This year’s Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and the big question that is on everyone’s minds is: “will it be safe?” To most people, Rio de Janeiro is the home of beautiful beaches and beautiful people, the world has no idea what most of the city really looks like. Commercials, movies and magazines only show you the more glamorous side of Rio, but the coastal city has several big problem to fix if the Olympics are going to be successful. A very high crime rate, and high pollution levels in their water and in the air, and the outbreak of Zika Virus are main concerns threatening the success of the event. Now that the the 2016 Olympics are definitely coming to this country, is it worth for athletes to risk their health and safety to participate in this prestigious event?
Rio has enticing beaches, gorgeous landscapes and a diverse music tradition that puts it high on lists of places to visit, but the glamour masks a real pollution problem. The city has been working very hard to clean up the pollution in their rivers and clean up the pollution in their streets, but are they doing enough to ensure the safety of the millions that will arrive in just under a month? The pollution in the water has many swimmers, boaters and other athletes that have to come in contact with the water backing out for their own safety. They are even having issues with selling tickets to all events. The government has stepped in and is now considering buying the tickets and giving them away to local schools and churches.
Just one year ago, Rio installed barriers across more than a dozen of their rivers in order to hold back the garbage that otherwise might drift into the paths of Olympic sailors. A fleet of boats have been patrolling the waterways since then to keep debris from snagging on a rudder or centerboard and injuring an athlete or affecting the outcome of a competition. Sources say some of the untreated human waste that has long fouled Rio’s beaches and docks and picturesque lagoon will be diverted from competitive venues so the athletes who have to navigate them need not worry.
Olympian Martine Grael, stood on a beach shortly after a day of racing at an international regatta on Guanabara Bay and decided to voice her opinion on the current state of the 2016 Olympics in her own country. Grael, 25, is one of the newest members of the 2016 Brazilian Olympic team, the daughter of a gold medalist, and someone the grew up in these waters.
“It’s very clear that water treatment and education are the biggest focus on cleaning the water, and I haven’t seen almost anything being done in that way,” Grael says. “I think Rio has a very big coastline and people love to go to the beach, but nobody seems to care that the beach is getting dirtier and dirtier. The water’s still dirty and it stinks some days, and, I don’t know. You don’t need to study a lot to understand that it’s not going well.”
The government, local law enforcement and locally hired security officers, are saying their reputation of crime should not be the reason you stay home. Despite the fact that Brazil is known as one of the world’s most dangerous murderous countries. The killing of a 17-year-old girl in Rio not to long ago led Brazilian soccer star Rivaldo to post a message on his 407,000-follower Instagram account warning foreigners not to come to the Olympics: “Things are getting uglier here every day,” Rivaldo wrote. “I advise everyone with plans to visit Brazil for the Olympics in Rio — to stay home.”
So far, Brazil has spent more than $11 billion trying build the stadiums, venues and added security, and is very confident this event will go on with no major incidents. Rio’s city planner and director of nonprofit catalytic communities, Theresa Williamson, stated the this concern over danger to tourists is being blown out of proportion and is causing more harm then help and the fact is crime is far more likely to affect locals than tourist.
“During the Olympics tourists will be incredibly safe; that is not a concern,” she said by phone. She elaborated on the point in an email: “Unfortunately the focus on a lot of these issues that the international press has come up with — ‘is it safe for tourists/visitors? — is moot. We should be taking the visibility that’s being generated and turning it around and pressuring the authorities to make the city safe and healthy for its residents.”
“If you are young, unemployed male and black, and if you come from a low-income area or a favela, the Olympics are going to be very bad news for you,” Robert Muggah, head of research at a Rio-based security think tank, the Igarapé Institute, said by phone. “If you are white, middle class or wealthy, and you’re a foreigner, you’re probably going be as safe as you are in a Northeastern city in the United States.” Muggah also said that many incidents get amplified by the media and that they can either choose to cover the truth or entice more violence then should be.
As wonderful as the Olympics are, will this be a big mistake holding the event in a city that has so many issues? Athletes train their wholes lives to get to this point and represent for their country, but is it worth their safety and health? Will this be considered a watered down version of the Olympics due to so many top athletes deciding not to attend? We’ll know the answers soon enough, but those athletes and tourists that do attend should plan on taking all necessary precautions in order to stay safe.