This summer will usher in athletic feats, grit, and glory under the five colored rings, which means it is time to tune the TV to the Summer Olympics. Opening ceremonies in Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro promise the appropriate pomp and circumstance as the torch is handed off one final time and will light the start of the Olympic Games set for August 5–21, 2016. (The Paralympic Games will proceed September 7–18, 2016.)
Rio made history by earning the title of the first South American city to host the Summer Olympics; only one other Latin American city, Mexico City in 1968, has hosted the event prior. Of course, we all heard about Rio when they hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but the Olympics is a whole different animal. Over 10,500 athletes will descend on the city representing 206 National Olympic Committees (including first-timers South Sudan and Kosovo). The athletes will compete in 28 different sports for 306 sets of medals.
Rio may be revved up (and has been since winning the bid in 2009), but it may not be ready to go. The city and its 33 venues, plus five others in neighboring cities, has faced plenty of critique and concerns about safety for the upcoming games.
If you’re lucky enough to get tickets to the big event, it’s sure to be a spectacle, but there are also a some issues to acknowledge before booking your plane ticket.
Don’t Dive In
For the 1,400 athletes expected to come in contact with competition waters; from Rodrigo de Freitas Lake where canoe-ers and rowers will be competing to Copacabana Beach where swimmers will stroke, and Guanabara Bay where sailors and windsurfers will be getting the gold, these bodies of water are filled with extremely high levels of bacteria and viruses. The AP conducted a study that found exceptional amounts of filth and pathogens in the Rio waterways; the round of tests showed viruses linked directly to human sewage at a rate of 1.7 million times the acceptable levels in Europe or the U.S. Why? Because only 34 percent of Rio’s human sewage is treated effectively while the rest runs untreated into the waters. Some commentators have equated the water quality to “raw sewage.”
There is also visible floating debris. Between 80 and 100 tons of trash get washed into Guanabara Bay daily. This pollution can lead to an increased likelihood of illness of which some athletes practicing in Rio have already fallen privy to, with symptoms of fever, diarrhea, flesh-eating bacteria, and vomiting.
When the Brazil’s officials were bidding on the games, they claimed they would spend more than $4 billion to ensure the sanitation infrastructure was sufficient and would “regenerate Rio’s magnificent waterways.” But now, Rio de Janeiro State Environmental Secretary André Corrêa publically stated that the government would fail in cleaning the Bay by 80 percent (the goal) before the games.
Since spectators are likely not going to be allowed to cannonball into the lake there is less of a threat than that of the athletes. However the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests all international persons entering Rio get vaccinated against hepatitis A, and while you’re at it get vaccinated for typhoid.
Crime on High Alert
With any large international — let alone national — event there are bound to be security issues. Brazil may be even more of a hotbed for potential illegality due to its current level of crime. Recent data show there are approximately 52,000 murders in the country and the city of Rio accounts for a fair share of those, (18.6 per 100,000). However, it’s far from the most violent cities in the north.
47,500 security employees will be contracted to work the games and the city has put in place plans for combating terrorist attacks. There’s still a good chance that street crime by groups of young thieves will be rampant. So, when traveling to Rio for the Olympics take basic safety precautions: Don’t carry anything you don’t need, carry a decoy wallet with a cancelled credit card, and don’t look like a tourist.
The fear of the Zika Virus — spread mainly through the bites of infected Aedes mosquitoes — is another potential problem for the 2016 Summer Games. In Brazil specifically, the virus has been linked to microcephaly, brain damage and unusual small head size in newborns. And, it’s a virus that can’t be sequestered or easily controlled. According to the World Health Organization, four million people could contract the virus by the end of 2016.
While both tourists and athletes traveling to Brazil are at risk for contracting the virus, Mario Andrada, communications director for Brazil’s Olympic Committee, asserted that mosquitoes tend to be scarce in August, which is winter in Brazil. Be wise, especially if traveling while pregnant or at the chance of becoming pregnant, and follow the CDC’s prevention steps for Zika.
Public Transportation at the End of the Line
When traveling in Rio for the Olympics you’ll likely plan on taking public transportation to avoid the inevitable congestion in the city. Organizers planned for this by extending a subway line by approximately 10 miles to carry an estimated 300,000 people to the western suburb Olympic Park destination in Barra da Tijuca. Total project costs will add up to $4.25 billion and the metro line, otherwise known as Linha 4, is supposed to be completed July 1 leaving little buffer (a month before opening games) for unexpected delays. If the extension is not complete in time, the Brazil 2016 Olympic Organizing Committee has a contingency plan that involves packing the street with busses. Without the successful, safe completion of the subway line the Olympic seats could be empty and spectators could be stuck in traffic.
As the date approaches, organizers need to cut $500 million in costs to balance the $1.85 billion budget. Why? When Rio was awarded the Summer Olympics in 2009, the economy was at a high point. In comparison, Brazil is now in a great recession. Unemployment is high and interest rates have skyrocketed while the value of Brazil’s currency has fallen to almost 50 percent of the U.S. dollar. Political scandal is also thrown into the mix of detractors from hosting success. Brazil’s President, Dilma Rousseff, is faced with impeachment after being caught in a scandal of bribery involving billions and the oil company Petrobras.
So what do these budget cuts mean? Thousands of spectator seats at venues (specifically swimming and rowing) have been cut from construction. There was also a plan in motion to remove air conditioning from the athletes’ living quarters, but that was declined and TVs were cut instead.
By the time the Olympics actually start, a number of other concessions could be made, cutting into the overall experience — it will still be “magic” (as organizers say) but maybe with just a few more cuts into the overall spell.
And the Winner Is
If you do get the opportunity to see the Summer Olympics in Rio, remember how lucky you are to see such a spectacle. Brazil is a gorgeous country, explosive with rich culture. Here are a few things to remember when traveling:
- The Summer Olympics are being held during the “winter” months which makes it an excellent time to visit! Expect comfortable temperatures (average is 75 Deg. F/25 Deg. C) and little rainfall.
- Where to stay in Rio depends heavily on what vibe you’re looking for. Check out these neighborhoods when booking a hotel or AirBNB: Leblon (the Manhattan of Rio; more expensive, most affluent, safer near Ipanema’s beach scene), Copacabana (most famous ‘hood, vibrant with bars, restaurants, hotels), Lapa (more recently restored/developed, what it lacks in luxury it makes up in nightlife party, potential), Ipanema (touristy, essentially similar to Leblon, hot surf spot), Botafogo (middle-class area, has its own beach, centrally located), Santa Teresa (located up in the hills, more tranquil than other neighborhoods, cabs are sparse, cool colonial houses).
- Make an effort to learn and speak the basics in Portuguese. The locals, AKA Cariocas, will appreciate it.
- When you’re not watching the Games put these sites on your list: Christ the Redeemer (infamous, towering statue of Jesus atop Corcovado, tickets must be bought in advance), Parque Catacumba (sculpture garden and park that offers a steep, short trail to the Mirante do Sacopã lookout), Museu de Arte do Rio (opened in 2013, 3,000 piece permanent collection), Historical Museum of the Army and Copacabana Fort (premiere defense fort built in 1914 and multi-floor museum explaining early days of the Portuguese colony to the mid-19th century), Sugarloaf cable car (ride in 65-person cable cars and high altitudes from Praia Vermelha (Red Beach) to Morro da Urca (Urca Hill) and then on to Sugarloaf Mountain).
However, be aware of the problems plaguing this year’s Games and plan accordingly in order to be there when the historic athletic feats are made!