Why Rio might actually pull off the Olympic Games with gusto

Like Brazil at large, Rio's finances and politics are in bad shape. But if there is one thing Brazilians know how to do it is welcome the world with pizzaz and enthusiasm. 

Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Brazilian performers welcome athletes at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 3, 2016. The opening ceremonies for 2016 Games will begin Friday, Aug. 5.

Rio de Janeiro is not a perfect city. And as the Olympic games approach, fears that the city’s imperfections could invite catastrophe have been a frequent subject of media attention.

The homicide rate – and the rate of killings by police – has been halved since the city won the right to host the Summer Games, reports USA Today. But security issues remain a theme: With the annual homicide rate at 54 murders per 100,000 residents, Brazil announced that it would send 85,000 security agents into the streets for the Games, including 38,000 members of the military. (Never mind that many of those officers haven’t been paid in months, because the state government’s finances are in such deep trouble that the governor warned of a "big failure" when the August Olympics arrived.)

And in what was perhaps the capstone of an ugly media tour, a 16-month-long study commissioned by the Associated Press this week found that the city’s waterways – including venues to be used by Olympic rowers and sailors – contained dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria stemming from untreated sewage, with one expert quoted as advising visitors not to put their heads underwater.

Such problems, and a host of others, will endure well after the flocks of tourists leave town.

But some Brazilians predict that negative coverage of the host city will fade once the Games begin, pointing to the city’s management of the 2014 World Cup – and a national culture known for dazzling foreign tourists with its enthusiasm for cultural parades, Carnival, New Year's Eve, and sporting events.

"No one throws parties like Brazil," said Denis Eduardo, a travel agent from Sao Paulo, in an interview with the Associated Press. "People might be bashing Brazil now, as if all previous Olympics had been perfect, but it won't be long until they are all enjoying it here."

The city also proved a worthy host to the 2014 World Cup. In the wake of those games, Pedro Trengrouse, a professor of sports management at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Brazil, told The New York Times that despite the Brazilian national team’s humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany in the finals, its hosting had been "a huge success for Brazil and its image overseas," one that "outweighs the impact of the losses."

The Olympics almost always bring increased scrutiny of problems in the host city. In the lead-up to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, concerns centered around the threat of terrorism. In 2008, air pollution in Beijing was a theme, as well as the authoritarianism of the Chinese government.

"Opponents of the Beijing government will undoubtedly use the Olympics, and the presence of 10,000 foreign media personnel, to try to publicize their causes," wrote The Christian Science Monitor at the time. "The Chinese police will undoubtedly try to stop them. Expect cat-and-mouse games outside the sports venues."

In 2009, the Monitor noted that the Olympics tend to pose a burden to government finances as authorities pour funds into the preparations, including facilities that often lie unused after the games end. So why do officials keep taking on such headaches?

"It's civic pride," Ed Hula, publisher of Around the Rings, a newsletter that follows the Olympic bid process, told the Monitor as the International Olympic Committee prepared to announce the host of the 2016 Games. "It's the idea that 'we can do this' – that it's important and part of the city's history."

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