Please come. Rio 2016 officials are scrambling to reassure would-be Olympic travelers to turn a blind eye to a mounting list of horrors, from body parts on the beach to street crime and the Zika virus.
“We are a big city, and we have the problems that a big city has,” Rodrigo Tostes Solon de Pontes, chief operating officer for the Rio 2016 organizing committee, said in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. “These things could happen in big cities all over the world.”
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The most recent evidence points to the contrary. Just this week, the gruesome discovery of a dismembered foot near the Olympic volleyball arena added to a running tab of bad publicity that includes armed motorcycle bandits holding up drivers in stand-still rush-hour traffic on a street lined with $500,000 condominiums.
With the opening ceremony a month away, it remains to be seen if sports fans are deterred by the security red flags. The Brazilian travel industry has already swooned amid a two-year recession, but the government is hoping some half-a-million foreigners will still come. One bit of good news: the real’s topple does make it cheaper for tourists.
Even though there is a back-up plan, organizers still insist there is no need for it. A new subway line being built for the Olympic guests would be ready on time, Tostes said, despite a schedule that would have it start operation just days before the inaugural festivities.
“We are not using a Plan B,” Tostes said, referring to a contingency plan of shuttling people by bus to the events. “We are confident of that.”
Rio’s Olympic preparations have been plagued from the start. John Coates, an International Olympic Committee vice president, said back in 2014 that he’s never seen a country less ready. Close to bankruptcy, the state ran out of money to pay its civil servants, including the police, and had to rely on emergency federal funds instead.
The show must go on. While work continues to complete the transportation link in time, the lion’s share of the work on venues is done. In the meantime, Brazil is grappling with the outbreak of a virus that can cause birth defects and political uncertainty following the suspension of President Dilma Rousseff while she awaits her impeachment trial.
Leonardo de Cunha e Silva Espindola Dias, chief secretary of state for the Rio governor, also participated in the interview and insists concern about the safety of the new subway line was overblown. He also dismissed the notion that crime was an issue.
“This perception is not correct,” he said.
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