An Unprecedented Move: Relocate Rio Olympics

hands-1429672_640Every four years the world is united through the summer Olympiad games. On August 5, 2016 the 28th version of the modern day summer Olympic games will kick off in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The 2016 Olympics are special because Rio will be the first South American city to host the summer games. However, the timing and location of these games may pose a threat to the public health of the world.

The only time in history the modern day Olympic games were canceled was due to World War I and II. So there is precedent for the summer games to drastically be changed. The 2016 summer Olympics should either be postponed from the August 5 start date or moved entirely to London, the 2012 host city. The following are four reasons why the games should be moved from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to London, England: The epidemic of Zika Virus, the combination of insufficient infrastructure and pollution directly affecting the city and potential Olympic events, the current recession of Brazil’s economy and political state, and finally the city’s serious security concerns.

I love the Olympic games and firmly believe endorsing having them this year. There are millions of dollars tied into television deals and sponsorships that it is not plausible canceling the Rio games altogether, rather suggesting a change in time (of year) or location (to London) might be in its best interest. The games give athletes across the globe an opportunity to compete against each other, but more importantly represent their own respective countries. There is a certain allure and excitement to the Olympic games that allow political differences and worldwide strife to be set-aside for 3 weeks, uniting the world through sports and competition.

So the games will go on, but the question is will it be worth it if the games dramatically speed up the spread of a virus currently labeled as an epidemic in Brazil?

The Zika virus originates from the Zika forest located in Uganda. Since 1952 small cases have been reported in some 60 different countries throughout the world. However, it is a current epidemic in South America and along the coast of Africa. The virus is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the very same mosquito that transmits dengue fever and chikungunya. The Ae. aegypti lay their eggs in and near standing water and prefer to live indoors and outdoors near people. In addition, these particular mosquitos are aggressive daytime biters. The virus poses a threat to humans because it is transmitted through sexual contact and pregnant women can pass Zika to her fetus affecting the pregnancy. Zika may cause microcephaly (A brain defect where the newborn has a small head and an underdeveloped brain) in newborns and Guillain-Barre Syndrome (damaging the nerve cells and causes severe muscle weakness and in extreme cases paralysis) in adults.

The vast city life of Rio de Janeiro and its localized, poor population serves as a perfect breeding ground for these mosquitos and the eventual spread of Zika. In fact, the virus is prevalent throughout the country of Brazil and is growing rampant in its major hubs like Rio de Janeiro. Since May of 2015, over 26,000 suspected cases of Zika have been reported in the state of Rio de Janeiro. The combination of carrier mosquitos rampant in the country, the crowds of human beings expected to travel into Rio from all over the world, and the degree of poverty directly affecting the city force experts like Professor Attaran, from the University of Ottawa, to post articles on Harvard Public Review calling for the postponement or relocation of the summer games. In addition, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has already given a level 2 alert for those traveling to Brazil (Level 3 = Shouldn’t go to the area / country at all).

Zika has the potential to spark a full-blown public health disaster. Some 150+ doctors and medical professionals in the United States and throughout the world have already voiced their professional opinion in an open letter addressed to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Brazilian officials. The chief of World Health Organization (WHO) was quoted, “This [Zika situation] is all about risk assessment and risk management.” It only takes one infected individual to bring the virus back to their respective country. Those within the IOC and ranking officials of Brazil continue to affirm athletes and travelers seeking to witness the games in person that there will be minimal causes of concern regarding this virus. However, top athletes (For example, Jason Day the #1 golfer in the world) across many different sports are specifically stating Zika as the reason why they will not be representing their country during the 2016 summer games. The athletes that choose to attend the games are taking the highest precautions such as freezing their sperm and encouraging the women in their family who desire to have babies soon back home in the states. In addition, 50% of Americans who participated in a survey sponsored by Allianz Global Assistance think the Rio Olympics should be canceled (or at least delayed) and 71% express no desire at all to travel to the region at this specific moment. Keeping the games in Rio is an unnecessary risk and moving the games to London may prevent a worldwide Zika epidemic.

In addition, Rio de Janeiro is currently not prepared to host the 2016 summer Olympics due to their lack of infrastructure and drastic pollution directly affecting the locations of Olympic venues. According to the Rio 2016 Olympic website the 34 competition venues where the Olympic events will take place are held in Barra, Copacabana, Deodoro, and Maracana. The 4 different zones in Rio de Janeiro all vary in economic status, population of people, and are separated by a number of miles. This creates a challenge in effectively regulating the flow of traffic and public transportation from one zone to the next. In 2012, Brazil’s officials began a public transportation project to connect the zones via metro however the train is projected to finish on August 1st (4 days before the start of the games). This is not the only example of Brazil having an inadequate infrastructure necessary to support the mass public of the summer games.

