Medals and souvenirs aren’t the only things visitors to Rio are likely to be taking home after the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Experts had warned for years that holding the Games in Rio would be problematic, but few people could have imagined just how widespread and diverse the problems would be.
The slow progress on completing the facilities, from player accommodation to arenas, was predictable; it seems to afflict every Games.
The less pleasant and more unexpected elements have been Rio’s abject failure to rid the city of pollution – or at least minimise the problem and clean the water in which competitors must swim and sail, to beat the mosquito infestation that threatens to leave visitors with a dose of the debilitating Zika virus, and control the street violence and other crime that is already hitting visitors.
The disease threat – which carries with it the possibility of birth defects down the track – has seen several top athletes, including gold medal candidates, withdraw from the Games.
Just this week London’s Independent newspaper reported that air pollution posed an even greater risk that the state of the water, saying independent analysis found the government had consistently lied about meeting UN standards for air quality.
The public health problems and lack of preparation became so bad that in June, with just seven weeks to go to the opening ceremony, the governor of Rio de Janeiro State declared a state of financial emergency and called for urgent help from the national government to avert a “total collapse in public security, health, education, transport and environmental management” of the region.
The problems reach far beyond the city of Rio and the Games alone. Earlier this year Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff was suspended from office amid allegations she had manipulated budget figures to hide the true state of the national finances after she was reelected last year. Ms Rousseff in turn argues that her political opponents have engineered her impeachment to cover up their own complicity in widespread corruption.
When the Australian team was due to move into their official quarters last week their managers deemed the rooms unlivable. When they finally moved in to the hastily finished rooms, basketballer Andrew Bogut took to Twitter to discuss his lodgings, mocking their standard.
Tourists and athletes found public services had ground to a halt as workers, from street cleaners to police and firefighters, went on strike to demand they be paid their wages, bearing signs warning visitors their safety cannot be guaranteed. Brazil’s finances are so ropey, many workers in the public services have to beg for donations of pens, cleaning supplies and toilet paper.
Competitors scheduled to compete on and in the murky waters of Rio have been warned they risk picking up infections from contaminants that would have Australian beaches shut down immediately by health authorities (and spurned by the most obsessive surfers).
Independent testing commissioned by a news agency a year ago found levels of contaminants and bacteria including adenoviruses, hepatitis A and cryptosporidium up to 1.7 millions times higher than allowed on California beaches. But when several members of a US sailing team fell ill, officials dismissed the allegations saying the water was not to blame.
In the year since then it seems little has been done. In a new report commissioned by the agency (into water quality in Guanabara Bay, which will host yachting events) a Brazilian virologist discovered levels of some contaminants had actually increased in the past six months. He found viruses that can cause problems ranging from stomach and respiratory illnesses to inflammation of the heart and brain.
The ABC reported this week that on a walk along the foreshore a local oceanographer pointed out clear signs of contamination, saying “It is not very good conditions for sure.”
Olympic sailors have been advised to keep their mouths closed, to spend as little time as possible in the water and to shower thoroughly as soon as they leave the water after a race.
Even the pools have been the subject of alarms and warning. Just yesterday, Australian swimmers chose to swap pools rather than train in water they considered murky and of dubious quality. – The Newsroom Team
Top image – screengrab from the ABC report on Rio pollution this week.