Magazine article The Spectator

Brazil's Olympic Shames

Magazine article The Spectator

Brazil's Olympic Shames

Article excerpt

The Rio Games are approaching amid a hailstorm of bad news

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

'Welcome to hell' was printed on a banner written in English at Rio de Janeiro's international airport recently. 'Police and firefighters don't get paid. Whoever comes to Rio will not be safe,' the message concluded. It's fair to say not everyone is feeling the Olympic spirit ahead of the Games that start here next month.

Bad news abounds. The city's mayor made headlines by declaring the security situation 'horrible', and body parts were reported to have washed up near the Olympic beach volleyball venue. Then an investigation by Human Rights Watch exposed an alarming number of murders by Rio policemen.

Earlier in the month a baddie was-busted out of hospital by his gang mates. A few weeks earlier, the Australian parathlete Liesl Tesch called the city 'a dangerous place' after being mugged for her bike. In May, three of the Spanish sailing team were robbed at gunpoint in the touristy district of Santa Teresa.

It has been a difficult year for Brazil. The country's image of itself as a cheerful and increasingly prosperous place has been battered. A corruption scandal involving the state oil company, Petrobras, has helped cripple the economy and crack the political order. In May, the president, Dilma Rousseff, had to step aside to face impeachment proceedings for fiddling election finances. Since then Michel Temer, her deeply conservative deputy from another party, has taken the reins. There is real concern that no one in charge has been concentrating on preparing the nation for the first Olympics in South America.

How the mood has changed. Brazil was awarded the mega-event in 2009 when it was the proud B of the Bric economies, flush with cash and hope. Today, however, the state of Rio de Janeiro, which relies heavily on the oil industry, is suffering. The Petrobras affair and falling oil prices have left it with an expected deficit this year of 19 billion reais (£4.3 billion). Such shortfalls have had a direct effect on its ability to pay its workers, including police and teachers, and to fund infrastructure projects crucial to the Olympics.

On 27 June, the interim state governor Francisco Dornelles declared a 'state of public calamity in financial administration' and warned that unless certain steps were taken the Olympics risked being a 'big failure'. …

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