Brazil’s Political Turmoil Throwing Doubt On Upcoming Olympics

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Athletes arriving for the upcoming Summer Olympics set in Rio de Janeiro in August will find themselves in a country facing political unrest and the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, reports NBC News.

Brazil’s Senate impeached Dilma Rousseff just last month over allegations that she made illegal changes to the country’s accounts in order to present a better picture of the country’s financial status before her 2014 re-election. Rousseff was Brazil’s first female president.

The impeachment, combined with ongoing street protests, the Zika virus breakout and arguments on the logistics of holding the Olympics in the country’s most popular city are all turning Brazil into a hotbed of turmoil.

Melvyn Levitsky, the U.S. Ambassador to Brazil in 1994-1998 says, “There are so many things coming together here, it’s a matter of serious concern.”

Rousseff is not the only politician involved in national scandal; many lawmakers, including some in Brazil’s Congress, are facing corruption charges, most notably from bribery allegations regarding Brazil’s oil conglomerate Petrobras. Rousseff was chairman of Petrobras before becoming president.

While Rousseff herself has not been implicated in the Petrobras issue, Brazil’s already weak economy and corruption within the former president’s own Workers Party, plus her known anti-social demeanor, have distanced her from allies and is seen by many as the real reason others were quick to remove her from office.

Before Rousseff assumed power in 2011, Brazil had a good economy, partially because of her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s economic policies. During his time, GDP growth was at 7.5% in 2010, which shrunk to -3.8% in 2015.

Growing frustrations over Brazil’s economic and political situation have spilled out onto the streets as both supporters and opponents of Rousseff have held demonstrations and rallies. Authorities cannot predict what else can happen in the next months and how these activities could affect the Olympics, if at all.

Rousseff will be on trial for no more than 180 days and awaits the verdict of whether or not she remains in office. In the interim, Vice President Michel Temer is taking over as acting president, though his own time serving in the role has been complicated as well.

Temer, who is also under investigation for corruption, has been criticized for having a cabinet of ministers that don’t have a full ethnic or gender diverse population.

Issues on the Olympics are also plaguing the country, including concerns on the Games facilities, particularly the flagship velodrome, being completed before August.

Rio de Janeiro’s local government recently cancelled its contract with Tecnosolo, the company in charge of building the dome, after the latter filed for bankruptcy.

Though pollution in Rio’s waters have improved, the new Zika virus scare is still enough of a threat that a spokeswoman for the U.S. Rowing Association said its medical committee is coming up with a Zika virus plan.

Tickets to the Rio games have also had difficulty selling. As of late May, only 67% of tickets to the Games have been sold and only 33% to the Paralympic Games, which indicates just how much Brazil’s struggles have reached international ears. In comparison, the 2012 London Olympics tickets had sold for every sporting event, except soccer, by February of the same year.

Despite everything, many U.S. Olympic teams have remained a positive outlook. For example, Greg Massialas, fencing coach for the U.S. men’s foil team and an ex-Olympian, doesn’t think politics will impact his athletes. “The reality is that probably being in Rio in 2016 is going to be one of the safest places to be at, knowing the levels of security,” he said.

Brazilian authorities have also brushed off concerns that the nation’s politics might affect the Games. “Brazil has faced other crises and Brazilians have always worked together to overcome difficulties. It will not be different this time,” a spokesperson for Brazil’s Sports Ministry said. “The Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games will take place in an atmosphere of peace, harmony and will be successful.”

Only time will tell whether or not Brazil’s current situation will directly affect the Olympics, but it’s clear that public confidence in Brazil pulling off a successful Games is being sorely tested.

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