low risk of developing any serious illness. But it can also serve as an example and a lesson for the rest of the world to take better care of our environment.