NOTHSTINE: Expense, possible disaster loom over Rio Olympics

Brazil was once praised as the “land of the future,” and the Summer Olympics was expected to herald the arrival of Rio de Janeiro as an emerging first-class city. Now the host city is awash in bad publicity and low expectations before the August opening ceremonies. Rory Mcllroy, one of the world’s top golfers, announced Wednesday he was bowing out of the games over the Zika virus. His departure leaves the door open for more high-profile athletes to follow his lead. While the Zika virus is a case of bad timing and largely falls outside of the direct control of Rio, plenty of negative aspects overshadow the games. Amidst national political scandals, a presidential impeachment trial, and charges of corruption, the Brazilian government issued a state of emergency last week. Many citizens feel alienated and betrayed by their government as more and more taxpayer funds are diverted to managing the Olympics. Brazil spent $80 million on its Olympic bid alone. Related to the fall of oil prices, an economic recession has wracked the nation, and has only exacerbated by a surge of misguided government spending. The final cost of the games could reach $17 billion. In 2012, former Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti overruled other leaders in his country to cancel Rome’s bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Monti argued that the Olympics would worsen an already precarious debt crisis. Some in Italy attacked Monti’s decision, but a willingness to place the collective interest of a nation over personal ambition or desires is a mark of true leadership. The ominous spending and debt from winning a bid to host an Olympics has rapidly become more unpopular though. Citizens, of course, and not the politicians or well connected, ultimately pay the price. No democratic countries even bothered to compete for the 2022 Winter Olympics after Oslo, Norway pulled their bid for the games. Amid what seems to be endless questions about security, pollution, corruption, and the Zika virus; it’s hard to ignore Rio’s rampant crime. A Paralympic athlete was robbed at gunpoint in the city this week. Australia, the home country of robbery victim Liesl Tesch, is calling on Rio to provide greater security for their athletes. More money from the treasury has to be diverted for additional security. Australia is wisely taking a pro-active approach and currently considering curfews and telling athletes to eschew certain parts of the city. Some athletes have said they will lower their risk of danger by slathering on mosquito repellent and just staying in their room. A report last month by NPR summarized some of the statistical violence on the ground: Murders are up 15 percent from last year. Robbery is up 30 percent. Amid the economic and political turmoil, the state security budget has been cut by a third. The gangs are fighting for territory in advance of the Olympics, according to authorities.Promoting public safety and order is a basic requirement of good government. While Rio is not included amongst the top 50 cities for highest murder rates in the world, Brazil alone has 21 cities in the top 50. The popular website LiveLeak, which often features videos of uncensored and gory violence, offers an abundance of content from Brazil. CBS News reported this week that a group of heavily armed men stormed a hospital that the government recommends to visitors of the games. Rio has given up on the more expensive efforts to clean up the dangerous sewage some athletes will be forced to contend with, instead preferring cheaper options to mask the excessive sludge. Experts promised clean water for athletes, which has thousands of liters of raw sewage dumped into it every second. Now they concede it could be decades before the coastal waters are cleaned. In the past, there have been numerous stories about cities and regions not being ready for the games, yet they manage to successfully pull off the event when the curtain is lifted. We should hope that for Rio too, but viewers in America and around the world shouldn’t be surprised if the Rio games are remembered for helping to diminish an Olympics already faltering from malaise and corruption. Considering the low expectations for the games in Rio, if those are the worst consequences it might even be considered successful. Still, it’s a small consolation for local citizens that are piled in debt after grandiose promises of economic rejuvenation and innovation.