Column: Rio de Janeiro Olympics are a mistake

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The Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro overlooks one of the new Olympic stadiums. (Photo from NBC)

Scott Lenz, Lead Sports Editor

The world’s greatest summer athletes will converge on Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics in August, but many will have to battle more than just their fellow competitors. With the recent outbreak of Zika virus and presence of dangerous bacteria in Guanabara Bay, every participant should be concerned for his or her health. Millions of Brazilians have also suffered due to the diversion of public funds from social services to Olympic facilities. These games are historic as they will be the first ever held in South America, but with the safety of the athletes and host-country citizens at risk, it draws the question as to whether Brazil was the right choice to hold the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.

After bidding for, and winning, both the World Cup in 2014 and these Olympics, it’s clear that Brazil is doing all they can to thrust their developing nation onto an international stage. Unfortunately, their blunders leading up to each event prove that, when a country doesn’t have a large amount of pre-existing infrastructure in place, they are being set up for failure. Brazil is faced with the insurmountable challenge of transforming a city with environmental and foundational issues into an Olympic paradise in just a few years.

When Rio de Janeiro was first chosen to host the 2016 games, immediate concern was placed on the pollution in Guanabara Bay. The water in the bay has been polluted by years of raw sewage, leading to the development of bacterial diseases. The city promised the water would be clean before it saw the likes of sailors and rowers during the Olympics; but, thus far, they haven’t been able to keep true to that statement. The athletes who raced in qualifying events in the water in 2015 quickly discovered that it’s polluted for miles off of the coast. Many competitors fell ill after the race, including German sailor Erik Heil, who had to be treated at a local hospital for MRSA, which is a flesh-eating bacteria.

The Zika virus poses another safety concern for visitors and athletes alike at the Olympic Games. It’s carried by mosquitoes and is prevalent in South America, though event officials emphasize that winter in Brazil should reduce the mosquito population greatly. Outbreaks of infectious diseases are always at a heightened risk during large gatherings, but Zika is unique because most cases of the disease show no immediate symptoms. This will make it difficult for event organizers to quarantine and stop the spread of an outbreak if it arises.

These Olympics will be the second international event that Brazil has hosted in the past three years. Leading up to the World Cup in 2014, protesters filled the streets in Rio de Janeiro to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the Brazilian government’s choice to invest in soccer stadiums instead of education and healthcare. It’s likely that demonstrators will use the media coverage in the month before the games start on Aug. 5 to once again show their anger towards the way their leaders are using public funds. For the most part, in trying to prove that Brazil is a highly developed country, the government has sacrificed the living standards of their own citizens.

In 2015, FIFA was thrust to the forefront of the world’s news due to corrupt practices that resulted in multiple World Cups being handed to countries who paid for them under the table. Instead of having the best interests of the athletes and citizens of the host country in mind, the heads of this international organization only considered which decisions would line their pockets the most. Before awarding the next games, the Olympic Committee needs to avoid the mistakes of FIFA and put the athletes and citizens of the world first. The Committee and the political elites of Brazil have advanced their own agendas, but in doing so they sacrificed the well-being of the citizens and everyone involved in the Olympics. Brazil should have never been awarded the 2016 Summer Olympics.