There is always a panic about the state of affairs in the host city in the lead-up to the Olympics, but usually, fears start to abet closer to the Games.
In Rio, however, things are only getting worse. With only a month to go before the Opening Ceremony on August 5, an official state of emergency has been declared.
Vanessa Barber of the New York Times dubbed the Games an “unnatural disaster,” which might sound like an exaggeration, except that when acting state governor Francisco Dornelles announced a “state of public calamity” in Rio, he said that the crisis might lead to a “total collapse in public security, health, education, mobility, and environmental management.”
Less Than Six Months Out, The Rio Olympics Are A Mess
By officially declaring a state of emergency, the city is now able to receive emergency funding from the federal government, but only time will tell whether it’s all too little, too late.
Five months ago, the biggest concerns headed into the Games were the Zika virus, polluted waters, and unfinished venues. Now, not only have those problems not been solved, a host of other issues — such as a super bacteria, unpaid police officers, and a closed anti-doping facility — have been added into the mix.
Additionally, President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in May and thousands of families have lost their homes due to Olympic construction.
So as athletes spend the coming weeks trying to book their ticket to the Games and doing their last-minute training regimens, it’s important to take a closer look at the city that awaits them when they arrive.
Police Aren’t Getting Paid
Last week, athletes, tourists, and Rio residents were greeted at the Rio airport with a sign that read, “Welcome to Hell. Police and firefighters don’t get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe.”
That’s not exactly a message that inspires confidence.
Bailout money — approximately $850 million worth — is coming as a result of the state’s emergency status, and back pay will reportedly be distributed to the emergency personnel this week. But some officers are not optimistic that they will receive the support they need to keep up with the increase in tourists for the Games and the rising crime rates in the favelas, the Brazilian slums located in urban areas.
“We have a very common saying here in Brazil — ‘For the English to see,'” one officer in Rio told CNN. “I believe that the politicians here are doing everything for the English to see.”
Increased Crime Rates
Perhaps related to the lack of funds available, there have been numerous high-profile crime incidents in Rio in recent weeks.
Among those, an Australian Paralympic athlete was mugged at gun point; a German broadcasting truck filled with equipment was hijacked; mutilated body parts washed up on a beach near the Olympic volleyball venue; and there was a shootout to free a drug kingpin at the hospital that will service many of the tourists during the Games.
Safety should be a concern to everyone heading to Rio — according to Barber, 76 people have been hit by stray bullets in Rio so far this year, and 21 of them have died. Brazil is also facing an “epidemic” of anti-LGBT violence.
“[Violent crime] is the most serious issue in Rio and the state is doing a terrible, horrible job,”controversial Rio mayor Eduardo Paes told CNN. “It’s completely failing at its work of policing and taking care of people.”
However, Paes said that 85,000 officers from outside police forces, including the army and navy, will arrive in Rio in late July to work at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Of course, the answer to an increase in crime is never as simple as “more policemen,” especially considering the history of police brutality in Rio. According to Amnesty International, there has been a 135 percent increase in the number of people killed by police officers in Rio in the run-up to the Games. In May, 40 people were killed by on-duty police officers. Last May, the number of fatalities was only 17.
Police Brutality Has Surged In Brazil. It’s About To Get Even Worse.
“The soaring death count ahead of this major sporting event represents an epic failure on the part of the authorities to protect the most fundamental human right — the right to life,” said Atila Roque, Executive Director of Amnesty International’s national office in Brazil.
“It is completely unacceptable that these numbers are increasing despite all the warnings and complaints of Rio inhabitants of the excessive use of force by police. The authorities must act immediately to rein in the worst excesses of the security forces, stem the cycle of violence, and ensure the right to life is assured.”
Most of the people impacted by police violence are young, black men from very poor communities in Rio, particularly the favelas.
The ‘Super Bacteria’
The pollution in Rio’s waterways has been a concern ever since an AP investigation last year found that Olympic athletes would be swimming and boating in waters that were up to 1.7 million times more hazardous than waters on a Southern California beach.
Now, mere weeks before the competitions begin, CNN reports that Brazilian scientists have discovered a “drug-resistant bacteria” that entered the city’s waterways “when sewage coming from local hospitals got channeled into the bay.”
“We are making this alert because, if athletes get infected there is a chance this bacteria is multi-resistant and the physicians should know about this,” lead researcher Renata Picao told CNN. However, Picao did not recommend moving the Games.
There has also been a recent oil slick in the Guanabara Bay, the sailing venue for the Games, which is turning white boats brown.
“The boats were completely brown,” Spanish sailor Jordi Xammar told the AP. “But the worst thing was we saw a lot of dead fish.”
With all of the above controversies, the Zika virus has become somewhat of an afterthought. However, it is still something that is of great concern for athletes, tourists, and, most crucially, residents of Brazil.
In May, a professor warned in the Harvard Public Health Review that it was “socially irresponsible” for the Olympics to continue, and that because an estimated 500,000 people will come into Rio for the Games and there is still so much unknown about the Zika virus, the games could lead to a “foreseeable global catastrophe.”
Doctor Warns That Rio Olympics Could Lead To A ‘Global Catastrophe’
The mosquito-borne virus is particularly a concern for women who are pregnant or who are planning on becoming pregnant, but men who are planning families have also been instructed to be careful, since the disease can be transmitted sexually. Recently, MLB pitcher Francisco Rodriguez recounted his two-month battle with Zika, and described how much it zapped his energy and impacted his quality of life.
A few notable athletes, including seven male pro golfers, have withdrawn from the Games in partbecause of Zika.
While the World Health Organization (WHO) insists that as long as precautions are taken, such as mosquito repellent, athletes and tourists should feel confident going to Rio for the Games — with the exception of pregnant women. August is a part of Rio’s winter, so conditions are expected to be less hospitable to mosquitoes during the Olympics anyways.
But unfortunately, fear over the disease is still a factor for many — and it doesn’t help that so many of Rio’s hospitals have been shut down due to the financial crisis.
No Anti-Doping Lab
To top things off, the Rio anti-doping lab was shut down late last month.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) closed the lab down because of its “nonconformity” to international standards. The lab previously lost its accreditation in 2013 and spent $60 million to get re-certified. Many of those funds came from the government, despite the massive recession in Brazil.
According to the AP, the director of the laboratory, Marco Aurelio Klein, was fired after WADA closed the lab, and the new director, Rogerio Sampaio, is scheduled to meet with WADA in the upcoming weeks to try and get the lab reopened in time. However, in the likely case that Sampaio is not successful and the lab remains closed for the Games, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will have to choose a lab outside of Brazil to test the blood and urine samples collected at the Games. Currently, the IOC is considering labs in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Bogota, Havana, and Mexico City.
“The Agency will ensure that, for the time being, samples that would have been intended for the Laboratory, will be transported securely, promptly and with a demonstrable chain of custody to another WADA-accredited laboratory worldwide,” Olivier Niggli, WADA’s incoming director general, said. “This will ensure that there are no gaps in the anti-doping sample analysis procedures; and that, the integrity of the samples is fully maintained.”
But with the torch scheduled to be lit in just four weeks, nothing is certain.