Rio in 6-month sprint to Olympics - but multiple crises catching up

 03 Feb 2016 - 9:14

Rio in 6-month sprint to Olympics - but multiple crises catching up

Rio de Janeiro: The Olympics start six months from this Friday and Rio de Janeiro is ready -- as long as athletes cover up in anti-mosquito repellent, ignore the polluted water and don't ask for TV in their rooms.

Nicknamed "The Marvelous City," Rio is sure to put on a spectacular show.

After the opening ceremony on August 5 in the legendary Maracana stadium, 10,500 athletes will compete against what will be one of the most photogenic Olympic backdrops ever.

The likes of Usain Bolt will run under the gaze of the Christ the Redeemer statue towering from the Corcovado, while beach volleyball will take place on sweeping Copacabana beach and sailors will duel in the shadow of Sugarloaf mountain.

In a world beset by war, terrorism and environmental calamity, the Olympics -- an organization itself badly shaken by corruption and doping scandals -- will give everyone a chance to feel good again.

The Olympics "will be an unforgettable fiesta," the spokesman for the Rio 2016 organizing committee, Mario Andrada, said Tuesday.

But fears of the mosquito-transmitted Zika virus and fallout from Brazil's worst economic crisis since the 1930s are casting a long shadow.

Mosquitos, sewage

Incidents of Zika, which has been blamed for causing abnormally small heads in babies born to women infected while pregnant, have exploded across Latin America.

This week, Brazil followed the United States and other countries in warning pregnant women to keep away. The Australian Olympic Committee told pregnant athletes to think "very carefully" before competing.

Brazil is desperately trying to eradicate mosquito breeding sites, and Andrada pointed out that August is the Brazilian winter, when mosquito numbers fall sharply.

But with no vaccine likely for years, total safety cannot be guaranteed.

Athletes and tourists should wear "appropriate clothing," "close windows" and "use repellent," Andrada advised.

Avoiding bacteria-filled water will be even harder for sailors and windsurfers at the Games.

They'll compete in Rio's stunning, yet horrifically polluted Guanabara Bay. Authorities had promised to clean the natural harbor but even today, some half of Rio's sewage pours in untreated.

Even so, regular testing has shown that there are no risks to health, officials say.

Austerity games 

Back in 2009, when Rio won the Olympic bid, Brazil was an emerging markets star.

Today, a collapse in commodity prices is fueling Brazil's deepest recession since the 1930s, while a corruption scandal has sucked in top politicians and executives, and President Dilma Rousseff is fighting impeachment.

Organizers are rebranding the Olympics an austerity Games.

The budget of about 39 billion reais ($9.8 billion) is in a different league to Beijing's 2008 $40 billion splurge. And unlike London 2012, where the budget ended up more than triple the original estimate, Rio is trying to tighten its belt.

Cuts of up to 20 percent in the 7.4 billion reais ($1.8 billion) operating budget mean athletes won't get TV in their Olympic Village rooms, VIPs will eat simple Brazilian beans and rice dishes, and fewer staff will get printers.

Seating has been reduced at some venues, including the slashing of a planned grandstand at the rowing and canoeing venue. Even volunteers are being cut from 70,000 to 50,000 in order to save on uniforms and training.