Rio 2016: Trouble in Paradise?

The continued spread of the Zika virus along with political and economic instability has spawned numerous questions about the 2016 Olympic games. Here, Adam Grech examines the challenges Brazil faces as the host nation, as well as whether the Games should be postponed.

Peter Burgess/Creative Commons License

Peter Burgess/Creative Commons License

On the 5th of August, the opening ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympic Games will commence in Brazil. From its Christ the Redeemer statue to the beautiful beaches that make up the city’s coastline, Rio is internationally known as a city of magnificence and marvel. This year, however, Rio de Janeiro and Brazil itself have undergone an intense level of turmoil. While under normal circumstances the host nation of the Olympic Games would propel itself to the forefront of the global conversation, this year, disease, poor living conditions, and political scandal have brought Brazil headlines for all the wrong reasons. With the Games fast approaching and many urging them to be halted, we are left to contemplate the consequences of the festivities for both Brazil, as well as the rest of the world, and whether or not their postponement would be in the best interest for all.

The Zika Virus and Global Health

For many travelers and athletes alike, the threat of contracting the Zika virus while in Brazil has been the catalyst for reconsidering attending the Games. Many competitors who were expected make the trip to Rio, including NBA star Stephen Curry, have announced they will not be attending out of concerns for their health, and more are expected to follow. The virus itself, which is transmitted primarily via the bite of mosquitos, has spread rapidly across the Western Hemisphere and can cause severe birth defects for the children of those infected. Brazil, located in the center of the epidemic, has been one of the nations most impacted by the virus with over one million infected since the beginning of the outbreak in 2015. Although the Games are to occur during Brazil’s winter months, which may mitigate the transmission of the virus, some have argued that the influx of 500,000 foreign visitors could have a troublesome global health impact, potentially accelerating its spread.  Should the virus diffuse to North America and Europe during their summer months, the warmer temperatures and increased mosquito populations could lead to greater transmission rates. Despite health professionals being split on the possible consequences of the Games continuation, it is safe to say that the level of exposure to the virus by those coming to Brazil will not ease its spread, and we are now forced to ask ourselves whether the risk of further transmission is worth confronting directly.

The Cost for Brazil

In order to prepare for the Games, Brazil will likely spend upwards of $13 billion USD. Despite the possible benefits of hosting the Olympics, the extreme cost could greatly harm the people of Brazil in the long term. With much of the Olympic budget going towards the improvement and construction of sporting structures for the Games, there has been a severe neglect of the needs of the local population. With an economy in the midst of a recession, many public services, particularly local hospitals, have experienced large budget cutbacks, and further funding of the Games will likely continue to drain funds from public services. Additionally, with widespread government corruption and the impeachment trial of President Dilma Rousseff dominating Brazil’s political landscape, stability within the state is uncertain during a critical time where significant decisions regarding the country’s future are going to be made. The combination of these problems has led to a difficult road ahead for the Brazilian people. While a delay of the Games would cost the Brazilian government their significant investment in the events, it would allow for a focus on domestic issues that have been plaguing the country, and provide the best hope for a prosperous future for Brazil.

Alobos Life/Creative Commons License

Alobos Life/Creative Commons License

Too Little Too Late?

While some speculate whether Zika alone may merit the postponement or cancelation of the Games, the combination of the considerable health risks involved and Brazil’s recent domestic troubles do. Despite this however, government officials insist that the Games will not be postponed. With the possibility of a global spread of the Zika virus, as well as severe economic and political instability, the 2016 Games could prove to be disastrously costly for all parties involved. Although the hosting of the Games could provide a number of benefits to Brazil, the considerable costs shouldered by the state’s people outweigh many of these potential gains, and have been largely ignored by the parties involved. Though it may not be the outcome desired, a deferment of the Games would allow Brazil the opportunity to focus on the rebuilding of state stability, further inhibit the spread of the Zika virus, and would be the best course of action for all.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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