The 2016 Olympics: Brazil’s Problems & Solutions

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The 2016 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Olympic Games start on Friday, August 5th, and end on Sunday, August 21st; this means that in less than two months from now the 5th largest country in the world must be ready to host the crowds, the athletes, and the spectators from its country and all over the world for this year’s summer Olympics (Olympics, “Rio 2016”; Geohive). Despite the country’s initial excitement about hosting the Olympics, it is always a big job, and requires vast resource expenditures, security measures, and personnel to provide everything the athletes and fans need to enjoy their time at the Olympic Games. Brazil has many resources at its disposal, but it has also been plagued with issues over the past few years as it prepared for the Olympic games – these issues include portions of the population who do not want the games to happen in Brazil; the onslaught of the deadly Zika virus; sanitation problems; political instability; economic crisis; and other tensions that are making set up for the games more difficult than it might have been otherwise. Despite these issues, a recent NPR interview with correspondent Lulu Garcia-Navarro revealed that the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) President Thomas Bach believes that the Olympic Games “Will be great” (Garcia-Navarro).


According to the Olympic website and historical records, the original Olympic Games were held in 776 B.C.E. (Olympics, “History”). The Games were staged on the plains of Olympia on the western portion of the island of Pelops, and dedicated to the Olympian Greek and Roman gods (Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hades, Hestia, Athena, Artemis, Apollo, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, Ares, and Hermes, known under different names to the Romans) (Olympics, “History”). The Games went on for almost 12 centuries until they were banned as “pagan cults” by Emperor Theodosius in 393 B.C.E. The Olympic Games were linked to the cult of Zeus and religious festivals, but were quite secular and meant to show the physical prowess of their participants (Olympics, “History”). Originally, only men were allowed to compete in the Olympics, and married women were not allowed to watch the games for fear that the dazzling abilities and fit bodies that caroused in front of them might lead the women astray from their husbands (Olympics, “The Athlete”). Some of the most famous ancient Olympians were Astylos and Milon of Croton, Leonidas of Rhodes (a famed runner), Melankomas of Caria (a boxing champion), and Kyniska of Sparta, the first woman who won an Olympic victory (she drove a four-horse chariot) (Olympics, “The Athlete”). The Olympics were originally a one-day event, until 684 B.C.E. when they were extended to a three-day event; in the 5th century B.C.E., they were made into a five-day event, and included running, the long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, pankration (an early form of martial arts combining boxing and wrestling), and equestrian events (Olympics, “The Sports Events”). The Olympics being held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this year are the Summer Olympics, including sports like running, boxing, swimming, fencing, gymnastics, shooting, diving, and freestyle wrestling, to name a few (Olympics, “Sports”).


Brazilians have lived in Brazil in communities of people for at least 8,000 years. The first people that we know of in Brazil were nomadic and semi-nomadic, and are believed to have come from Asia across the Bering Strait or the Pacific Ocean in search of additional hunting grounds (Brazil). The Portuguese called the 2,000 or so resident Brazilians “Indians” when they arrived in the 16th century, and soon discovered that Brazilians fought each other for the valuable red dye from the brazilwood trees, and practiced cannibalism, as well  (Brazil). Portuguese blood was mingled with Brazilian blood almost immediately, which resulted in the rich mix of cultural ancestry and lineage that is a hallmark of Brazil’s population today (Brazil). As we now know, the diseases the Portuguese brought with them to Brazil and the New World killed entire tribes as they swept across the country, killing thousands of Brazilians (Brazil). The population of indigenous Brazilians alive today is estimated at 200,000, mostly living in the jungles of Brazil.

The population of Brazil originally consisted of agricultural settlements and semi-nomadic people who eventually became urbanized, but neither people had written history or major buildings which would be ruins today (Brazil).

