Brazil’s Olympian Challenge: Everything

sisyphus
Sisyphus

We’re only 8 months away from the launch of Olympiad XXXI. Olympic infrastructure plans are generally on time. Brazilians are generally excited. But the economy is taking a distinct dive.

Unemployment at nearly 10%, despite all of the Olympic-related construction, is the highest it has been in six years, when Rio was awarded the Olympics. Inflation is around 10%. The real has devalued by a third. Brazil’s credit rating dropped to “junk” status in September. And while international athletes will be flowing into Brazil next year, international investment has been flowing out of Brazil. This, as well as the plummeting price of oil in this petro-economy, have contributed heavily to the shrinking of the Brazilian economy again this quarter, the ninth quarter in a row.

The once booming member of the so-called BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China) is experiencing one of its worst economic crises in a while. How is this impacting the upcoming Olympics? There was a brief social media uproar when Rio Olympic officials announced the need to cut 30% of their budget, including air conditioning in the rooms of the Olympic Village, a decision that was quickly reversed after athletes balked.

It’s unclear what those cuts will impact, but big issues continue to concern…issues that will cost the country not only in expense but also in emotional well-being.

In addition to security in the areas of the Olympic activities, security along Brazil’s massive borders is a “big concern”, as a government auditor revealed “flaws” in the plans to control the 17,000 kilometer border that runs through remotes part of the Amazon and touches 10 other countries in Latin America.

The Associated Press has continued to test the waters planned for Olympic events and have found that “high viral and in some cases bacterial counts are found not just along shorelines where raw sewage runs in, but far offshore where athletes will compete in sailing, rowing and canoeing.” According to this AP article, Rio won the Olympic bid with a promise to clean up the city’s waterways, but “Brazilian officials now acknowledge that won’t happen.”

Garbage on the shore of Guanabara Bay_1June 2015
Guanabara Bay

 

On top of that, unprecedented levels of corruption in the government-owned oil enterprise, Petrobras, and the launch of impeachment proceedings of the president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, for misleading the country on the state of its finances by covering up negative numbers in order to win re-election have been adding to a deepening malaise of the Brazilian psyche.

The Olympics will come and go. Brazilians are there for the long haul. They will persevere. But they have an Olympian challenge ahead.

They’re probably feeling more like Sisyphus than Atlas.

Dilma Rousseff
Dilma Rousseff. Photo: Reuters