This year's Winter Olympics had problems more fundamental than whether gay athletes and fans would be safe--infrastructure that should have been in place years before were still being built just days before the torch was lit. It's not looking much better for Rio de Janeiro. Two years before it's due to host the second Summer Olympics ever held in Latin America, Rio's preparations are drawing worldwide scorn.
Even as Brazil scrambles to finish an array of stadiums for the start of the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament in less than a month, it is already coming under scathing criticism for its handling of the next mega-event on its plate, the 2016 Summer Games.How bad is it? Some officials think the situation is even worse than the run-up to the 2004 Games in Athens.
Francesco Ricci Bitti, president of the influential association representing various Summer Olympic sports, said the Rio Games were in “the most risky position” of any Olympics he could remember. John D. Coates, an International Olympic Committee vice president, said last month that Rio’s preparations were “the worst I have experienced,” with construction yet to begin on the Deodoro sports complex, the second most important site after Olympic Park.
The most visible sign of Rio's problems is Guanabara Bay, which is due to host the sailing and windsurfing regattas. But unless Brazil moves fast, those events will take place in one of the most polluted bodies of water in the world.
Of all the challenges Brazil faces, cleaning up Guanabara Bay may be the toughest.It's not for a lack of money. However, well-financed efforts to get rid of the filth have foundered as a result of Brazil's notorious corruption. The result is a bay that, according to Brazilian biologist Mario Moscatelli, is a "latrine." according to Brazilian Olympic hopeful Thomas Low-Beer, frequently turns brown from untreated wastewater and is laden with garbage. His boat hit a partially submerged sofa and dumped him into the water. Austria's Nico Delle Karth was scared to dip his toes in the water to launch his boat. The German sailing team, with typical bluntness, wrote a blog post entitled "Welcome to the dump that is Rio." The German version is even more scathing--translated on Bing, the title means "Welcome to garbage heaven."
Officials vowed to tackle the problem after the United Nations Earth Summit here in 1992 drew scrutiny of Rio’s foul waters. The Rio state government secured more than $1 billion in loans from Japan’s government and the Inter-American Development Bank for cleanup projects, but they have not been even remotely successful, according to environmental experts. The State Environmental Institute in Rio de Janeiro estimates that more than 10 percent of the trash here is not collected, much of it flowing into the bay through canals and degraded rivers.
Vast amounts of raw sewage leak into the waters. Officials set a goal of treating as much as 80 percent of it by the 2016 Olympics, but less than 40 percent is currently treated.
There are various other problems as well. Construction on several venues has been delayed by strikes and protests over forced evictions. The cycling venue had to be torn down due to falling short of Olympic standards--and its replacement will cost 10 times what the original cost. Despite this, publicly officials insist the Games won't be moved from Rio. But unless things get moving and fast, we may have to be very afraid for our athletes in two years.