Brazil is really struggling. The country is in the midst of a severe recession, with the economy shrinking, unemployment rising, and annual inflation above 10 percent. Crushing poverty is found among large parts of the population. The country’s President has been suspended from office and faces impeachment, and recent investigations have exposed a web of governmental corruption fueled by the state-controlled oil company. Crime is an ongoing problem, as are drug gangs, and the hundreds of reported cases of the Zika virus have increased health concerns.
Oh, yeah — and then there’s the fact that the summer Olympics start in Rio de Janeiro on August 5.
Brazil’s Rio state, which is expected to pick up part of the hefty tab for the Olympics, is a financial basket case. The acting governor recently declared “a state of financial disaster” in Rio. The statement said “The financial crisis has brought several difficulties in essential public services and it could cause the total collapse of public security, health care, education, urban mobility and environmental management.”
A “total collapse” of public security and health care in a country that has long had a serious problem with violent street crime, disease, and appalling poverty? Makes you want to get your tickets to those track and field events, doesn’t it?
The idea is that the “state of financial disaster” will help the Rio state government to “honor its commitment to the organization of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.” The declaration will allow the Rio state government to seek millions of dollars in emergency funds from the national government to allow it to try to provide the security, transportation, and other services surrounding the games.
Brazil is the latest example of just how stupid the Olympics have become. Countries celebrate when they are selected to host, but then they start to think about how they are going to pay for all of the fancy venues and stadia and Olympic villages for the athletes. It’s a prime opportunity for more corruption, but it’s mainly misguided priorities. Brazil’s Rio state can’t even adequately fund its hospitals and police stations, or make timely payments to public workers and retirees, and it’s going to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to “honor its commitment” to the Olympics? How do you think the poor people of Rio, the pensioners who aren’t getting paid, and the people who can’t get decent health care feel about that?
You can argue about whether the International Olympic Committee should have picked Rio de Janeiro in the first place. Brazil has lots of problems, and it always seems to swing between claimed economic miracle and total financial collapse. You can’t argue, however, against the fact that the Olympics are proving to be an ugly, and entirely unnecessary, burden for a country that is facing economic and social calamity. Even if the Olympics go off without a hitch — and don’t hold your breath on that score — when the weeks of glitzy athletic glamour end, Brazil will be left holding the tab, and the grinding poverty and raging crime and rampant corruption will remain.
I hope no American city ever seeks to host an Olympics again. It’s just not worth it.