Counting the cost of the Rio Olympics


As I type this, the thousands of athletes who have lit up the world of sport over the last two weeks will be enjoying the end of the Closing Ceremony of Rio de Janeiro 2016 and the subsequent athletes mix and mingle. For some it will be the end of their careers. For others it will be “see you in four years” before which they will have a break and then start their training programmes anew. For a few in disgrace, their reputations shot it will be a time to keep a low profile.

There is no doubt that Rio has been the subject of huge controversy. From the level of crime in the host city and Brazil’s crisis of governance, to unfinished venues and polluted waterways there has been no shortage of problems attached to Rio 2016. And as the athletes begin to depart for their homelands or on to the next competition on their schedule readying the venues for the second part of the four yearly sporting spectacle is a top priority. With the Paralympics just a couple of weeks away and the associated influx of athletes with quite different logistical needs to begin in about a week, Brazil has some very immediate and potentially quite fundamental challenges to address to ensure these athletes as much get their day in the sun.

One of these challenges is simply being able to afford the Paralympics. Corruption and bad financial planning have already cost Brazil significantly at these games. An estimate that only 12% of the available tickets had been sold should be a warning sign of the problems ahead. Just as was the case with the Olympics, guaranteeing the safety of thousands of athletes, their support crews, the tens of thousands of spectators who will converge once more on the games will test Brazil’s organizational and logistical capacities.

When all is said and done and the Paralympics end in a month’s time, Brazil will have some very hard questions to ask of itself, such as where will it find the money to pay all the bills? Could it host such an event again soon? How to deal with the corruption that so nearly crashed the Games.

So too will the International Olympic Committee in trying to justify the enormously expensive and logistically nightmarish exercise that hosting an Olympics has become. Few countries can afford to host the Games, and even fewer have multiple cities capable of hosting such a huge logistical exercise that often runs a loss. And sadly for these Olympics, geopolitics reared its ugly head as it has done in the past – although New Zealand certainly was not the cause of the animosity betwween the U.S. and China/Russia in the Rio Olympics, 40 years ago African anger at New Zealand hosting white-only rugby teams led to a mass boycott by African nations at the 1976 Olympics and nearly got New Zealand thrown out of the Moscow Olympics four years later (before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to a Western boycott).

Will the Olympic Committee be able to clean up its doping programme or will there be more sad cases such as that at Rio where nearly the entire Russian athletics team stayed home because of an I.O.C. ban? Thus far, there appear to have been few cases of doping at Rio. However the decision to ban the Russian athletes and not the entire Russian contingent has caused significant debate, amid allegations of a state sponsored doping programme. Numerous sports suffered from  the absence of Russian athletes, but would it have been fair to have suspected and known drugs cheats there? Of course not.

Perhaps at the end of the day it could be safely said that Brazil’s financial and legal wizards have their own Olympic Games coming up soon, and that these games will have a bigger impact on Brazil than Rio 2016. But one hopes it will be remembered for the competitors and not the politics.

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