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2016 Olympics beset by problems

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is the host country for the 2016 summer Olympics. The event, watched by millions of people around the world, is a few week-long beacon of unity of countries that may not always see eye to eye.

In 2008, the world watched as American swimmer Michael Phelps set the all-time record by winning eight gold medals in a single Olympics. At that same Olympics, a global audience saw Usain Bolt destroy the competition, even after slowing down to celebrate, in the 100m dash, setting a then-world record time of 9.69 seconds.

There is no doubt that the country has leapt on to the world stage after hosting the 2014 Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) World Cup and being selected to host the 2016 summer Olympics. These events should be celebrated by all as landmark events in advancing the country socially and economically. Except they’re not.

The 2016 Olympics is different from others. The event, in addition to the 2014 FIFA World Cup, is mired in controversy about the Brazilian government and the treatment of its people.

According to a 2012 article in the New York Times, in order for the construction of a “futuristic ‘Olympic Park’ replete with a waterside park and athletic villages…”, a squatter settlement that was home to nearly 4,000 citizens needed to be bulldozed. This was a common scene around the city where as many as 170,000 people faced eviction from neighborhoods in order to build Olympic venues. Some residents even refused to move and “live amid the rubble of bulldozed homes.”

Protests over the complexes even turned fatal when Brazilian journalist Santiago Andrade was killed after being struck in the head by a flare during a protest “over a10-cent bus fair hike.”

The protestors are upset that the country is spending an estimated $30 million on the World Cup and Olympics (both which last only a few weeks), while the country faces pressing issues about housing, healthcare, and education.

In addition to issues with infrastructure, the country is also facing environmental issues. The most notable of these, as they pertain to the 2016 Olympics, is Rio de Janeiro’s Guanbara Bay. Guanbara Bay is set to be the venue for the sailing events in next summer’s Olympics, but it is notorious for its pollution.

guanbara bay
Pollution in Guanbara Bay. Photo courtesy of sailing-news.

The city pledged to remove 80 percent of the pollution from the water in time for the Olympics, which was a major reason that Rio was awarded the bid, but the city could be lucky to remove 50 percent. According to an article in the International Business Times, Mayor Eduardo Paes laments the lack of progress calling it a “wasted opportunity” and a “shame.”

According to that same article, an estimated 70 percent of the raw sewage from Rio and the surrounding cities dumps into the bay and Brazilian scientists found a “drug-resistant ‘superbacteria’ in the waters that causes gastrointestinal infections.” Thousands of dead fish can also be seen floating in the bay, but “Rio’s state environmental agency hadn’t yet identified the cause of the mass die-offs.”

Paes added “that it would not pose any problems or health hazards to the sailing teams that will be competing on the waterway, since the events would take place in a less polluted area of the bay and during the dry season, when there is less chance of rainfall ushering in debris from nearby municipal waters.”

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