Rio Olympics: Is Brazil Ready for the 2016 Games?

RIO DE JANEIRO — In just one week, the eyes of the world will be on Rio de Janeiro as the Olympic Games arrive in South America for the first time.

The buildup to Rio 2016 has been beset by political, economic and health crises, while doping has cast a shadow over sport and track and field in particular.

On August 5, organizers will hope to put all those various problems behind them when athletes from across the world march into the Maracana Stadium for the Opening Ceremony and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.

Here’s how we stand as the countdown to the world’s biggest sporting event enters the home straight.

Venues

Most Olympic Games face questions over whether they are really worth the money. Billions of dollars are invested in redeveloping the infrastructure of host cities, but just what is the legacy from these sporting jamborees that are held every four years?

“In its favor, Rio has avoided expensive iconic architecture, opting for the dull, the functional and the temporary,” said author David Goldblatt, who has written a history of the Olympics, in the Guardian this week.

“Consequently it is set to produce fewer and less expensive white elephants than the leaders in this field, Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008).”

“With just over one week to go until the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games, new and renovated sporting venues stand ready to welcome the world’s greatest athletes to Rio de Janeiro,” says the Rio 2016 website.

But if Beijing had the Bird’s Nest and London showcased a towering sculpture of twisted steel, perhaps it’s telling that arguably the most iconic Olympic sight in Rio remains the 78,000 Maracana — built in 1948, though redeveloped for the 2014 World Cup. The Maracana will host the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games.

Perhaps “dull and functional” is understandable, given Brazil has suffered economic problems since winning the right to stage the Olympics.

“We’ve had to make adjustments in terms of meeting new budget constraints and finding ways of saving money,” said Bill Hanway, who works for AECOM, the company that won the right to design the master plan for the Olympic Park.

“But at an Olympics you can’t just skip the main stadium or the basketball arena. You can’t make those giant cuts.”

If the venues are up and running, the construction of the Olympic Village has proven to be a bit more of a stumbling block.

Blocked toilets, leaky pipes and exposed wires were just a few of the reasons why Australia’s Olympic delegation initially refused to move in to the athletes village.

That prompted the deployment of a 600-strong workforce to ensure all 31 tower blocks were ready by the end of this week.

“Rio 2016 Chief Operations Officer Rodrigo Tostes confirmed tonight [Thursday] that all amendments have been completed at the Olympic Village and the task force has finished its work,” said a Rio 2016 statement.

“The village is now in normal operational mode. Currently 3,578 people from 151 countries, including 1,129 athletes, are in the village.”

By Friday, though, another problem cropped up: A small fire involving two pieces of cardboard burned in the basement car park of the Olympic Village apartments housing the Australian team. The athletes were evacuated for 30 minutes, Olympics spokesman Philip Wilkinson said.

Amid the facelift that Rio has undergone, the city’s residents continue to question whether it has all been worth it.

“Rio’s plan, in hosting the Olympics, was to get the city on the world stage, attracting tourism and investment,” wrote Rio blogger Julia Michaels. “We’d compete with other metropolises, brand ourselves.

“In the process, we forgot to take a good look at the product itself. With almost no effort, Rio stands out from most cities around the world. Who else has scenery and a percussive cultural mix like ours?

“Now if we’d just managed to produce better sanitation, income distribution, housing, public safety, an integrated and efficient transportation system, public health and education …

“The focus on marketing — instead of our reality — is why many locals aren’t exactly psyched for the Olympic Games.”

Doping

Doping has overshadowed the buildup to the Olympics and although at least 160 Russian athletes will compete at Rio 2016, another 113 Russians have been banned.

It’s an issue that has posed some difficult questions for the International Olympic Committee.

One of the whistleblowers whose evidence proved key in revealing the extent of Russian state-backed doping suggested the IOC had missed a crucial opportunity to dismantle Russia’s doping culture.

“I do believe the IOC had a chance to destroy this system and to show that the Olympic movement will not tolerate this kind of cheating,” Vitaly Stepanov told CNN via Skype from the United States, “but they chose not to do that.”

Four-time Olympian Paula Radcliffe has been an outspoken advocate for clean sport and believes the IOC’s decision not to impose a blanket ban on Russia for Rio 2016 could have a detrimental effect on the audience’s level of trust during the Games.

“For the skeptics it will taint absolutely everything we see,” Radcliffe recently told CNN in a telephone interview from Font Romeu in the south of France, where she has been preparing for Rio.

“It risks being like the Tour de France,” she added, referring to cycling’s historical problems with doping.

It’s not just the athletes who will be under scrutiny. Any failed tests during the August will once more throw the spotlight on the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as to whether they have invested enough money and manpower to fight the cheats.

