The opening ceremony for the 2016 Olympics, hosted in Rio de Janeiro will take place this Friday. The celebrations, however, are clouded by the problems that have pervaded Rio all summer, problems that have been highlighted by preparations for the Olympics.
Several prominent athletes have declined to participate in the games over fears of the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects. There are other health concerns besides Zika, however—there’s also the issue of raw sewage flowing into the waters where athletes will be competing.
There are also budget woes. While many host cities have struggled to pay for the Olympics after the games, Rio has already declared a state of “public calamity in financial administration,” while arrivals in Rio are greeted with signs informing visitors that police and firefighters don’t get paid.
While it’s not uncommon for host cities to have problems leading up to the Olympics given the huge scale of the event, these financial and planning issues don’t bode well for Rio. Even if the Olympic games themselves go off without a hitch, Rio might find itself in the company of other host cities who found the games to be a burden, rather than a boon.
Montreal’s Olympic stadium is still standing, and is now a tourist attraction for the city. But for many years the stadium, nicknamed “The Big O” for the shape of its roof, was called “The Big Owe” by locals.
It took Montreal over 30 years to finish paying for the 1976 Olympic games. It only finished in 2006 thanks to a tax placed on tobacco for the purpose of paying for the games.
Sydney’s Olympic games were generally hailed as very successful, but even then the city’s losses amounted to $2.1 billion. Meanwhile, the decline in unemployment and increase in tourism projected before the games never materialized.
The Athens Olympics left Greeks with empty and decaying Olympic venues and a financial loss of over $14 billion. This huge expenditure has been a factor in Greece’s ongoing government debt crisis.
Already people are wary of the aftermath of Tokyo’s 2020 Olympics. With a sluggish economy, an aging population, and a continually declining birthrate, Japan may also face major post-Olympic problems.
The promises of hosting the Olympic games are great: improve your infrastructure, host a prestigious event, gain glory for your city, and reap benefits from the games’ revenue and increased tourism. In reality, however, host cities have consistently been saddled with costs far above what they earn, infrastructure around sports arenas instead of areas that most need it, and no evidence that tourism increases at any rate that would justify multi-billion dollar expenditures.
In the wake of games like those in Montreal and Athens, people are starting to realize that the Olympics are more trouble than they’re worth. This is why the Olympics has had such trouble finding cities in democratic countries who are willing to host the games—voters have shown they’re not willing to foot the bill for the games.
Rio is experiencing tough problems as the 2016 Olympic games draw nearer, and the city will need to work hard to pull the games off given the hurdles in their way. Unfortunately, the problems won’t end when the games do on August 21st.