Rio 2016 doomed from the start? Obstacles facing this year’s Olympics

It would not be the Olympics without a controversial build-up

Graham Ruthven

Published: Updated:

What makes the Olympics so special? Some might say it is the sense of history, or the profound achievement at being crowned the world’s best. Maybe it is the national anthem, Olympic torch or opening ceremony. What is certain is that it would not be the Olympics without a controversial build-up.

Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 set a new standard for pre-Olympics mayhem, with the Greek games only just going ahead, with several venues still under construction. While the state of stadiums and arenas in Rio might not be so concerning (although there are still worries, particularly regarding the cleanliness of the rowing lake), these Olympics are arguably the most controversial in history.

There are concerns over athlete safety, with the Zika virus spreading across Latin America. A number of golfers have pulled out, with Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy among the big names avoiding Brazil due to concerns over their health and that of their families.


Some say the threat of the Zika virus has been exaggerated, but the amount of money splurged by Brazil in hosting the event has not. The best of Rio de Janeiro will be on show over the next month, but only because the worst will be hidden from the world, literally.

When visitors land at Rio’s international airport for the competition, they will drive through some of the city’s slums to reach one of the four areas where Olympic venues are located. However, the slums will be shielded from view on the main road through the city by massive fences erected for the Olympics.

Protests are expected over the course of the games, over education and healthcare being neglected and under-funded in Brazil while huge sums of money have been spent on hosting two major sporting events within just two years.

The government viewed both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics as a way to showcase Brazil’s burgeoning economy. Millions upon millions have been spent on improving sporting infrastructure, with stadiums, arenas and venues built wherever there is a spare plot of land. However, despite promises to the contrary, very little of that money has been spent on improving Brazil’s general infrastructure.

London is still grappling with its legacy, as debate continues to rage over whether the 2012 Olympics inspired a nation into sporting action, as was promised. Rio’s Olympics legacy has already been compromised, with the city abandoning a number of projects designed to make the most of the social and cultural impact of the event.

The societal and financial benefit of sporting events such as the Olympics and the World Cup are widely debated, and Rio 2016 could provide a compelling case study. Even in the immediate term, it seems unlikely that the city will put on the kind of flourishing spectacle London did four years ago, even in the land of carnival.

Then there is the current doping controversy, with dozens of Russian athletes banned from the Olympics, which are now considered to be as clean as the lake the rowers will take to next month.

The Rio Olympics have a lot of redeeming to do if they are to be considered a success. In truth they were doomed from the start, with Brazil unwilling and unprepared to host such an event in such societal conditions. Sport does not come much more memorable than the Olympics, but these games might be better off forgotten.