Ghost town Olympics: Will the stands be empty?

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By Melody Young

This summer, Brazil will host the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro from August 5 to 21. When the decision was finalized in 2009, Rio de Janeiro officials highly anticipated a revitalization of their tourist city as a result of hosting the Olympics. Despite city officials’ initial optimism, slow ticket sales suggest that the country’s political and economic instability as well as the city’s social problems may prove too much to overcome for a successful Olympic Games.

The selection of Rio de Janeiro increased attention on the city’s rampant crime and its heavily polluted Atlantic coast waters. International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials had expressed confidence in Brazil’s ability to improve conditions within seven years, but as of yet, the improvements fail to be convincing enough to the public.

Currently, only 60% of Rio de Janeiro’s raw sewage is being treated, an improvement from the shocking 17% prior to city reform for the Olympics. However, this progress still falls short of the 80% initially promised, according to the Guardian. Last December, researchers discovered drug-resistant bacteria in Rio de Janeiro’s waters, which has allegedly infected one German sailor during during a test event in August 2015.

On the other hand, the country is in the midst of a political upheaval. A 2014 scandal about corruption in a state-controlled oil company has boiled into a request to impeach Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. Protests are holding massive demonstrations across the country. Furthermore, the country faces the worst recession in 25 years, according to the Guardian.

Its economic troubles alarmed the IOC, causing the committee to create a special task force to help oversee the preparations, which have been running behind schedule along with budget decreases.

In addition to Brazil’s pre-existing problems, an outbreak of the Zika virus hit the country in April 2015 and continues to concern public health officials.

With all these safety and health concerns, tourists and natives hesitate to attend the Olympic games. Of the 7.5 million tickets, only half have been sold, and the Brazilian Ministry of Sports is becoming anxious to find ways to get rid of the tickets, according to USA Today. The government may buy tickets and distribute them to public schools, according to Minister of Sports Ricardo Leyser.

Contrary to the public’s mounting skepticism, IOC President Thomas Bach expressed assured the world of a glorious Olympics.

“In just a few weeks, the Brazilian people will enthusiastically welcome the world and amaze us with their joy of life and passion for sport. This will be Brazil’s moment, and this will be Brazil’s Games. This Olympic Games will be a message of hope in troubled times – and the flame will carry this message into all corners of Brazil and, indeed, all the world. In these difficult days that Brazil is facing, the flame is a timeless reminder that we all are part of the same humanity,” Bach said at the Olympic torch lighting ceremony.

However, will Bach’s vision of glory and hope come true? For now, it remains uncertain. We will just have to wait and see what happens in the upcoming summer Olympics.

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