Britain’s leading drugs scientist Professor David Cowan co-founded the UK’s only WADA-accredited laboratory in 1978 and oversaw the testing at London 2012. In an interview with CNN Sport, he suggested those running the Games have a huge job on their hands.

A lab typically oversees 5,000-10,000 samples per year, but the big issue with the Olympic Games is the huge scale-up it necessitates, according to Cowan.

“We’re all used to dealing with the average number of samples, [but] when it comes to the Olympics, you’re doing around 10 times the usual sample load in a relatively short period of time,” he told CNN Sport.

For the first time ever at an Olympics, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) will take charge of doping-related matters in the first instance rather than the IOC.

CAS is clearly leaving nothing to chance — it’s opened two temporary sites in Rio, which during the Games will be open from 8.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. every day.

CAS Anti-Doping Division’s will have the power to impose provisional suspensions, though athletes can take an appeal to CAS’ ad-hoc division in Rio or at the organization’s Lausanne, Switzerland, base following the Games.

Let the Games — and the testing — begin …

Politics

On May 3, President Dilma Rousseff lit the Olympic torch as it arrived in the Brazilian capital, Brasilia. Shortly after, the country’s senate voted for Rousseff’s impeachment and she was suspended as president for up to 180 days.

Brazil’s first female president was accused of manipulating government accounts in the run-up to 2014 elections and was replaced by vice president and political rival Michel Temer as investigations take place.

Rousseff hit back, stating that her impeachment was a “coup” by her political rivals and that she was the “victim of a great injustice.” While she maintains the title of president, Rousseff will not be fulfilling the duties of office as the Games get underway.

On top of all this, a long running corruption scandal involving state run oil firm, Petrobras, has snared many of Brazil’s leading politicians.

“The health crisis, the construction, the corruption, the absence of an important leader for the government to lead the way for Brazil into the Olympics — (it’s) all very difficult situation for the Olympics, for Brazil, for Rio de Janeiro,” Ed Hula, Olympics expert and founder and editor of online publication Around the Rings, told CNN last month.

Security

If Brazil’s political instability wasn’t alarming enough, security in Rio has also been the source of some concern.

Police officers protesting against unpaid wages and unsatisfactory working conditions welcomed visitors touching down at Rio’s main airport with a banner that stated “welcome to hell.”

Residents of the city’s favelas, meanwhile, raised concerns of police violence with CNN at the beginning of July.

Rio de Janeiro state requested federal funding to pay for security during the Olympic and Paralympic Games at the end of June, according to local newspaper, The Rio Times, with state governor, Francisco Dornelles, warning that the Games could be “a big failure” if money was not made available.

The threat of ISIS-inspired attacks was also brought into focus earlier this week when 12 people were arrested, suspected of planning terrorist acts across Brazil.

But Brazil has vowed it will be ready to handle any terror attempts. Security forces have been working with French SWAT teams to simulate attack scenarios, although Brazil’s defense ministry has stated there is “not a specific threat.”

In an interview with CNN last month, Rio security secretary Jose Mariano Beltrame explained he would deploy an estimated 85,000 police officers and army soldiers around the city.

The armed forces will play a larger part at the Games than previously expected, because a contractor that was to have helped with security has been dropped from the plans.

The contractor was supposed to provide 3,000 employees to work security and X-ray screening at access points to the Olympic venues. But the firm was replaced when it registered only 500 workers, Justice Minister Alexandre Moraes said.

“We are going to substitute the company with active and inactive members of the armed forces,” he said.

Meanwhile, security around the Olympic torch run has been tightened after protesters mobbed the torch relay in the coastal city of Angra dos Reis Wednesday, according to a Rio state security source.

The protesters — angry over delayed salaries and poor health services — managed to extinguish the torch and forced the relay to alter its course. The Rio organizing committee pointed out that the Olympic flame remained safe inside several special lanterns.

Zika

It’s the virus that has caused some athletes to steer clear of the Olympic Games, particularly the world’s best male golfers.

World No. 1 Jason Day has opted to skip golf’s return to the Games, as has four-time major winner Rory McIlroy.

Zika is an illness spread through mosquito bites that can cause birth defects and other neurological defects. It has been linked to microcephaly, a congenital condition linked to impaired brain development.

Long jump gold medalist Greg Rutherford, concerned that contracting the virus could affect his plans to have more children, took the step of freezing a sperm sample ahead of the Games.

The latest World Health Organization report, issued Thursday, stated 67 countries had reported evidence of mosquito-borne Zika transmission since 2007, with 64 of them reporting it since the start of 2015.

CNN’s Flora Charner contributed to this report.