Gold was discovered in Brazil in the 1690s, but ran out within a century, leaving the country as only an agricultural resource for conquering Portuguese men like Dom Joao. Joao’s son, Pedro, led the revolt against Portugal in 1821, which resulted in Brazilian independence (Brazil). Due to an economic crisis in Portugal, many Portuguese people fled to South America to seek their fortunes, settling along the shoreline for abundant seafood and convenient transportation routes (Brazil). Many, many Africans were brought to Brazil as slaves, and coffee and sugar became Brazil’s most prominent exports into the world economy. Today, Brazil is a democracy that recently held an impeachment trial for its female president, Dilma Rousseff (she claims the trial was illegal and has since filed an impeachment trial against the congressman who impeached her) (The New York Times). Brazil’s economy has been sluggish for decades, and crime and violence are at all-time highs in the country. It’s no wonder that Brazilians don’t want to deal with the Olympic Games when the country is having so many problems of its own.


Back in 2013, Simon Jenkins of The Guardian reported on a demonstration by Brazilians in Parliament Square in Rio de Janeiro that protested that “waste of money on the Olympics.” The protestors are angry that they have third-world schools, exorbitant bus fares, and an insurmountable amount of health and welfare claims while the country spent billions on the World Cup of 2014 and now on the 2016 Olympic Games. Jenkins noted that the “purpose-built stadiums, luxurious facilities, lunatic security, and lavish hospitality are senseless” and caused bankruptcy in Montreal and Athens. Following the 2014 World Cup, 250,000 Brazilians protested against the Games, after the country’s prosperity continued to decline over an eight year period (Barbassa). Unemployment, corruption in government, inflation, and low investments ratings are ravaging the country; a teacher in Rio de Janeiro, stated, “In our health system, we are treated like wild animals…don’t even talk to me about education. They think we are all stupid.” Brazilians want equality, safety, good healthcare and a good economy without a corrupt government, and they are willing to fight for it, even if that means impeaching members of the ruling political party. 


The Zika virus continues to ravage Brazil, and has spread to many other countries. Several athletes have withdrawn from the Olympic Games for fear of contracting the virus and bringing it home to their wives, husbands, or families (Harrison). Despite hours of training over the past four years, the mosquito-borne virus that causes microcephaly in infants of infected mothers has led to the withdrawal of athletes such as John Isner (U.S.), Bernard Tomic (Australia), and Feliciano Lopez (Harrison). Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant are among the myriad basketball players who withdrew from the Olympics from 2016, and Tejay van Garderen withdrew to keep his pregnant wife from contracting the virus (Harrison). At least three athletes cited the Zika virus as a concern, while others gave no reason for their withdrawal (Harrison). As of June 8th, there were a total of 1,996 cases of Zika virus in the United States and its territories, and the virus reached Brazil from Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands in May of 2015. To date, over 1046 cases have been reported in Brazil (a staggering 6,480 are suspected by WHO), and more than 2500 babies have been born with microcephaly there. (WHO; Sun). The fear of potential Olympic athletes is substantiated in these statistics, and no one can blame them for withdrawing from the Olympics.


Brazil is “viewed as a pro-ecology country,” according to Pinheiro Machado, yet on 46.8 percent of the country’s people have sewage services and only 62.9 percent of that sewage is treated – leaving 70.56 percent of the country’s sewage untreated. Brazil is not a small country, and contains some 200 million inhabitants – just imagine the amount of sewage such a large population generates; it’s not a pleasant picture. Brazil’s World Bank sanitation rating in 2015 was 112th, and 22 municipalities in Rio de Janeiro State which have no sewage collection (Pinheiro Machado). Even in Rio de Janeiro city and São Paulo, up to 25% of sewage goes untreated. Health issues like stomach infections are rampant in Brazil, and over $5 billion has been invested to improve sanitation for 15 million people, but some say it is only a quick fix ahead of the Olympic Games, and that the amount invested is nowhere near what it needs to be to sustain the health and cleanliness of the world’s fifth largest country (Pinheiro Machado).


Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff was suspended from the office while she is being investigated for charges that she “illegally manipulated government accounts” (BBC). Rousseff denies the charges, but will remain in suspension during the impeachment trial while Michel Temer (Brazil’s vice-president) serves in the interim (BBC). This term is Rousseff’s second in Brazil, and she was re-elected in October of 2014. The recession and the Petrobras oil company scandal of past months has left public opinion of Rousseff at an all-time low, and Operation Car Wash, the investigation into her affairs, has implicated people in both Rousseff’s party and opponents’ parties (BBC). Those who support Rousseff believe that the government is attempting a coup to remove the Workers’ Party from office in Brazil; at least two corruption scandals have rocked the party, including the Petrobras scandal that involved overcharging of the state-run oil company by construction firms; the extra money was intended to be paid to Petrobras execs and politicians as kickbacks (BBC). In the Mensalao scandal, public funds were used to pay Congress members illegally for backing selected crucial votes, and the scandals have left the ruling parties of Brazil deeply divided (BBC).


Brazil’s economy has not been worse than it is today since the 1930’s, or may ever, according to The Economist. The GDP has gone down by 5.4% in the past year, unemployment is almost at 12%, and unemployed Brazilians increased from 7 million to 11 million in a short two-year period (The Economist). Acting president Temer’s economic programme intends to slash public spending and an “unaffordable pension system,” encourage oil and gas enterprises, and hopefully reform ancient labor laws and tax codes to improve Brazil’s weak economic system (The Economist). Under Temer’s plan, education, health, and all other public spending will be frozen – it is unknown what impact this might have on the country’s Zika epidemic, however (The Economist). Public spending has grown “much faster than the GDP” in Brazil over the past 20 ears, which has caused a government deficit and high interest rates, which keep the deficit high into the future (The Economist). The proposed spending cap might lower interest rates and force government reforms in other areas; Brazil is still in last place out of 61 countries surveyed as far as its economy – including Ukraine and bankrupt Venezuela.

Ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games, Brazil must make sure its facilities are up to par and safe for both fans and athletes alike – a hard line to toe when the economy is in the dumps. Morale in Brazil does not seem to have been helped by the Olympics, but if the running of the Olympic torch is any indication, Brazilians still believe in their country and the Olympics as a symbol of pride. The Olympics Games are coming whether Brazil is ready or not – and where Brazilians and the troubled government wants them to. It remains to be seen whether or not the Games will help Brazil’s economy and thereby help its people through one of the hardest times in the history of this proud nation.

Works Cited

Barbassa, Juliana. “Brazil is in Crisis Ahead of 2016 Olympics in Rio.” CNBC. CNBC LLC, 2015. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

BBC News. “What Has Gone Wrong in Brazil?” BBC News. BBC, 2016. Web. 16 June 2016. <<>>

Brazil. “Brazil History.” Brazil., 2016. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

Garcia-Navarro, Lulu. “IOC President Tours Rio Venues, Confident Olympics Will Be Great.” NPR. NPR, 2016. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

Geohive. “The 50 Largest (Area) Countries in the World.” Geohive. Geohive, 2013. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

Harrison, Doug. “Health Concerns Top Medal Pursuit for Many Ahead of Rio Olympics.” CBC. CBC, 2016. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

Jenkins, Simon. “Brazil is Saying What We Could Not: We Don’t Want These Costly Extravaganzas.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 2013. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

Olympics. “History.” Olympics. Olympics, 2016. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

Olympics. “Rio 2016.” The Olympics. The Olympics, 2016. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

Olympics. “Sports.” Olympics. Olympics, 2016. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

Olympics. “The Athlete.” Olympics. Olympics, 2016. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

Olympics. “The Sports Events.” Olympics. Olympics, 2016. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

Pinheiro Machado, Arthur. “The Next Battle for Brazil: Public Sanitation.” Forbes. Forbes, 2015. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

Sun, Lena H. “Zika: More Than 2,500 Babies Born with Microcephaly in Brazil, WHO predicts.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 2016. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

The Economist. “Brazil’s Economy: Nowhere to Go But Up.” The Economist. The Economist Newspaper Limited, 2016. Web. 16 June 2016. <<>>

The New York Times. “Brazil Impeachment: The Process for Removing the President.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2016. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>

World Health Organization. “Zika Situation Report.” WHO. WHO, 2016. Web. 15 June 2016. <<>>