Sixteen years ago, the naysayers were doubtful that Sydney could pull off the Olympic Games. The traffic was going to be grid-locked for 17 days, the athletes’ village wouldn’t be finished in time and the throngs of visitors would make life unbearable for residents. Even the marathon, raced along city streets, would be such an inconvenience that countless whingers decided to bail out of the city for the entire duration of the Games.
They missed the greatest, most joyful party in Sydney’s history. Locals came together like never before, they were generous and welcoming to the visitors and the city looked it’s sparkling best.
I had a gig as a venue announcer for the Gymnastics competition throughout the Games. Wearing that uniform on the train one morning, I was going through the day’s scripts, trying to get my mouth around the correct pronunciations of the gymnasts’ names. Someone looked over my shoulder and said “Can I help? I can speak Italian.” Someone else said “I can speak Hungarian!” and before long, the entire carriage was helping me with my foreign pronunciations. It was the highlight of my Sydney Olympics.
With the Rio Games just 6 weeks away, there are so many problems facing the city and the organisers, it’ll be a miracle if they can pull it off. Here, in no particular order, are some of the hurdles they have to clear;
The Zika virus. Growing numbers of athletes are pulling out because of this mosquito borne virus - Irish golfer Rory McIlroy is the latest. He joins fellow golfers Vijay Singh and Australia’s Marc Leishman who’ve also decided not to go to Rio. That’s a shame for the game of golf – making its Olympic appearance at Rio for the first time in 112 years.
Street robberies. These are a big concern for athletes and visitors. Especially following the attack on Australian Paralympic sailor, Liesl Tesch. She was robbed at gunpoint while cycling in Rio last Sunday. Street robberies there, according to the Washington Post, were up 24% in the month of April. Despite the promise of an extra 85,000 armed police and soldiers who will patrol the city during the Games, theft due to extreme poverty will continue to be a fact of life in the favelas, or slums, of Rio. These areas will not benefit from the $11 billion being spent on the Games. As one resident said, "It's a commercial for the foreigners, for the investors. The investment is not for us, it's for the foreigners."
Raw sewage. Every day it flows into many of the waterways, which will host Rio’s sailing and swimming events for the duration of the Games. Coaches are advising sailors to keep their mouths closed (!) and to wash their hands after they touch wet gear.
Recession. Brazil is plagued by scandals and is in the worst recession since the 1930s, partly because of declining oil prices. The now impeached President Dilam Roussef could be formally removed from office just days before the Games begin.
Transportation. The new $2.8 billion mass transit extension is still not finished. The long-delayed subway project is critical to transporting what will eventually be as many as 300,000 people every day. It’s scheduled to open four days before the Games begin. In late April, a 150-foot section of a recently built coastal bike path collapsed, killing two people.
Doping. Russian track and field athletes have been banned from participating due to state-sponsored doping. Weightlifters from Kazakhstan and Belarus may also be prevented from competing.
The jaguar. The mascot for the Rio Games is a smiling yellow jaguar called Ginga. A real jaguar (a near-threatened species) was featured in an Olympic torch ceremony in the Amazon city of Manaus. After it escaped from its handlers, it was shot dead by a soldier shortly after the event.
On the bright side for Rio, almost all of the venues at the Olympic Park are now complete.
And for the first time ever, a team of refugees will compete at the Games. 10 athletes selected by the IOC will lead the world’s athletes out on the field.
Despite all the obstacles and the naysayers, let’s hope the Brazilians can pull this off. As Games spokesman Marco Andrada told reporters recently, "Brazilians are laid-back and they trust themselves. They believe God is Brazilian, so they believe that God is going to help them in the last moment."
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