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The Olympics Curse: Is Rio Next In Line?

Aug. 15, 2016
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The summer Olympics are one of the most hotly anticipated events of 2016. Since Rio de Janeiro was announced as the host city in 2009, the Brazilian government has been working overtime to ensure that all of their T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted before the Olympics officially kick off on August 5th. 

It’s been said that many cities that put in the bid to become a host city for upcoming Olympics games do it out of narcissism- being able to call yourself a city that has hosted an Olympics games can be seen as a point of pride. Some officials bid to host upcoming Olympics games in the hopes that hosting will revitalize cities that are struggling, or that being a host city may increase tourism or help with infrastructure. As of late, however, many cities’ inhabitants have been wary about having their city host the Olympics. And this wariness is justly warranted- oftentimes, host cities under-budget to host the Olympics and taxpayers end up taking on the cost, which is often in excess of millions or billions of dollars. Many cities also find themselves stuck with venues that are left abandoned once the games have ended. 

This effect is often referred to as the “Olympics Curse” and highlights that many cities that host the Olympics, whether they be Winter or Summer, are worse off once the games have ended. For instance, the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens plunged Greece into billions of Euros worth of debt - some economists even site the Olympics as a factor in Greece’s eventual bankruptcy. For many former host cities, some of the structures built for the Olympic games have been left completely abandoned or the cities struggle to properly maintain them due to their enormous size.

In the months leading up to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil has already faced a plethora of problems, including an economic and political crisis, fears over the outbreak of the Zika virus in the region, as well as concerns over the water quality in Copacabana, Guanabara Bay, and the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon. Brazil is still a developing country, and along with the issues that the country has been facing thus far, the sheer cost of hosting the Olympics could definitely be a detriment to the country. In 2014, Brazil hosted the World Cup and even then, the country was left in a wake of displaced residents, infrastructure issues, debt, and a number of other problems, leaving many to wonder what type of impact the 2016 Olympics could have on the country. Odds are, the impact wouldn’t be so great. Even so, Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, is optimistic about the growth that the city is experiencing. Public transportation has improved and poorer areas have already seen great revitalization. Paes has even expressed enthusiasm that the 2016 Olympics could resurge Rio like the 1992 Olympics did for Barcelona. 

The acting governor of Brazil, however, isn’t so optimistic. Francisco Dornelles was quoted as saying that the 2016 Olympic games could prove to be a “big failure” due to budgeting, security, and transportation issues. 

It’s truly a precarious situation. In the history of the Olympics, host city success stories seem to be few and far between. The “Olympics Curse” has left many host cities in incredible debt with displaced citizens, large and imposing structures and uncertainty following the Olympic games. And if the economic and political issues facing Brazil, as well as the country’s history hosting other events like the World Cup, prove anything, it’s that Brazil just may be the next in line to suffer the debilitating effects of such a large event as the Olympics. After all, huge multi-billion events like the Olympics are often best reserved for richer, developed countries, not countries that are still struggling to pull themselves out of poverty like Brazil. One can only hope that the infrastructure that Rio has been experiencing thus far continues to help the city, and Brazil in general, long after the athletes and tourists return back to their respective countries. 

Cover Image by Jodeci Zimmerman