Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Rio Oh Rio !

On 2 Oct, the world went "RIO!" while I went "RIO?"

On that day, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decisively picked Rio de Janeiro to be the host of the 2016 Summer Olympics and leaving Madrid, Tokyo and Chicago in the cold.

Rio was not my pick and so the outcome surprised me.

Chicago did not even survive the first round of voting with only 18 votes. That shocked many as they were hoping that the Obama effect might have some magical touch to the Olympics bid. In this first round, Madrid was leading with 28 and Rio 26.

In the second round, Tokyo was kicked out with just 20 votes. By this time, Rio was leading with 46 votes compared to Madrid's 26. In the final round, the choice was obvious. Rio was given 66 votes, way ahead of Madrid's 32.

Rio has all the reasons to be thrilled. Besides hosting the 2016 Olympics, Brazil will also be organising the 2014 World Cup. Suddenly, two of the most prominent sporting events converge in one place.

What makes Rio the chosen one?

It's About Time

Rio de Janeiro, meaning 'River of January', is the second largest city in Brazil. The city of 6 million people is known for its samba music, the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer (one of the New Seven Wonders of the World) and the scenic Sugarloaf mountain. It is a city with a definite lure.

It is about time a South American city host the much sought after Summer Olympics. Previously, the first and only South American city which hosted was Mexico City in 1968. After all, Rio has attempted to host the 2004 and 2012 Olympics but did not even come close.

In comparison, the US has already hosted four times: St Louis (1904), Los Angeles (1932 & 1984) and Atlanta (1996). This makes Chicago looking rather greedy coming along to contend for the fifth round. Besides, giving it to Chicago will make the 'Obama effect' a very tricky issue to handle.

Tokyo is not looking too promising considering the fact that it was the host in 1964. Back then, it was the first Asian city to host the games. Later, Korea (1988) and Beijing (2008) joined in. Perhaps, it is too soon to go back to another Asian city since the spectacular Beijing Olympics has barely faded in our memory.

Madrid needed a lot of persuasion on why Spain deserves another go after Barcelona hosted the games in 1992. It was leading in the first round of voting by only two votes and soon ran out of steam.

On one hand, you may say that Rio was an obvious choice. On the other, you may also see this as an 'underdog' thing.

Now that Rio has bagged the prize, they have to start cranking on a lot of stuff.


First of all, funding is a big issue. Brazil has not one but two big events coming up. The country has to get ready new stadiums in 12 cities for the 2014 World Cup. The estimated spending for both events is between US$17-30 billion, according to Francisco Carlos of the Foundation Institute of Economic Research.

Much of the spending will go to developing infrastructure, which include transportation, hotel rooms and telecommunication networks. The Brazilian government has pledged that tax would not be raised to fund the games. It remains hazy as to how the funding issues are to be addressed.

Four years ago, London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics. The euphoria was soon replaced by worries of funding. In 2007, the total cost was estimated to be £9.345 billion. Since then, there has been increasing concerns over how the games are to be funded.

Safety and Security

Unfortunately, Rio as a city is known to be as fun-filled as it is crime-ridden. It is not clear to me what the Brazilian government is planning to do in order to heighten security and boost visitors confidence. I don't suppose the clean-up is going to be easy.

A couple of weeks after Rio won its bid to host the 2016 Olympics, a fierce fight took place between drug gangs and police in the city. During the exchanges of fire, one police helicopter was brought down and nine buses were set on fire. 12 people lost their lives and six were injured. The crash site is only 8 km away from one of the zones where Rio's Olympics will take place in 2016.

Violence seems to be part of the urban landscape of Rio. It is not unusual for major highways in Rio to be shutdown due to shootouts. In fact, in early Sep, when Rio was still working hard to impress the IOC, the police got into gunbattles while conducting a drug raid. During the fight, a commuter train was stopped by the criminals, 2000 children were kept out of school and more than a dozen were killed.

That is it. Rio has high crime rates and is considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The IOC is well aware of that.

Despite such a negative image, the Brazilian President Luiz Inacio da Silva was reported to have assured the IOC that, 'if there is a secure place to host the Olympic Games, that place is Brazil, it is Rio de Janeiro.'

While the constant shootouts may seem like a big concern, Rio remains a popular tourist destination. The city's famous Carnival is an annual event which draws 800,000 visitors each year. Nothing catastrophic has happened before.

Rio has one more trump card.

In this terrorism-phobia era, not many cities can boast that they are immune to the greatest security threat. Rio claims that they 'do not have attacks or bombs' arising from international terrorism. Rio assures that most of the shootouts occur in the slum areas. As the Olympics activities are expected to take place in the more upscale areas where urban crime is not common, there should be no great security concerns.

Sounds comforting enough? Well, at least the IOC thinks it is.

Brazil - A Promising Land

Finally, Brazil is no place to be dismissed. The government has put up some persuasive statistics to impress the IOC that it is growing to become the world's fifth largest economy by 2016. The projected growth and the winning of the bid seem very well-timed.

Only time will tell. Let's wish Rio all the best in the preparation towards a successful 2016 Summer Olympics.

"Being defeated is only a temporary condition;
giving up is what makes it permanent."
~Marilyn vos Savant~

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