Although most are complete some Olympic stadiums, stands for fans, and certain paths along the road for cycling routes are still not complete. Financial cutbacks within the last couple of years have forced private contractors and construction workers to be delayed on their finishing dates. For example, construction workers have less than 40 days to complete the velodrome, the arena used for cycling and an important part of the Olympic experience. Overdue from its original finish date of February, the velodrome will no longer have test events to improve the track and stands in order to create an adequate Olympic experience. In addition, the Ciclovia Tim Maia is a massive bicycle path built and completed in January. The bike path follows the cycling route along the coast that will eventually be used for outdoor Olympic cycling events, however a significant portion of the route collapsed when it was hit by a wave. Its collapse shortly after its completion killed two people and highlights the integrity and readiness of other structures Brazil is putting up in a short amount of time. Are these venues properly being inspected? Will contractors have sufficient amount of time to make necessary last minute changes and improvements? Will the athletes and fans be safe when thousands of people enter the venues and make use of public transportation in a few short weeks?

The man made Olympic venues are not the only red flag regarding the infrastructure of the city. The pollution affecting Guanabara Bay is directly affecting the health of athletes and fans. The Guanabara Bay is the location for aquatic events such as sailing and rowing. When Brazil won the bid to host the summer games in 2009, 50% of the water flowing into the bay was sewage waste. At the time, the government was allocated millions of dollars to clean up the bay and promised to reduce the waste runoff by 80% by 2016. However, some of the money allocated to cleaning the bay went missing and Guanabara Bay is still in a horrendous condition. Recent pictures show the contents of the bay and it’s an undesirable environment to participate in Olympic aquatic events. The pollution is already affecting athletes as some are leaving practices with stomach illnesses, which may be directly related to Guanabara Bay. Moving the Olympics to the last host city may serve as a viable alternative. In London, the Olympic venues from 2012 are still standing and the pollution affecting Rio was not a factor 4 years ago.

While the Olympic venues have a chance to be completed in time and last ditch efforts of cleaning up the bay might create an adequate competitive environment, the constant security issues and current economic recession will play a vital role in the safety of Olympic athletes and the 500,000 travelers expected to attend the games from around the world.

Brazil is currently in its worst economic recession since the 1930’s. When Brazil won the bid and secured the 2016 games, it was promoted as one of the “Olympic legacies.” Officials urged the public to judge the effectiveness and quality of the games based on what will leave behind.

In recent years, the summer Olympic games serve as a reflection of the political environment in the host country. Brazil’s government is currently in shambles. Chief among the scandals, the first woman president of Brazil, Dilma Vana Rousseff is currently facing an impeachment trial scheduled to start on August 5. Although the state of the government seems like it won’t directly affect the games it has affected the budget allocated to the 2016 Olympics.

The government squeezed together a 14 billion dollar budget for the games. At the time officials promised the funds would be used for updating the infrastructure of a dilapidated city, inject life into the community by creating jobs for the locals, and transform Rio de Janeiro into an even more desirable tourist location. The hope was to spend money in the short term to then create a long lasting tourist location and living community. Experts analyzed Brazil’s recent spending and have recently claimed Rio to be one of the largest modern day Olympic fails. As of June 2016, Brazil is projected to spend close to 20 billion dollars on rising construction costs and last minute security. Even worse, the combination of Zika virus, high security alerts, and uninterested travelers (only 500,000 people are expected to attend the summer games) have Brazil projected to reap in 4.5 billion in revenue. Those hoping the Olympic games will light a spark in creating Rio de Janeiro as lasting tourist spot and benefitting from the city in the long run may have to be more realistic. There are no signs of immediate improvements that will benefit the city in the long run.

The city has run out of money and it is directly affecting the security within Rio. The cartels and drug lords constantly fighting to extend their influence within the city already give it a reputation of being violent and dangerous. In addition, the police and soldiers currently on call have not been compensated for their overtime work in the last 6 months. In the midst of hard economic times, city officials are asking the government for an $850 million dollar bailout. With the bailout money, the city is expected to bring in 85,000 soldiers and police officers to provide adequate security throughout the games. However, will it be enough as stories of Olympic athletes and coaches being robbed and witnessing shootouts near their hotels highlight degree of violence in Rio de Janeiro.

The five colored and interlaced rings commonly found on Olympic flags represent the five inhabited continents of the world united by Olympism. However, it is the tradition of the Olympics that may place the entire world in grave danger. The call to move the 2016 Olympic games hosted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is growing louder and louder. The threat of public health raised by Zika virus, the inadequate Olympic venues set for events and unfinished public transportation routes, the natural pollution creating unsafe environments for athletes and universal tourists, the political disasters and downfall of the economy, and the growing concern for human safety all point to keeping the games in Rio de Janeiro as a
n unnecessary risk. Although it might not be financially effective, and its possibility very small moving the games to London may save the 2016 summer Olympics.

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