Series of challenges plague run-up to Rio 2016

The 2016 Olympics opening ceremony kicks off tonight amidst a long list of controversy and scandal. TRT World looks at some of the issues that the organizers and athletes have been facing.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Cleaners walk past Olympic rings. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 05/08/2016.

Updated Aug 8, 2016

The 2016 Rio Olympic Games set to run from August 5 to 21 kick off today amidst multiple controversies that have dogged the Games in the lead-up to the opening ceremony. The event, expected to attract up to a half-a-million tourists, has been overshadowed by the Zika epidemic among other major issues, and has left many wondering whether the 2016 Olympic Games will be a success or a bust. 

Zika threat

The Zika epidemic in Brazil  prompted top scientists and doctors to send a letter to the World Health Organization prior to the games asking for a change of venue or a postponement for the Olympic Games, which the WHO subsequently rejected. 

The Zika virus has been theorized to be one of the causative factors of microcephaly in newborns.

The Centers for Disease Control has issued a warning advising pregnant women and their partners against travelling to the Rio Olympics.

"CDC Recommends that pregnant women consider not travelling to the Olympics," the advisory says. "If you have a male partner who goes to the Olympics, you may be at risk for sexual transmission."

A truck sprays insecticide around Olympic media accomodations as part of preventive measures against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil August 29, 2016.

Contaminated waterways

Human excrement flows untreated from city hospitals and households into Rio de Janeiro's waterways, which are also contaminated with garbage and dead bodies. Scientists have discovered antibiotic-resistant super bacteria at a beach in Rio.

The alarming situation spurred a leading health expert to issue a warning, "Don't put your head under water."

An AP report found that swimmers who ingest just three teaspoons of water are almost certain to be infected with viruses that can cause stomach and respiratory illnesses, and more rarely, heart and brain inflammation.

"It's been decades and I see no improvement," said biologist Mario Moscatelli, an activist who has led the fight to clean up Rio's waterways for years. "The Guanabara Bay has been transformed into a latrine ... and unfortunately Rio de Janeiro missed the opportunity, maybe the last big opportunity" to clean it up.

In this July 5, 2016 photo, cars drive above sewage flowing from the suburb of Sao Goncalo into Guanabara Bay, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Throughout Brazil, sewage treatment has lagged dramatically.

Questionable conditions at the Olympic Village

The Olympic Village has also not been immune to major setbacks, as it was initially boycotted by the Australian Olympic team citing plumbing and electrical hazards underscoring a string of failures by Rio officials.

Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes brushed aside Australian criticism by saying the Olympic village is "more beautiful" than Sydney's was for the 2000 Games and that he was willing to place a kangaroo outside to “make them feel at home.”

Russian doping scandal

Russia’s Olympic participation was jeapordized when a report found a systematic cover-up of positive doping tests by the Russian state. 

The International Olympic Committee has banned 118 members of the Russian Olympic team, effectively cutting 30% of the Russian Olympic team, over doping allegations.

The 271 athletes of the Russian team who were cleared had to undergo stringent testing in order to participate in the Rio Games. Only on the final day of the opening ceremony was it finalized how many Russian athletes would be allowed to participate. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) accused Russia of state-sponsored doping.


The IOC decision defied WADA’s call for a blanket ban on the Russian team.


Public Safety

Crime has seen an uptick this year, a day before the Olympic Games’ opening ceremony three Swedish tourists were abducted only to be released later unharmed.

The day of the opening ceremony was punctuated with reports of a Russian diplomat shooting a robber dead, Russia promptly denied the reports that a Russian diplomat was involved.

The notoriously high levels of crime in the city have prompted France to advise its citizens in attendance to carry money in the event of a mugging in order to appease the mugger. "The idea is that it's best not to resist an assault and  always useful to have a 20 or 50 real bill to keep the robber happy," French Embassy spokesman Thibaut Lespagnol said.


With all the scandals plaguing the 2016 Olympic Games the Team USA men’s Basketball team has arrived in a cruise ship in which they will reside for the duration of the Games.

Whether the Rio Games will continue to be plagued by problems is unclear -- other events such as the FIFA World Cups in South Africa and in Brazil in 2010 and 2016 -- also faced similar challenges in the run-up to the events, but ended up being successful. 


TRTWorld and agencies