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.”
On top of that, unprecedented levels of corruption in the government-
Yoichi Masuzoe was in his first year of high school, and a competitive sprinter in the 100 meters, running it in 11 seconds. And he remembers watching the Tokyo Olympics on television. And like the uplifting spectacle of the wedding between Crown Prince Akihito and Princess Michiko in 1959, the Olympics raised the spirits of a nation, including the future governor of Tokyo.
On September 24, 2015, Governor Yoichi Masuzoe, gave a talk for the American Chamber of Commerce of Japan called “City for the Ages: The Magnetism of Tokyo in 2020 and Beyond.” I had never seen the Tokyo governor speak before, but he was definitely in full pitch mode, charming the packed room with the greatness of the food and drink in Japan, which almost everybody in the audience already had an appreciation for. It was the governor’s vision of Tokyo as a pedestrian and biker paradise that raised eyebrows and hopes.
He remembers the brightness of the Tokyo Games, but he also remembers the dust of the construction and the shadows created by the highways that started to snake through the city. He bemoaned what he called the “motorization” of Tokyo, how the smaller rivers were filled by rubble from the war, covered over by roads. As governor of Tokyo, what he pledged to the audience was a drive for the “de-motorization” of Tokyo. He said he would push for a significant increase in bicycle lanes, as well a plan like Boris Bikes in London. He said he would push for the elimination of the highways he believes blight the center of the city.
He said that the city of Tokyo today, with its highways, its loss of riverways, and its roads packed with cars, was due to an infatuation with money. Making money is important, he emphasized to the chamber of commerce members. But he emphasized that the pursuit of money should not come at the expense of time – time to enjoy a cup of coffee in a more pedestrian-friendly Shibuya, time to have a satisfying family life and a successful career, particularly for women, time to walk, bike and even boat around the safest, cleanest metropolis in the world.
It’s a lofty vision. It’s an Olympian vision. Will the Tokyo governor get us there? Visit us in 2020 and see for yourself!
“Athletes in next year’s Summer Olympics here will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.”
So starts this report from Associated Press released July 30. The pollution is Guanabara Bay has been an issue over several decades, impacted by the growth of Rio de Janeiro and the inability of the country to keep up with the waste management needs of the population. In short, Guanabara Bay has become the cesspool of the Brazilian capitol. The AP report continues: “Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where the majority of sewage is not treated. Raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites. As a result, Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.”
According to the report, athletes competing in canoeing, sailing, rowing, triathlon and open-water swimming are at risk. In this recent article from Nick Zaccardi of NBC OlympicTalk, US officials related to these sports are taking a realistic tone, stating that the safety of their athletes is the highest priority, that they are heavily encouraging the organizers to improve the conditions, and that they will follow the medical recommendations of experts.
“Athlete safety is always of the utmost importance to USA Triathlon, and we take this situation very seriously,” USA Triathlon CEO Rob Urbach said in a statement. “We are in direct conversation with our athletes and listening closely to any concerns. We will continue to work collaboratively with