The 2016 Olympics: Welcome To The City Of Jesus

Although things aren’t too cheerful at the White House right now, there’s much banging of percussion instruments and dancing the Samba in other parts of the world over Rio de Janeiro’s choice as host of the 2016 Olympic Games. Exotic beaches. Beautiful women. These guys. It’s gonna be the world’s biggest party, right?

Police training in Rio

Well, maybe, but I’ve seen enough episodes of “City Of Men” to know that there may be pitfalls to this plan. In a lot of ways, Rio is the worst possible spot for the Olympics. And while their successful bid will go a long way toward revitalizing the city and the entire nation, will six-plus years be enough time to pull it all off? The answer is shrouded in mystery, and a fair amount of pollution.

It’s one thing when a city has slums, but when you’re known for having notorious slums, that’s something else. Rio is one of the most violent cities in the world, where drug lords rule the poorer neighborhoods and the favela gang violence spills over into the better parts of town. The city has a higher rate of firearm deaths than any in Brazil, and there were 2,273 murders there in 2006; 43.9 per 100,000 population, among the highest in the world.

The world economic crisis has hit Rio hard; many have no jobs, no access to schools, and only limited access to medical care. Environmental pollution is also a problem throughout the metropolitan region; Guanabara Bay, for example, is considered too polluted for safe bathing.

Rio's Copacabana Beach

(Rio’s Copacabana Beach during the announcement)

But the country is going to pump millions into the Olympic effort, hoping to rebuild neighborhoods around new Olympic venues, create jobs and clean up the environment. It’s going to be a huge task, to say the least. Most of these projects are going to have to be built from scratch.

But even before Rio go the official nod, the Brazilian government, in partner with the Brazilian Olympic Committee, was planning a megastructure called the Federal Institute of Sporting Excellence, in the neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca.

The center, according to Minister of Sports Orlando Silva, will be a “point of reference throughout all of Latin America in relation to sports.”

Apart from that, the structure built by the government, the Deodoro Complex that will be used for the 2011 World Military Games, will be available for the Olympic athletes and national teams of 2016 to train and prepare for the Olympic event.

The Brazilian federal government informed that works such as the Program for the Acceleration of economic Growth (PAC) and other integral governmental works of the state of Rio de Janeiro, hope to guarantee the revitalization of the port region of the state.

Areas such as the Maracana Complex and the Joao Havelange stadium, also known as the Engenhao and home of the Vasco soccer team, are targets of betterment.

Maracana Stadium illustration

(Illustration of planned Maracana Stadium, not to be confused with the Macarena).

One also shouldn’t forget that South America is an untapped market for Olympic sponsors; a huge factor in Rio winning the vote, I would guess. South America has never played host to the Summer Games.

But here are other areas of potential fail:

  • Transportation. Think Chicago would be tough to move around in? Rio will spend $5 billion on rapid-transit bus lines to cut through traffic between Barra and the beachside neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema. Organizers say athletes should get to events within 25 minutes, though fans may sit through up to an hour of traffic. The city failed to honor ambitious transportation promises made in the run-up to the Pan-American Games.
  • Security. While most of the events are far from Rio’s slums, some venues are in areas considered to be high risk. The Maracana soccer stadium, for example, is close to the Manguiera favela where gang confrontations and shootouts are not uncommon.
  • Housing. The proposed Olympic Village won’t even provide half of the accommodations needed for the Games; the city still planning to provide rooms through cruise ships docked in rundown port areas of Rio. A proposal to spend $210 million to revitalize the port area is stalled.

Will the Summer Games transform Rio into a safer, more modern city? If results of the 2007 Pan Am Games are any indication, the answer is no. That effort left a trail of broken promises and unfinished projects. But I think that the world is rooting for Rio to succeed here. As for the locals, the party has already begun.

Rio beachgoers celebrate announcement

(Rio beachgoers take announcement in stride)