With the Games nearly three months away, the country is facing a series of unprecedented challenges: the Zika outbreak, which has been connected to a rare birth defect in infant children; a crippling recession that has left hundreds of thousands unemployed and sent inflation through the roof; and a political crisis that has implicated some of the country’s most powerful lawmakers.
Now, President Dilma Rousseff may have to step down, leading many to ask: Will the Olympics happen?
According to organizers at the International Olympic Committee, the Games should not be affected by the current crisis.
The IOC said it is closely following the impeachment situation, but stressed that the effects of such a controversy would likely be minimal. “These kinds of political issues have much less influence than at other stages of organizing the Olympic Games,” the IOC said.
Citing a recent visit by IOC coordinators to Rio de Janeiro, an IOC spokesperson said they saw “great progress.”
According to the local organizing committee, the stadiums are nearly complete. However, ticket sales are lower than expected. According to organizers, 55% of tickets have been sold.
“Brazilians are late buyers,” local organizing committee spokesperson Mario Andrada said. “We cannot blame the public. People have more important things to worry about right now.”
President faces impeachment
Among those worries are who will be the president come August, when the Olympic torch is scheduled to arrive in Rio.
Over the weekend, Brazil’s lower house approved an impeachment motion against Rousseff. In an unprecedented vote, more than two-thirds of lawmakers voted to oust her.
Rousseff is accused of hiding budgetary deficits ahead of her 2014 re-election.
The impeachment motion now goes to the Senate. If it is approved there, Rousseff would have to step down for 180 days to defend herself against accusations.
She would be replaced by Vice President Michel Temer, whose party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, or PMDB, has been implicated in a corruption scheme.
The President’s main role in the Olympics would be presiding over the opening ceremony. Much of the local organizing has been led not by Rousseff but by the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes.
The games may go on without a hitch — as happened with the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. Protests covered Brazil leading up to the World Cup but largely faded once the games began.
Analysts say one good indicator of organization is the torch relay. Any hiccup with that could raise red flags even higher.
Tourism officials are optimistic
Despite the country’s political woes, organizers and tourism officials in Rio still believe the Games will be a success.
Officials are banking on the low real, Brazil’s currency, to attract foreign visitors.
According to Brazilian Hotel Industry Association’s Rio de Janeiro branch, the city’s hotels are nearly fully booked for the Games. Despite the recent bad publicity, there haven’t been any cancellations.
Rio de Janeiro Municipal Tourism Secretary Antonio Pedro Viegas said the city is expecting more than a million tourists during the Games.
“We are waiting for everyone to come so we can showcase our city,” Viegas said. “People already know our problems, but they will be surprised by Rio’s beauty and the warmth of its people.”
But for some cariocas, as Rio’s residents are known, the excitement over the Games has been overshadowed by the negativity.
While few think the Olympics will be canceled or postponed, many see them as an excuse to mask the “embarrassment” they are currently living.
“It’s (like) a scary telenovela,” said Marco Magalhaes, a Rio makeup artist who lives in Los Angeles part-time. “At least I’m able to leave from time to time. I fear what will happen to my friends living through all this mess.”
For Andrada and the Rio 2016 Local Organizing Committee, the hope is for the Games to be a turning point for the country.
“The Games have a role to play in the middle of all this. They can be the turnaround for Brazil,” Andrada said. “The Games can be the good news — it’s our job to make the Games the good news.”
The Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games are scheduled to take place from August 5-August 21.
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