ANN ARBOR—The 2016 Summer Olympics Games in Rio de Janeiro begin in August.
But the games have been plagued by a host of unexpected problems including: A catastrophic economic crisis; political upheaval after Brazil President Dilma Rousseff was impeached; and the emergence of the Zika virus. Many observers have been questioning whether the games should be held at all -- and if Rio will be ready.
Stacy-Lynn Sant, an assistant professor of sport management at the University of Michigan, conducts research focusing on the legacy of mega sporting events, bid strategies and the leveraging of these events for long-term benefits to the tourism industry in the host city and region.
Q & A with Sant:
Q: Why was Brazil picked to hold the games in the first place? Should the committee be blamed for choosing Brazil?
A: When Rio was chosen to host the Olympics in 2009, Brazil had the 10th-largest economy in the world -- there were new offshore oil discoveries. This was supposed to be Brazil's coming-out party. Then things went horribly wrong: Oil prices fell drastically, there were allegations of kickbacks and price fixing, and the president was impeached. There were a lot of things [one] couldn't predict or plan for -- pollution, increases in crime and the Zika virus. [In 2009] it seemed like a great idea but now all those issues converge. It is the perfect storm.
Q: The games are scheduled to start in less than a month, and there are reports about how the facilities aren't ready for the Olympic games. Your thoughts?
A: It's quite common, especially in this cultural setting, to be ready 'just-in-time.' You heard some of the same concerns regarding the 2014 FIFA World Cup (in Brazil), and they were ready.
It's a story we've heard before. Cities are excited when they win the bid. Then come the cost overruns and delays. Then they'll rush to get ready in time. Beijing was considered a success and we saw a few of the same issues.
Will they be ready? I'm hopeful they will be. Similar issues were raised before the 2014 World Cup; however, they weren't in such a political and economic crisis. In terms of public safety and the spectator experience, I'm not sure.
Q: Are you worried about other aspects of the games?
A: Security is a major concern and is extremely expensive. Security for venues and athletes should be taken care of but public safety is another issue entirely.
Also, officials keep saying the Zika virus is not an Olympic problem but it is, especially considering the event is expected to attract thousands of athletes and international tourists. Ticket sales are down. It remains to be seen how many people have changed their plans to visit Rio.
Q: What will happen with the facilities after the games?
A: I'm not quite sure what the plans are. Considering that the country is in economic crisis, how are they going to be able to maintain those venues? Maintenance runs in the millions of dollars. Rio is no different from any other city that's hosted the Olympics regarding issues of venue after-use. The economic crisis just exacerbates the problem.