Rio is hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics, and less than six months from the opening ceremonies, this edition of the world’s games look like they could be an abject disaster. With the outbreak of Zika, open sewers draining into water event venues and a near-comic level of political unrest, this summer’s Olympics could wind up as the worst in history.
On Monday, the United States Olympic Committee threw fuel on the fire when it told U.S. sports federations that any athletes who didn’t feel comfortable going to Brazil for safety reasons should opt out of doing so. This latest development was mostly related to the Zika virus outbreak, which the World Health Organization just declared to be an international health emergency. The U.S. CDC is advising pregnant women or women considering becoming pregnant to avoid travel to places with Zika outbreaks.
This is the latest in a long line of serious problems for the Rio Olympics. Brazil is in the midst of its worst economic crisis since the 1930s. The real (the Brazilian form of currency) has lost almost a third of its value this year and unemployment is headed toward 10 percent nationally. On top of that, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff is currently embroiled in a massive corruption scandal involving the state-run oil company, Petrobras.
Of course, we all know about the pollution that has representatives from around the world seriously concerned. Athletes competing in the games will be swimming and boating in water so badly contaminated that it could lead them to become “violently ill.” An investigation into the levels of bacteria and viruses from human sewage showed staggeringly high rates. The numbers were so bad that some tests measured up to 1.7 million times higher than what would be deemed hazardous on a beach in the United States. No, that isn’t a typo. Basically, athletes will be competing in raw sewage and Brazilian organizers have done virtually nothing to address those concerns.
With all of those issues, it’s not surprising that the USOC has told athletes to stay home if they don’t feel comfortable risking their health in Rio.
So the question becomes, is Rio going to be a complete disaster? Can the Brazilians actually step up over the next six months and contain all of these problems? I’m not optimistic. Zika alone could be enough to sink these games, especially when you consider that the 2014 World Cup may have been the catalyst that led to this current outbreak.
I have a hard time believing any athlete would surrender a chance to compete in the Olympics over health concerns, but that might actually be the smart move. If Brazil doesn’t come up with some answers to the massive issues these games face, it could go down in history as the worst host country on record.
Rio organizers have six months to turn this whole thing around. Here’s hoping they come up with something.