When the International Olympic Committee rejected Chicago and two other finalists and awarded the 2016 Summer Games to Rio de Janeiro, there were tears in Daley Plaza and an early Carnaval in deliriously happy Brazil.
Nearly five years later, it’s fair to ask: Who was the real winner?
Rio’s plans for a vast amount of development to prepare for the big show in 2016 have fallen far behind schedule. There’s talk of an Olympic-size debacle.
The expected price tag for the Rio Games has jumped by at least 30 per cent from the original estimate. Workers seeking higher pay have taken advantage of the increasingly tight construction schedule to stage strikes and slowdowns. Brazil’s economy, which was hot when Rio’s bid won, has cooled as global investors have turned away from developing markets.
Concerns about Rio’s readiness that were glossed over when the decision was made are now creating alarm. Consider Rio’s grossly inadequate sewage system. The waters where 2016 sailing events will take place have nearly 200 times the faecal pollution that is permitted in U.S. waters. Note to organisers: Distribute hand sanitizer to the medalists on that podium.
An IOC official has called Brazil’s preparations the worst he has ever experienced, including the chaotic run-up to the 2004 Games in Athens. “We’ve become very concerned, to be quite frank,” said John Coates, vice president of the IOC, during a recent Olympic forum in Sydney. “They really are not ready in many, many ways.” IOC experts are joining the host city’s organising committee to ensure that the event can go on.
Yes, there was plenty of caterwauling about Russia’s readiness leading up to the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi and, yes, the Olympics came off there with relatively few hitches.
Trouble is, Brazil doesn’t have Russia’s petrodollars. Russia was able to draw on billions in oil and gas revenues. The timing was fortuitous: Russia’s energy bonanza is drying up now, partly because of international sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s post-Olympics intervention in Ukraine.
Russia also had a leader, Vladimir Putin, who was willing to pay practically any price to look good on the international stage. And who in Russia was going to challenge him?
Russia spent an estimated $US50 billion, four times the original estimate. That figure is squishy _ Russia hasn’t volunteered any actual budget numbers _ but it’s clear that the original cost estimates weren’t grounded in reality. Russia paid dearly.
Brazil will face a crucial test of its 2016 readiness when it hosts the 2014 World Cup Finals. The jury’s out on whether that big sporting event will prove to be too much for a country committed to the even bigger sporting event just two years from now.
This page supported Chicago’s bid. But by the time the IOC rejected Chicago, many Chicagoans had cooled on the whole idea. A Tribune poll shortly before the IOC’s 2009 decision in favour of Rio found that 47 per cent of Chicagoans supported the bid and 45 per cent opposed it. An overwhelming 84 per cent of residents disapproved of spending any tax money on the project.
We wish Brazil all good fortune. These Games will be the first hosted in South America. They are a chance to showcase a nation and a region that has come a long way.
We suspect, though, that many people around here will tune in to Rio 2016 for the swimming, diving and sprinting … and for the potential of a massive face plant.
(c)2014 Chicago Tribune
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