Photo: Kymri Wilt/miraterraimages.com
It’s that time again. That time where people of all nations gather together with family and prepare to unleash all of the pride and nationalism that their hearts possess as they watch, eyes glued to the television, the finest athletes of their nation go for the gold. That time where complete strangers bond over the triumph of their beloved 400 meter sprinter as the whole stadium stares in awe. A tradition unlike any other, nothing should get in the way of the event’s smooth operation. But this year, due to a host of problems in Brazil, operation of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in the capital of Rio De Janeiro could be quite rough. The question that needs to be answered is: is it not only feasible, but also safe to proceed with the 2016 games on the regular schedule?
To begin we need to look at the current political climate in Brazil, it is cloudy at best. Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party has been removed from office in the wake of impeachment proceedings over her alleged manipulation of government accounts, which she has denied. This together with another scandal which involved trading funds for political influence with oil companies, dubbed Operation Car Wash, has put the Workers’ Party under fire and has created further partisan division in the multiparty state. Supporters of the party point to Rousseff’s accomplishments in the areas of inequality and poverty and debate the legitimacy of the allegations against her while opponents point to economic downturn and widespread corruption as a telltale sign that it’s time for a new party to come to power. The current political tension is a factor that, while unlikely to derail the games, could make for an inefficiently run and possibly unsafe environment.
Brazil’s current economic state could also have a serious impact on the games. Brazil is in the midst of its worst economic recession in over 30 years. Last year, the Gross Domestic Product decreased by 3.8%, the economy’s worst performance since 1981. Inflation has surpassed 10% and the unemployment rate is currently at 9% and likely to increase. All told, the Brazilian government can’t truly afford to host the games like it thought it could in 2009 when Rio di Janeiro was selected and the economy was booming. The games mean cutbacks in Olympic financing, like that used for unpaid stipends for athletes that depend on them for transportation, and government programs as well. Worst of all, Olympic spending is cutting into health care services, meaning some people in dire need of assistance are being turned away at hospitals. But to relocate the games would mean that all of this spending would be for not. Most of the damage has been done so it is questionable to use this as a motive for postponing the games.
A larger problem occurs in the rise of a new disease in Brazil; enter the Zika virus. First discovered in the Zika Forest in Uganda in 1947, it is spread primarily by mosquitoes but also by blood to blood contact. The disease is characterized by very light rashes, fever, pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes) and is often unnoticed or mistaken for a seasonal bug or other small virus. It rarely becomes serious and death is very uncommon. What makes Zika so terrifying though is not its regular symptoms, but its effects on the developing fetuses of pregnant women. Contraction of Zika by pregnant women has recently been linked to the development of serious or fatal birth defects including microcephaly, a fetus born with an abnormally small head. Zika has had a presence in Africa and Southeast Asia for many years but never emerged within the Western hemisphere. That changed when a breakout occurred this year in Brazil. There have been over 100,000 registered cases since April and 40,000 of these have been in the southeast area, where Rio is located. Around 5,000 cases of microcephaly have been confirmed or suspected to be caused by Zika.
What does this mean in terms of the games? Well that is a highly debatable topic. Over 200 scientists from around the globe have written a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) advising that the games be postponed or moved due to the risk that the increased travel poses on accelerating the spread of the disease. The WHO has rejected this request for the time being explaining that this would not pose a significant health risk. The CDC has calculated that the Olympics will represent 0.25% of the total travel between the U.S. and countries where Zika is present. New research has predicted that around 15 Olympic spectators will contract the disease. However, it must be remembered that the decision whether or not to postpone or relocate the games should be based on the combination of factors. Co-author of the letter Lee Igel voiced his objection to the WHO’s current statement based on this logic in an email to CNN, “If you think that a mega-sports event in the midst of a major virus outbreak in a host city dealing with a turbulent economy, sitting on top of a turbulent political situation, sitting on top of a turbulent social condition, doesn't pose a significant public health issue, then, sure, 'On with Games.’”
Perhaps we may look to previous events to predict the success of the 2016 Olympic Games. While Brazil exited the 2014 FIFA World Cup in embarrassing fashion, losing to rival nation Argentina, they proved to be a great host for the massive, international event. However, all of the developments mentioned above have occurred or intensified since the World Cup. Only time will tell what decision will be made and whether or not it will be the right one.