A look at the storylines regarding Brazil’s preparations to host the first Olympics in South America in six months:
Government health officials offered assurances that the Games will be safe from Zika and that only pregnant women are at risk from the mosquito-borne virus with its epicenter in Brazil.
“Athletes should come to the Olympic Games,” said organizers medical director Dr. Joao Grangeiro, adding that organizers are following guidelines of the World Health Organization, which calls the spread of the virus an “extraordinary event and public health threat.”
“They [athletes] are not at risk,” Grangeiro said, promising the mosquito count will fall in August during Brazil’s winter.
“We will have Summer Games, but for us it’s winter time,” he said. “We will not have an epidemic or pandemic situation. We can’t say we won’t have any cases [during the Games], but we see this as a minimal risk.”
Independent testing of Guanabara Bay conducted by the AP over the last year shows disease-causing viruses linked to human sewage at levels thousands of times above what would be considered alarming in the U.S. or Europe. The tests include the venue for sailing, but also Rio’s Olympic venues for rowing, canoeing, open-water swimming and triathlon.
About 1,600 athletes will compete in these venues during the Olympics, and hundreds more during the subsequent Paralympics.
Experts say athletes will be competing in the viral equivalent of raw sewage with exposure to dangerous health risks almost certain. Many sailors have described the conditions as “sailing in a toilet” or an “open sewer.”
SIX MONTHS OUT: Burning Questions | Team USA Roster | Rio Schedule Highlights | Key Qualifying, Trials Dates | Records Watch | Brazil’s Preparations
Brazil was booming when it was awarded the Games in 2009. Now it’s buffeted by the worst recession since the 1930s. The currency has plunged almost 50 percent against the dollar, and inflation is over 10 percent and rising. In addition, President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment, partly driven by a billion-dollar bribery scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras.
Hit by cash-flow problems, Rio is reducing the use of unpaid volunteers. Transportation is being rejigged. Few competition results will be available on paper, and Olympic sponsor Panasonic has stepped in to give unprecedented financial help to run the Opening and Closing Ceremonies.
Organizers backed away from plans to have athletes pay for air conditioning in their rooms, but rooms in the Olympic Village won’t have TVs.
“We are looking into each and every budget item,” Christophe Dubi, the Olympic Games Executive Director, told the AP in January. “I think this is setting a new benchmark. The result is heading in the right direction. They [organizers] have found efficiencies, and I wouldn’t call it cuts.”
Like many, Dubi believes Rio’s natural beauty will make up for everything else.
“No one is saying that the Olympic experience will be affected. On the contrary, Rio will be magic,” Dubi said.