With the Olympic Games ended, Brazil immediately faces another crisis as it tries to keep the financial promises it made to the world as host of the fast-approaching Paralympic Games.
Even before the curtain went down Sunday night on the 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio, Brazil was slashing what it intended to spend on the Paralympic Games, the international sports competition for athletes with disabilities.
The 15th Paralympics will begin here Sept. 7 and end 11 days later. More than 4,300 athletes from at least 165 countries are scheduled to compete in 20 sports. The U.S. announced Monday that it was bringing a team of 267, mostly athletes, the largest U.S. delegation yet. A record number of outlets are expected to broadcast the games to more than 100 countries.
As part of their being awarded the Olympics, Rio de Janeiro and Brazil were to cover most of the associated costs of the Paralympics.
Even after approving the transfer of about $71 million in government funds, part of it briefly delayed by prosecutors, Brazil is struggling to meet its commitments to the games, according to Sir Philip Craven, the president of the International Paralympic Committee.
“Never before in the 56-year history of the Paralympic Games have we faced circumstances like this. Clearly Brazil is in a far different position now to the one that it was in October 2009, when it won the right to stage the games,” Craven said.
Brazil so far has come nowhere close to meeting the promises it made when it won the bidding in 2009 to host the tandem games.
Among the cuts: transportation services and other support. Organizers now are scrambling to do more with less.
The Paralympic Games are for athletes with disabilities ranging from blindness to cerebral palsy to amputations. The games have many of the same sports as the regular Olympics, everything from judo to wheelchair basketball, rugby and fencing to weightlifting and the newly added sports of canoeing and paratriathalon.
The goal, as Craven put it in a statement, is “to make Rio, Brazil, Latin America and the world a more equitable place for all.”
But that sense of equality in athletic competition is already fading. Organizers, for example, have announced that the Deodoro venue, where shooting and the equestrian competition took place during the Summer Olympic Games, will be closed during the Paralympics.
Brazilian organizers have confirmed that only 12 percent of the tickets for Paralympic events have been sold so far – about 300,000 – a staggeringly small number since some tickets cost less than $4. Ticket sales were expected to help defray some of the costs of putting on the events.
In an unusual commonality with the 2016 Olympics, the coming games also will be without Team Russia, which has been subjected to an across-the-board ban from the Paralympics for state-sponsored doping and cheating.
Russia on Tuesday lost its appeal of the blanket ban on its Paralympic athletes, with the Switzerland-based Court of Arbitration for Sport rejecting its appeal.
How the Paralympic Games play out will determine the lasting legacy of Brazil’s decision to play host to the world for the tandem sporting events.
Brazil so far has come nowhere close to meeting the promises it made when it won the bidding. It was supposed to greatly reduce its waste discharge into waterways and substantially improve the quality of the Guanabara Bay, but both promises missed by a wide margin. Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said during the Olympic Games that the lack of environmental improvement was a “missed opportunity.”
Ordinary Brazilians are likely to be asked to defray the costs of the Summer Olympic Games and the Paralympics through higher taxes, reduced spending or both.
The infrastructure being left behind is also unlikely to have a significant impact on the majority of residents in the sprawling city of 6 million. The extension of the subway system connects to wealthy regions – Ipanema and Barra de Tijuca, the neighborhood where U.S. swimmers vandalized a service station. The same is true for the above-ground rapid bus lanes.
“It’s mostly to attend to the middle-class populations and neighborhood,” said Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist at the State University of Rio de Janeiro. “There are still lots of problems for the poor population who were not part of the Olympic plan.”
The Olympic village will be turned into private property for the better-off, not to mention the golfing and sailing venues.
Ordinary Brazilians are likely to be asked to defray the costs of both sets of games through higher taxes, reduced spending or both. As it stands, the nation’s interim president, Michel Temer, is negotiating with governors and other local officials for reduced federal contributions.
The Paralympic Games will also come at the tail end of an impeachment trial for Brazil’s elected president, Dilma Rousseff, who is accused of mismanaging public funds and whose supporters say is being removed in a constitutional coup.
Five years from now, however, the failed promises might be a distant memory. After all, 2020 host Tokyo is already beset with construction delays, a corruption scandal and a sagging economy, much like Brazil.
“I think in some years, people will especially remember the good things; the downside of the Olympics will be a bit forgotten,” predicted Santoro. “It was one of the few moments for Brazil in the last few years that we could be a little proud of our country, and that is not a small thing.”