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Sports

Brazil gears up for 2016 Summer Olympics

Brazilian metropolis Rio de Janeiro has a lot to do before hosting the Summer Games, including overcoming economic crisis and cleaning up its harbor. Eight months before the Games begin, here's a progress report.

The good news is that 85 percent of the sporting venues needed for this summer's spectacle are finished and the rest is on schedule for the opening of the Olympics on August 5.

That's the primary positive for now, though. There are concerns abound in a number of areas, including Rio's subway system, which remains incomplete. Public transport is crucial to ensure that spectators can travel from downtown to the center of the action, around 30 kilometers to the west in the neighborhood of Barra da Tijuca. Without the subway, the Games could get stuck in a massive traffic jam.

A broader problem is the financial difficulty the host nation is undergoing at the moment. In 2009, when Rio was given the nod for the Games, Brazil was booming, but falling oil prices have hit the world's seventh largest economy hard. Inflation is also running at over ten percent, and the national currency is under pressure, which is problematic as Brazil needs to use US dollars to pay for some of the work it's doing.

Financing Olympic construction is proving difficult - all the more so because of cost overruns. The new subway is likely to cost 240 million euros ($258.8 million) more than expected, and the Brazilian Finance Ministry recently halted the flow of funds into the project. Meanwhile, construction firms could rake in big bonuses, if they manage to complete the subway on time in May. In any case, that's what the communication director of Brazil's Olympic Organizing Committee, Mario Andrada, is promising.

Linie 4 der Metro in Rio de Janeiro

How the new subway should look

Dirty dealings?

Organizers are going to have to pinch pennies if the Olympics are to stay, as promised, within the total budget of around nine billion euros. The suggestions for how to save cash have thus far included charging the athletes for using air conditioning in the Olympic Village and only installing television sets in common rooms.

"It's a huge challenge to stage the Games in the middle of one of the most all-encompassing economic crises the country has ever seen," says Armada.

To make matters worse, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff has been threatened with impeachment for alleged irregularities in her government's budget and the president of the Brazilian parliament is under investigation for corruption in connection with the public-private petroleum company Petrobas. Critics are now calling for investigators to take a closer look at the contracts awarded for the Olympics.

Dirty waters

The biggest hurdle Rio has to clear, however, is the filthy state of Guanabara Bay, the venue of the Olympic sailing events. Its waters have been polluted by largely untreated waste from the city's 6.5 million inhabitants.

Brasilien Robert Scheidt

Sailor Robert Scheidt isn't worried

The international media have had a field day with stories about Olympic sailors risking infection from pollution or injury due to floating garbage in the water. Tests carried out by the AP news agency in December did indeed show that the Olympic waters contained high levels of pathogens, including antibiotic-resistant super-bacteria.

Rio has rejected calls to move sailing events elsewhere, even though the city admits it won't be able to clean up eighty percent of the bay as promised. Nonetheless, Brazil's most successful Olympic sailor Robert Scheidt says he's not worried.

"I've been sailing here for 20 years, and I've never had a problem," Scheidt told DW. "And hopefully I won't have any in the future either."

Uncertain Legacy

Critics are also skeptical about 2016 Olympics' long-term legacy. Organizers sold Brazil on hosting the event with promises that 60 percent of the costs would be privately financed, primarily by real-estate development companies. But detractors say the companies concerned received tax breaks and valuable permits to build on public land.

"The public interest and public space are being sacrificed to the interests of the construction companies," says Orlando Santos Júnior, Professor of Urban Planning at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. "They're taking over public functions and changing the city to suit their own profit-oriented ideas and not the needs of the people."

Brasilien Baustelle Olympisches Dorf Rio de Janeiro

The athletes' village then luxury apartments

The best example of the privatization of public land is the Olympic grounds, including the Olympic Village. After the Games, many of the buildings will be dismantled, and while part of this large-scale site will be turned into a park, another section will be freed up for luxury apartments. Developers are already marketing the new prime real estate.

Critics also argue that the residents of Barra will benefit at everyone else's expense.

"Around 300,000 people live in Barra, and up to 12 million in the greater Rio area," says Júnior. "A thinly settled area will be highly developed, with public money, and the majority of the populace will be left empty-handed…Olympia is a carte blanche for construction projects that would otherwise be rejected for social reasons."

Lofty goals

In sporting terms, Brazil is setting its sights high at the 2016 Summer Games. The country aims to be in the top ten in the final medals table and has invested the equivalent of almost 400 million euros to that end - twice as much as was spent ahead of the 2012 Games in London, where Brazil was only 22nd in the medals table. The money is being used, among other things, to pay for coaches and give athletes stipends to help them train.

The prospects don't look bad at all. Brazil has won 67 medals in Olympic disciplines at world championships in the past three years. The hope is that it will rain bronze, silver and gold not only in traditional Brazilian strengths like beach volleyball and judo, but also in events like handball, the modern pentathlon and canoeing.

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