Just six months ago, the world watched Rio in the midst of a huge celebration: the 2016 Summer Olympics. Now, the facilities used are in shambles, huge debts are still unpaid and the public in its surrounding areas are worse for the wear.
There were big plans for the facilities during their construction. From private sales to public works, Rio promised not to turn these pricey buildings into burdens for the city. However, private operators have not bid on the facilities such as the tennis courts, two arenas and the velodrome. The taekwondo and fencing arena has not begun its renovation to become a school, which was one of the promises made. The government is tasked with maintaining these facilities, and through its recession, Brazil has failed to do so. Robberies have left the Maracana Stadium damaged: seats have been torn up, TVs are missing and windows have been smashed. The facilities are powerless due to almost $1 million in unpaid bills from the power company. When Brazil promised its people the Olympics would lead to a grand legacy, it gave them a sore reminder of their broken promises.
One source of the problems for Rio de Janeiro is that they held the Olympics amidst a great recession. When money was already tight for its people, the government had to take money away from necessities such as health and education to host the Olympics. Just weeks before the games, Rio received a bailout from Brazil’s federal government to pay police officers who had not been paid for their overtime work for six months. This money was given so that the city could build its security for the games. Days before this bailout, Rio de Janeiro’s governor announced a state of emergency, citing the recession as the cause. Yet, the games exceeded their budget of $13 billion. This unnecessarily high expenditure during financially difficult times is problematic.
The Olympics must strive to become more sustainable in all senses of the word. While Rio de Janeiro did have a goal to utilize or sell these buildings after the games, the government has failed to make action towards their utilization and the lack of interest in the sale of these buildings is leaving the city with huge financial burdens. When planning the infrastructure for the games, it would be beneficial to work with private companies who express interest in immediately assuming the infrastructure, and plans to transition the buildings in public works should have timelines set from their construction. This would keep the buildings from becoming shambles and burdens.
It is necessary for future games to become more financially sustainable. While the games are an international celebration, they are not worth harming the financial stability of a country. In the past century, the price of the Olympics has grown exponentially. The 1936 Olympics was considered expensive at $1.7 billion, and the post-war 1948 games cost $30 million (both in today’s money). Since then, we have had incredibly expensive games such as the Sochi Olympics (costing $50 billion) and the Beijing Olympics (costing $40 billion). The 2022 Olympics are predicted to be less expensive for Beijing because they have a lot of remaining infrastructure from what was created for the 2008 Olympics, which is the kind of reuse necessary for sustainability. On an international basis, it is imperative for the survival of the games that costs are lowered. Norway, Germany and Switzerland decided against bidding to host the Olympics due to high costs and low returns. These decisions foreshadow a difficult future for the Olympic Games.
In order for the games to continue, it is necessary that host countries and participants understand they must make changes. With inflated costs, hosting the games is not as appealing, which poses a risk for the future of the game. It is not viable to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure that will be abandoned or unused, and it becomes a burden on the government if they must keep it maintained. For the games to continue, hosts and companies must become wiser about the costs and infrastructure constructed, so that they are not as expensive and may serve the citizens through other purposes after the games.
Alyssa Luis is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.