In just over a month, athletes from around the globe will descend upon Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics. While the Games only last a few weeks, plans for the Olympics in Rio were solidified seven years ago. Despite bids from Madrid, Chicago and Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided upon Rio largely due to its geography. Because the upcoming Olympiad will be the first to take place in South America, the IOC rationalized that the entire continent can finally experience the pride associated with hosting the event, ultimately expanding support for the Games.
Cities and their host countries desire to host the quadrennial event to take advantage of a global platform that allows them to flaunt themselves as an advanced country. For example, in an attempt to develop an impressive facade, China spent over $100 million during the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics on the opening ceremony alone. This averages out to nearly $8,000 per second. Extravagance for global attention is not a newfound practice: the Exposition Universelle of 1889 prompted France to construct the grandiose Eiffel Tower. The exorbitance of this August’s global event, however, will not and has not been met with the intended awe, but rather with negative reactions from visitors. The internal turmoil facing Brazil counters the host country’s opportunity to show-off itself to the rest of the world, ultimately highlighting both the deficiencies of the country and the holistic host-city selection process of the IOC.
The current political climate of Brazil is unfit to host a global event of this magnitude. While a host country aims to present itself as a stable government institution in order to prove itself to the world as a model country, Brazil’s dysfunctional government will be put on display under international scrutiny during the Olympics. On May 12, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff received a 180-day suspension due to impeachment trials. She is accused of hiding federal budget problems in order to win the 2014 election as an incumbent. Additionally, Rousseff’s suspension extends through the Olympics, placing Interim President Michel Temer at the center of political attention.
Civil unrest further exacerbates the country’s instability. Many citizens have taken to the streets to protest several decisions regarding the upcoming Games. The citizens’ grievances include allocating billions of dollars to the Olympics while hospitals across the country have been shut down. These large expenditures have not necessarily accomplished their goals either. For example, Brazil rushed a multi-million dollar bridge-walkway construction project to make beaches more accessible for Olympic visitors. In April, a few months after the haphazard construction began, the bridge collapsed and killed two beachgoers. The project’s extensive funding ended up going to waste.
To prepare for the Games, Rio citizens are also being forcefully evicted from their homes, creating even greater dissent. Over 77,000 citizens have been displaced since 2009. This has created a sentiment that the government does not care about the average Brazilian, desiring only to fabricate a more suitable image of itself for a global audience. Rather than improving living standards for the Brazilian citizens, stadiums and other Olympic infrastructures are being built to support temporary Olympic visitors.
Moreover, the safety of athletes and visitors at the Games is in question. With a concerningly high crime rate in Rio, 85,000 security officers, double the number of security officers present at the 2012 London Olympics, will patrol the host city during the Games. Even more alarming is the outbreak of the Zika virus. Mostly concentrated in Central and South America, the mosquito-borne virus threatens the health of not only Brazilians, but also the estimated 500,000 international visitors who plan to attend the Games. 150 doctors and professors from across the globe recommended to the World Health Organization that the Games either be postponed or relocated for the sake of protecting public health.
The Olympics carry a reputation of being “too big to fail.” However, with political turmoil, dismal citizen approval and alarming health hazards, the 31st Summer Olympiad may, in fact, flounder. Culpability for a lackluster Olympic Games should not be placed upon Brazil, but rather on the Olympic host city selection process as a whole.
Unstable host countries like Brazil are unfit to prepare and host an event of this magnitude, and selection reform must take place. Rather than a new city hosting the event every four years, a rotation between six cities could be implemented, with a designated city in North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. A similar alternating cycle could exist for the Winter Olympic Games, as well. With a predictable rotation, many of the glaring problems faced in Rio and in other host cities would be avoided.
Predictability leads to adequate preparation. Threats of an unstable government and unsafe hosting area could be avoided if a country has a clearer expectation of when it would hold the event, even decades prior. As evidenced by the scenario in Rio, the current seven-year timeframe between being selected and actually hosting the event is insufficient to guarantee a working government and safe environment for a two-week period. Ideally, countries that have demonstrated consistent stability for decades should be selected to host.
Additionally, the designated city would be able to reuse its structures for future Olympics. This would ensure properly engineered structures, preventing catastrophes like the bridge collapse. Renovations can keep the stadiums up-to-date for future Olympiads, prolonging the life of multi-million dollar structures for more than just a few weeks. With a single location repeatedly hosting the Games, the forceful, short-noticed eviction of locals would be avoided. Under the current system, eviction is a widespread practice. Brazil is not the only host country to evict citizens just months prior to the Games: China evicted 1.5 million citizens to make room for the Olympics and to present a more suitable facade to the international visitors. Once the Beijing Olympics concluded, the evicted citizens remained displaced. Permanent Olympic sites would not unexpectedly evict citizens.
While host cities may pledge to maintain their multi-million dollar structures for continued use after the Games conclude, this rarely comes to complete fruition. Atlanta hosted the Olympics two decades ago and constructed the $207 million Centennial Olympic Stadium. Once the Games ended, the city tried to maintain the stadium by converting it into the home for the Atlanta Braves baseball team. However, just 20 years later, the Braves are leaving the facility for a new stadium in the suburbs. Rumors now exist of razing the relatively new stadium and building apartments in its place. A designated Olympic city allows for multi-million dollar construction projects to be continually used in future Olympiads, rather than torn down and abandoned after a brief use.
The IOC must reconsider its priorities. Host cities are expected to outshine the previous host. Subsequently, in an attempt to rapidly construct an elaborate front for a global audience in a mere seven years, safety is compromised, as evidenced by collapsing structures and public health outbreaks. The Olympics are intended to show-off a host city; however, under the current system, the opposite occurs, as the deficiencies from a lack of preparation are highlighted. Rio is not to blame for a poor Olympiad — the IOC is.
Brian Taggett is a College sophomore from Kalamazoo, MI