For any host city in the final run-up to its Olympic Games, its Olympics Organizing Committee can best be compared to a behind-schedule train that is barreling down semi-finished tracks ever hopeful that its wobbly and overstuffed cars won’t get derailed along the route to the Opening Ceremonies destination.
With just over six months to go, the strapped and stressed Rio Committee train is not only careening down its own rickety track, but also contending with outside pressures threatening its progress. From the overbearing, long-standing Brazilian economy troubles down to the recent, life threatening Zika virus worries, these forces have pushed and pulled this lean convoy in all sorts of directions.
First, Brazil’s deplorable financial state is enduring a second year of a recession with a rising inflation rate and a declining currency value. As a result, planned funding to support not only the 2016 Summer Olympics, but also Rio de Janeiro’s infrastructure has plummeted – forcing the committee to cut back its own budget by 30 percent. These executives have trialed some cutbacks without success, such as recommending that air conditioners be struck from Olympic athletes’ rooms. While, in contrast, they have decided to set up tents instead of constructing buildings at venues for officials and judges to use.
Second, befitting a developing country like Brazil, the committee, in partnership with the city, has been rocked by the world of corruption. Allegations of bribery and kickbacks against several key contractors have delayed stadium and infrastructure completion schedules. Further, management has just terminated contracts with companies whose finalizing work at tennis and equestrian venues was lagging. Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes said, “We want to show that we are capable of doing things on time, that Brazil is not a country where everything ends up over budget, everything ends up late,” Paes said to the press.
Third, the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which is rapidly spreading throughout Brazil, and now into the Americas, has many of the projected 500,000 travelers revisiting their vacation plans, as well as female athletes reconsidering their medal dreams. Women who are planning pregnancy or are pregnant fear that, if infected by a bite, their child may suffer from microcephaly – a devastating medical condition that causes the brain and skull to be underdeveloped. Over 4000 Brazilian children are now suffering from mental and physical handicaps, or even facing an early death.
The specter of cancelling this train ride to the Rio Olympics has been raised, to which the harried committee spokesman Mario Andrada said to the Associated Press, “We’re not even thinking of that. No way. There is no reason to do that.”
Paes, who is considered to be a prime candidate for the Brazilian presidency, said it best. “We are literally making a miracle happen here.”