The 2016 Olympics open in Rio de Janeiro on Saturday 6 August, they were in London in 2012 and they will be in Tokyo in 2020. For 2024 there were originally six candidate cities Boston, Budapest, Hamburg, Los Angeles, Paris, and Rome. Boston withdrew in July 2015 for lack of public support. In a referendum in Hamburg in November 2015 52% voted against hosting the games The Chairman of the German Olympic Sports Confederation pointed to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, the migrant crisis, the continuing corruption scandals around FIFA and the doping scandals – those who campaigned against argued that it was a waste of money.
The Olympic bid process for Rio began back in 2006, they were shortlisted along with Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo and they were elected to host the games in 2009 – seven years ago. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, then the country’s very popular president pitched for the games as an opportunity to develop Rio’s infrastructure and remake the city as a world capital. A laudable objective, and one which the world community should support.
Back in August 2007 the Brazilian Real was worth USD0.53 today it is worth USD 0.30. Inherent in the Olympic bids are risks which arise from the long lead time and the difficulty, the impossibility, of withdrawing once the process begins with so much city and national prestige at stake. Since 2007 Brazil has staged the FIFA World Cup in 2014, widely regarded as a great success despite the Brazilian national team’s poor performance. Widespread protests had undermined a warm up tournament the previous year, but they failed to materialise during the World Cup – football fever reigned. The success of Brazil’s staging of the World Cup increased confidence in Brazil’s ability to organise the Olympics.
Back in August 2014 the Real had slipped to USD 0.44, the Petrobas scandal began in 2014 and in 2016 extended to include allegations against Lula da Silva. In the cold light of dawn the FIFA World Cup did not look such a big success. The tournament cost Brazil $13 billion, including $2 billion for security purposes. Estimates of the economic value generated were high – but real data went someway to undermine the estimates for example the Brazilian Airline Association reported a decrease in air traffic of 11-15 percent month on month, the inflation rate spiked and total industrial output fell 4% in the tournament month.
As we look forward to one of the world’s greatest spectacles we can only wish Brazil, and Rio, well. We should hope that the Olympic and Paralympic Games will be a national triumph and an international celebration and that there are no more doping scandals.
However, hosting the Games is a hostage to fortune, expensive promises, made long ago, have to be honoured and the spotlight of the international media falls on a country during these kinds of events. For Brazil there has been a great deal of negative publicity: last month’s crime figures reported as 42% increase in robberies, including muggins, across Rio state year on year, there are 300 per day; according to the Public Security Institute 40 people were killed by on-duty police in May alone; parts of corpses have been washed up next to the arena for Olympic volley ball and where the swimming section of the triathlon will be held; tickets sales have been slow; the Zika virus has resulted in some competitors not travelling and negative travel advisories; there have been reports of uninhabitable athletes villages, the city council is considering giving away free tickets to school children and Rio abandoned its promise to clean up Guanabara Bay, site of Olympic sailing. The city council is broke, it has a £670m loan to pay for essential services during the games and 85,000 soldiers, police and private security guards are to be drafted in for the Olympics, the legacy may be debt. In the last few days the main ramp of Marina da Gloria, the sailing venue of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, has partially collapsed and Associated Press has funded tests which suggest that “swimmers and athletes who ingest just three teaspoons of water are almost certain to be infected with viruses that can cause stomach and respiratory illnesses and, more rarely, heart and brain inflammation – although whether they actually fall ill depends on a series of factors including the strength of the individual’s immune system.” In a repeat of the London experience the private security firm hired to provide security screening has failed to recruit enough staff – the police will have to do it.
Four years on the legacy of the London Olympics is complicated and contested, transport infrastructure and regeneration in East London. But children are now playing less sport than in 2009, using house prices as an indicator for regeneration the biggest gains were +99% around the Wembley (badminton and rhythmic gymnastics) and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff +59%. In East London the greatest increase was 19% and around the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Stadium, is was a mere 10%.
The only city in modern times to have had a virtually uncontested gain from staging the Olympics was Barcelona in 1992. The record for the FIFA World Cup is difficult too. It may become more difficult to find cities and countries willing to stage these mega tournaments in future.