Olympic Games 2016: Marred By Political Corruption And Failing Economy

School Children To Receive Free Tickets

With more than half of the tickets to the 2016 Olympic Games remaining unsold, the Brazilian government has taken to purchasing them to distribute to school children. Never has an Olympic Games event faced this shortage of ticket sales, and the games are just 4 months away.

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How did this happen?

Brazil’s Woes Discourage Ticket Sales

Just a few years ago, in 2009, Brazil was awarded the 2016 Olympic Games amid a thriving economy and much excitement over its future. After all, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, known only as “Lula” to his countrymen, had transformed the country. Millions had been lifted out of poverty, and the economy was booming.

Seven short years later, Brazil is mired in political corruption, the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, growing crime in Rio, and a growing Zika virus scare that has many afraid to travel to Brazil at all.

What has happened?

Several Events Bring the “Perfect Storm”

Political Crisis

Current President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment proceedings over the economic freefall and a scandal involving the country’s state-run oil company, Petrobras. According to prosecutors, both Rousseff and her predecessor, “Lula,” allowed construction companies to pad their contracts to Petrobras, and the extra funds were siphoned off to support their political campaigns. Other charges of bribery have also been leveled against “Lula.”

The business world is reeling over this scandal. The head of Brazil’s largest construction firm, Odebrecht, is in jail for his part in the money funneling scandal, and both Petrobras and Vale, the two titans of industry in Brazil, have had their credit ratings slashed and their stock prices dive.

Both companies have had to lay off employees, most of whom live in Rio.

Last week, state prosecutors called for “Lula’s” arrest, and political opposition is calling for Rousseff’s impeachment.

Rousseff’s approval ratings are at an all-time low, and huge protests calling for her resignation occurred all across the country over the weekend. Rousseff stands by her man, mentor “Lula,” and insists that she will not resign.

Meanwhile, Lula insists he is innocent and the victim of right-wing opposition to his party.

It’s hard to know who will be at the helm of Brazil’s government when the Olympics begin in just 4 short months.

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Economic Crisis

Brazil used to be the global “success story” of emerging economies. Now economists are saying it is experiencing the worst recession in the last 100 years. Several factors are at play, including a large decrease in demand for Brazil’s goods on the part of China and low oil prices.

Critics say that, even with these downturns, the situation did not have to get this disastrous if Rousseff had managed the economy better, including cutting back on social program expenditures.

Brazil’s economy has been described as being in “stagflation” – no economic growth, but a nearly 11 percent annual inflation rate.

Zika Crisis

Amidst all of the country’s other woes comes the Zika virus, a mosquito-borne illness that impacts pregnant women in disastrous ways. While a vaccine is in the making, women who are pregnant or considering pregnancy will not be traveling to Rio for the Games this summer.

And this health crisis comes at a time when funding to hospitals has been cut.

Last month, President Rousseff, in a televised address, announced that there would be an all-out “war” against the virus in preparation for the games. And military troops are on the move, chlorinating water supplies, clearing larvae out of gutters, and otherwise attempting to remove the threat.

1.5 million Brazilians have so far been infected.

In a statement to the press, Captain Luiz Eduardo Madureira do Moraes, military head of the eradication effort, said the following.

“We hope that by the time of the Olympics, we can revert to our main role of security, because the climate should be cooler and the disease risk lower.”

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Resulting Olympics Woes

On the streets of Rio de Janeiro, residents are not happy about the coming Games. Despite all of the hype from officials about the benefits to their city and livelihood, they have seen nothing but problems.

There was a subway extension promised, which will probably not be ready.

Waterways that were to be cleaned up have not been. The threat of Zika remains.

Security is bad, and crime is on the upswing. While officials have promised a huge show of police and military security, there is fear that both competitors and spectators will not be safe on the streets of Rio.

Can Brazil Pull It Off?

When the economic and political woes were in their early stages in 2014, Brazil did manage to pull off the World Cup. Perhaps it will pull of the Olympics as well. We shall see.

[Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images]