Brazil is a mess. President Dilma Rousseff was impeached Thursday, though she’s calling it a coup. As a rule, any time there’s a debate over whether something is an impeachment or a coup, it should be filed under “not good.’’
Rousseff is accused of breaking budget laws. The country’s economy is seriously distressed, and government corruption is rife. The Zika virus was first identified in Brazil last year and has spread throughout South America. Polluted water, huge security fears, political upheaval, a health-care crisis – what says “hello, world!’’ more than that?
It’s time to shut down the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. It’s time to move the 2016 Summer Games somewhere safer, healthier and more stable. Sadly, the chances of that happening are miniscule. Brazil has plowed at least $13 billion into the effort, but all signs point to more trouble ahead before the Opening Ceremony on Aug. 5.
The country is going through its worst recession in 25 years. In January, unpaid bills led to water and lights being cut off at one of the stadiums that will be used during competition, according to National Public Radio. If Rio can’t get those simple things rights, it’s hard to see the city getting the hard things like security right for the Olympics.
At the 2014 Sochi Games, there were all sorts of complaints, mostly from media members, about amenities. Newly constructed hotels weren’t finished, leaving guests with windows without shades or light fixtures without bulbs. Tap water was brown and undrinkable. But those were comfort issues, and the Games went on without a hitch, despite big security fears heading into event. In hindsight, there was no way Russian president Vladimir Putin was going to let a terrorist get within 100 miles of the Sochi Games. He had the resources and the iron fist to make sure the Olympics were safe within the bomb-resistant cocoon he had built.
Can anyone say that with any certainty about Rio? No.
If an American suggests that the Games be moved to Los Angeles, which has the facilities to quickly mobilize and host an Olympics, people in other parts of the world will say that it’s another capitalist plot. LA would be a good alternative, but so would other places around the globe. The point is safety. The point is anywhere but Rio.
If the ideal of the Olympics is to promote peace through sports, then every effort should be make to hold them in as peaceful a setting as possible. Athletes and visitors shouldn’t have to worry about disease and the specter of massive political protests in the streets. Terrorism is a threat almost anywhere you go these days, especially when there’s a large event involved. But with Brazil’s government in chaos, confidence in its ability to fight terrorism can’t be high.
Rio’s woes shouldn’t be viewed as somebody else’s problems. They could be ours, too, thanks to the Zika virus, which is spread by mosquitos and linked to brain damage in infants. Harvard doctors say that with so many visitors descending on Rio, the Olympics could lead to a “full-blown public health disaster.’’
“It cannot possibly help when an estimated 500,000 foreign tourists flock into Rio for the Games, potentially becoming infected, and returning to their homes where both local Aedes mosquitoes and sexual transmission can establish new outbreaks,’’ Dr. Amir Attaran wrote in the Harvard Public Health Review.
“All it takes is one infected traveler, a few viral introductions of that kind, in a few countries, or maybe continents, would make a full-blown global health disaster.”
The International Olympic Committee doesn’t do many things for noble reasons. It does things for money, and if any slivers of nobility happen to find the light of day, it’s a bonus. But though officials continue to play their backroom games, they have tried to put the Games in emerging areas of the world. A nice sentiment, but some places simply are not up to the challenge.
It’s true that the run-up to every recent Olympics has come with doom-and-gloom predictions. But this one is particularly dark. If Chicago had been successful in its bid to get the 2016 Games, the rest of the world would rightly be asking about Laquan McDonald and the gap between rich and poor in Chicago. But there would have been enough political and financial muscle to make the Olympics work. And besides clinical feelings of despair over our elected officials, there would have been no health issues.
These Games feel dangerous. Time to run from Rio in world-record time.