RIO-DE-JANEIRO, December 22- Brazil may not know who its president will be in eight months’ time, and Olympic athletes won’t have TVs in their rooms because of the country’s recession, but Rio de Janeiro is still promising a “spectacular” 2016 Games.
With its budget in tatters because of the economic crisis and the nation shamed by not cleaning pathogenic sewage from Guanabara Bay — the Rio venue for Olympic regattas — criticism has been rife.
Organizers have preferred to stress that the work to host the August 5-21 Olympic Games and 10,000 athletes from 206 countries has been without delays, and improvements to Rio’s public transport network will be a lasting legacy.
“Rio today is 80 percent ready, in April it will be 100 percent, and during the Games it will be 120 percent,” boasted the communications director for the Rio-2016 organizing committee, Mario Andrada, in an interview with AFP.
“The Olympics are going to be spectacular,” he pledged.
Unsaid is the organizers’ hope that the political chaos in South America’s biggest country, wrought by the threat of impeachment for deeply unpopular President Dilma Rousseff over allegedly fiddled public accounts, will be settled by then.
Or that at least anti-government discontent won’t spill out into the streets as it did in 2013, a year before Brazil hosted the football World Cup.
– Slashed budget –
Faced with its worst recession in decades, double-digit inflation, swelling unemployment, and a corruption scandal sinking the state oil company Petrobras, the Rio 2016 committee has pledged to spend only “the money we have,” Andrada said.
That means slashing five to 20 percent from the $5-billion budget, for example by not installing televisions in athletes’ rooms, getting by with fewer computer printers, and offering Brazilian meat-beans-and-rice dishes to invited VIPs instead of fancy meals.
“The country is going through an enormous crisis. We can’t be sending out a different message, (or) leaving debts to be paid by the government or, worse, by society,” Andrada said.
However, Rio 2016 will cut back “nothing from the tracks, nothing from the sports, nothing from the ceremony, nothing from the legacy.”
After the Paris attacks in which Islamist gunmen killed 130 people, Brazil is to oversee the biggest integrated security operation in its history: 85,000 police, soldiers and agents, in coordination with 80 countries.
“We are constantly working as if a threat were imminent,” the head of the Brazilian intelligence service, Wilson Trezza, told AFP.
The Rio-2016 committee also assured that “Rio will be the safest city in the world during the Games.”
But there have been some unsettling security issues of late, such as the breaking up of a ring producing falsified birth certificates that allowed dozens of Syrians to obtain Brazilian passports between 2012 and 2014. Several of the Syrians are still fugitives.
– What legacy? –
But beyond the security, what many in Rio, dubbed “the marvellous city” but over the past few years converted into a giant construction site, want to know is, will it be a better place to live after the Olympics?
Lamartine Pereira da Costa, an Olympic Games expert at Rio’s State University, believes the answer is yes, based on the urban improvements seen in Barcelona after it hosted the 1992 Games.
“Things here work so badly that they can’t get any worse,” he said.
“For example, the percentage of the population using public transport will go from 38 percent to 66 percent after the Games — it’s the great achievement of Rio de Janeiro.”
But the People’s Committee for the Cup and the Olympics, a citizens’ group critical of the Games, predicted that Rio will end up more “segregated” afterward.
It pointed to the forced relocation of more than 4,000 families to make room for the Olympic works, as well as skyrocketing real estate prices benefiting only a handful of wealthy businessmen, insufficient and inefficient transport, and a violent and racist police force.
“This will be an Olympiad of exclusion,” predicted Orlando Santos Junior, a university professor coordinating the group’s efforts.
“We are losing opportunities to promote social integration. Unfortunately the city will be neither fairer nor more democratic” after August 2016, he said.