With the curtain closed and the flame extinguished on the Sochi Winter Games, the focus and spotlight now turns to Rio De Janiero for the 2016 Summer Games. The clock is ticking and officials in Rio including those representing the Olympic committee agree that they many projects are lagging behind schedule.
In a city and country that needs no reason to host a party there is plenty to celebrate these days. Rio is the first South American country to host the Summer Games. But Brazil should be careful what it wishes for. Often times host cities get more than they bargained for with the scrutiny.
Just ask Russia who wrapped up their record-breaking $51 billion gamble with more controversy than positive headlines. Russian residents in nearby Adler say the re-purposing of land has been shoddy at best and reporters have already documented buckling sidewalks — a byproduct of hurried construction.
That’s just the half of it. Dogs that have been ‘misplaced’, doping scandals and some seriously polluted water are just a few headlines that have marred the 2014 games. But officials from Rio have been watching all along, taking notes and hoping to apply what has worked and what didn’t as they move full speed ahead.
Brazil can’t afford to waste any time. Many major projects are well behind schedule. But scheduling is the least of Rio’s hosting problems. Guanabara Bay which will host several major sailing events sits polluted with sewage and debris while environmentalists are having a hard time with the cleanup.
That doesn’t seem to deter Rio’s Mayor Eduardo Paes who maintains that the project will get done on time. “I can guarantee these games will be ready on time. One hundred percent.” Paes says. “And I can guarantee you, that this is going to be the greatest legacy in Olympics history.”
That legacy means nothing to the displaced residents of Brazil’s slums. Bulldozers have razed many of Brazil’s poorer neighborhoods while the double-duty hosting of the FIFA World Cup this June has many residents upset with the government over money they say was wasted… and they may have a point.
Athens hosted the 2004 Summer Games and built 12 venues, today most of those venues sit empty surrounded by chain-link fence. Beijing won the 2008 Summer games and built a 480 million dollar ‘bird’s nest’ which not only lacks a tenant today but costs $11 million a year to maintain. Beijing’s ‘water cube’ which dazzled crowds during the swimming competitions at the Olympics serves as a part-time water park these days. Many say the games are a waste of money and I would have to agree.
While I would stop short of calling it an Olympic curse, it’s definitely a costly, risky move that usually results in neglected venues and huge financial deficits. Sochi officials claim their Alpine Village could become a world class destination while Fisht Stadium will be one of many venues to host 2018 World Cup matches. That could bring in much needed revenue to an expansive project that is still being finalized.
Success stories are few when it comes to hosting the Olympics but is it possible. However, if Rio is a failure or produces anything close to Sochi, it will perpetuate the stigma that Olympic duty leaves the host city broke and broken-hearted. Rio has two years to get moving. Let’s hope they can prove us wrong.