By Benjamin Gary Narzissenfeld
Every four years, the Summer Olympics become the focal point of the world’s attention. Naturally, we are drawn to watch the World’s greatest athletes gather together, put on their country’s colors, and compete in the name of national pride and friendly competition. Not only does a nation unite together in support of their Athletes, but also the world comes together to watch the games, putting aside differences to take in the shared passion of sports.
As the most important multi-sport event in the world, it is obviously an amazing honor for a City and its Country to have the opportunity to host the Olympics. Some of the top cities in the world, including Los Angeles and London, have used the opportunity to showcase why they’re considered among the world’s elite. Others, notably Seoul, Barcelona, Atlanta, Sydney, and Beijing, host cities for five out of the last seven Olympics, used their opportunities to host games routinely cited as among the best ever and having resulted in the cities attaining similar status to Los Angeles and London.
However, just as people talk about the games where everything seemingly went right, they also mention the ones that went wrong. The 1972 Munich Olympics, in which West Germany hoped to showcase a happy and democratic Germany, are marred by the murder of 11 Israeli Athletes and Coaches and a German police officer by Palestinians Terrorists. The 1976 Olympics in Montreal are widely reviled as a financial disaster and ultimately contributed to their loss in status as Canada’s economic and cultural center to Toronto. The 2004 Athens Olympics are currently being earmarked as a catalyst in the financial crisis that currently plagues Greece.
As you can see, the host city plays a strong factor in how we view the games. We immerse ourselves in the games, and the city that hosts the games plays a big role in our view of the games as being successful or not.
So on paper, Rio de Janeiro looks like a great city to host the games. With it picturesque beaches, beautiful people, and thriving nightlife, Rio de Janeiro serves as the Crown Jewel of Brazil, a country that is an emerging economic, cultural, and sporting powerhouse. Although in this case, we are getting many signals that now is not the right time to bring the games to Cidade Maravilhosa.
For starters, let us look at the troublesome state of affairs on the ground. While many beautiful pictures come to mind, so do a plethora of images that project a nastier view of the city. The Mountains that bore out the legends of Sugarloaf Mountain are dotted by Favelas, Brazilian Slums, like the world famous Rocinha, home to at least 70,000 Brazilians. Movies like “City of G-d” only begin to show what life is like in Favelas, where situations are admittedly much worse.
As a result of needing to build and prepare for the Olympics, families are continually being evicted by the government and forced to find shelter in the streets or in the already overcrowded and dangerously thrown together Favelas. In fact, just as we saw when When Brazil hosted the FIFA Confederations Cup and World Cup in 2013 and 2014 respectively, people started to take action and protested against the government, turning an already sketchy security situation into an out-of-control major issue.
Crime in Rio de Janeiro has similarly taken a turn for the worse, where robberies targeting tourists in broad daylight are now considered an everyday threat. If city officials have to routinely send the military into neighborhoods to restore the peace, how could they possibly be competent in preventing a large scale terrorist attacks that are ever so increasingly becoming an issue?
While we are focused on the issue of safety, let’s turn our attention toward the issue of water contamination and the current state of Brazil’s pollution problems. At this point, Brazil has almost no control of its pollution, with basically raw sewage flowing directly into the water source for the city, as well as the site of the watersports at the Olympics. Coaches are citing the venues as beyond horrid, with remarks like “This is by far the worst water quality we’ve ever seen in our sailing careers, I am quite sure if you swim in this water and it goes into your mouth or nose that quite a lot of bad things are coming inside your body.” More so, these concerns have been validated, as tests have shown extremely high levels of viruses and bacteria present in the water. Point blank, by letting our athletes compete in such conditions, we are putting their lives in danger.
Finally, we just need to look at the fact that Rio de Janeiro, and Brazil as a country, just might not be mature enough to host the Olympics. The acting governor has officially gone on the record as labeling the state of finances as “tragic.” As we saw with the world cup, in which Brazil already had infrastructure like select stadiums available and no worries as to preparing places for other teams to train, they still weren’t able to totally bring it all together. Stadiums that were supposed to be completed on a timeline were often hastily finished in the run up to the tournament. This time around reports are no different, with multiple venues still under construction, and at least one in the Velodrome still in its construction phase. The organizers have furthermore been taking extreme shortcuts, going so far as to ask that athletes pay for AC in the Athletes Village if they so desire it. Really? The city is going to volunteer to host a string of major international events and then have the audacity to ask the athletes to pay to keep themselves cool?
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that the Olympics are supposed to be a time when the world can come together and worry just about wearing your countries colors and take in the joy of watching athletics at its highest level. While there will be a day when Rio de Janeiro can properly take on the task of being the host city and introduce us to what makes Brazil so amazing and unique, all signs point to the fact that day won’t be this year. In this light, we ultimately need to save this Olympics legacy before it is written in stone.