Amid doping scandals and Zika scares, Rio hopes for a great Olympics

In August, the biggest sporting event in the world will take place in South America for the first time. Billions around the globe will watch the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro unfold.

But until now, the Games have been bedevilled by negative headlines: doping, Zika, lack of money, building chaos. Perhaps a bit of Brazilian improvisation and joie de vivre can turn things around.

Will everything be ready for the opening ceremony on August 5?

Thomas Bach, the German head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), is convinced it will be. “The success of the games is not in danger," he says.

Rio’s mayor Eduardo Paes is not so confident, however, pointing out the city’s current financial difficulties. Brazil’s recent economic boom has been curtailed by financial and political crises and the country's government has loaned Rio 850 million dollars so that the city can finish preparation for the Games.

The big question is whether the subway line from the city centre to the Olympic venues in the neighbourhood of Barra da Tijuca can be completed in time. If it’s not, there could be transport chaos.

The sports arenas themselves have been completed, according to Paes, including the velodrome.

Should visitors and competitors be concerned about their safety?

Security measures in Rio’s streets, train stations and airports have been significantly increased. “We’re expecting 500,000 to 600,000 tourists and guarantee the best possible security,” defence minister Raul Jungman said.

Around 100 heads of state are expected for the opening ceremony. More than 10,000 athletes will be competing for medals at the Games.

Brazil's security forces number 85,000 in total, with 38,000 soldiers among them. A command centre for secret-service information from around 100 countries will seek to prevent terror attacks.

Should visitors and athletes worry about the Zika virus?

Experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate the risk of a mass outbreak of the virus, which is usually transmitted by mosquitoes, as very low.

However, a group of 150 scientists from 29 countries caused a furore by calling for the Games to be postponed or even cancelled because of the risk of infection.

The WHO believes that to be unnecessary, especially as the commencement of the Games coincides with the coming of winter in South America, which means that conditions will be unfavourable to mosquitoes.

Among other things, Zika can cause skull deformities in foetuses. To this end, the WHO has recommended that pregnant women do not travel.

With the recent doping scandals in mind, will the Games be fairly contested?

Despite high-profile scandals that have seen athletes banned from the Games for taking prohibited substances, there will likely be athletes in Rio that try to gain a competitive advantage through doping.

Some scientists, like Fritz Soergel, have even said they expect the "Olympic Doping Games". The IOC has just retrospectively convicted 55 athletes suspected of doping at the Olympics in Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012.

In terms of doping, the focus has been firmly on the Russian Olympic team. After a recent report by the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) alleged large-scale state-sponsored doping in Russia, the IOC has postponed a decision on whether the entire Russian team should be banned from Rio and asked for more time to consider WADA's findings.

WADA, meanwhile, has called on the IOC to administer a blanket ban on Russian athletes ahead of the Rio Games.

The McLaren report, published by WADA on July 18, alleges that Russia operated a state doping policy of huge proportions before and during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Bach called it "a shocking and unprecedented attack on the integrity of sports and the Olympic Games".

Complicating things further is the fact that WADA has provisionally withdrawn the licence from Rio's anti-doping laboratory. WADA says the facility, which was set to test around 5,000 doping samples at the Olympics, is not up to standard.

Last update: Thu, 21/07/2016 - 11:42

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