Rio de Janeiro fit to host 2016 Olympics

November 19, 2009 — by Vijay Menon and Abhishek Venkataramana

A widely circulated YouTube video shows CNN anchor Tony Harris addressing his viewers as International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge takes to the stage to announce the results of the first ballot of voting for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. As Rogge announces that Chicago has been eliminated, Harris collapses into a state of shock.

He incredulously repeats the words, “Chicago is out? Chicago is out, but Rio de Janeiro is still in?” And that is the truth of it—Rio de Janeiro trumped President Obama’s home city. So instead of following Harris’s lead and dissolving into tears, perhaps it is time for Americans to get over their shock and disbelief and to finally pass on the Olympic torch to a struggling country that could greatly benefit from a chance to shine on the world’s greatest stage.

While there has been much controversy over whether it is even capable of housing such a grand event, Rio de Janeiro has proved that it is serious about hosting a successful Olympics. President Lula da Silva has taken a vested interest in promoting Rio’s bid and ensuring that the games will be a success. This is more than can be said for President Barack Obama, who reportedly spent only half a day with IOC members pitching a bid for his hometown of Chicago. Da Silva, on the other hand, has been involved in the process from the start and has gone to great lengths to assure the IOC that Brazil will be ready to handle the games. Half of Rio’s Olympic venues have already been built, making the task simpler in the upcoming years.

Da Silva’s composure and leadership convinced the IOC to have faith in Rio, an important aspect considering that Brazil will surely depend on international support in order to host a successful campaign. Rogge has announced his intent to immediately start working with the Brazilians to ensure the success of the games.

While Brazil’s economic status as a rising member of the BRIC nations and its progress in modernizing its infrastructure have made Brazil capable of handling the stress of hosting the Olympics, many have legitimate concerns about the violence that has plagued the country. Although some would argue that these problems would render Brazil unfit to host, precedent argues against this.

It is not uncommon for countries with crime problems to be awarded as hosts. For example, South Africa will be hosting the 2010 World Cup despite previously having a high murder rate. With the onslaught of public scrutiny that is inevitable with the hosting of any Olympic games, Brazil will be forced to show its best behavior for the rest of the world. However, if da Silva’s persistent efforts to clean up Brazil’s tainted reputation have shown us one thing, it is that this task should not be too much of a problem for him. He has been able to significantly lower the problems in the leadup to the games, and Brazil is gradually appearing to be prepared to host a successful tournament despite many earlier concerns. In fact, the 2007 Pan-American Games hosted by Brazil were devoid of any significant violence, an accomplishment da Silva believes will carry over into the 2016 Games.

While supporting Brazil’s hosting might seem disloyal to any patriotic American, America needs to learn how to share the Olympics with other countries, especially ones like Brazil, a struggling country who could use the Olympics as opportunity to reduce its rampant drug violence and boost its world image.

The selection of Rio de Janeiro has been met with skepticism by many, but it is nothing out of the ordinary. Rather than fear mongering and fostering an atmosphere of doubt, Americans should stop being selfish and embrace the fact that Rio will have a chance to host the Olympics.

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