RIO DE JANEIRO – The Brazilian metropolis of Rio de Janeiro was the epicenter of the sports world during last year’s Summer Olympics, a showcase competition that was the culmination of a series of major global events that raised the South American giant’s international profile.
Twelve months later, the situation in Brazil’s most famous city has changed abruptly for the worse, with the state’s economy in crisis, violent crime rates sharply higher and the Olympic installations in complete disuse.
Brazil’s government recently authorized the deployment of 10,000 federal forces to contain the wave of violence in Rio, where this year more than 3,300 shootings have occurred, 260 mass robberies by armed gangs have taken place and 92 police have been killed.
In addition to the explosion in violent crime, a problem that was masked during the Summer Games by a massive security presence, the city also is facing the daunting reality of abandoned Olympic facilities.
For example, the Rio Velodrome, which has scarcely been used since end of the Paralympic Games, is proving to be a major financial burden.
The annual cost of maintaining the facility is nearly 11 million reais (some $3.4 million) because the special characteristics of its Siberian Pine wood track require that the air conditioning be kept on 24 hours a day.
The Olympic Park’s other installations also are being rarely used. A prominent example is Brazil’s temple of soccer, Maracana Stadium, which is now economically unattractive due to sky-high maintenance costs following a large-scale renovation to get it ready for the 2014 World Cup and the Rio Olympics.
Another problem that is considered part of Rio’s disastrous Olympic legacy has been the failure to sell the vast majority of the more than 3,600 apartments in the Athletes’ Village.
Only 600 have been put up for sale and, of those, just 240 (40 percent) have been sold amid the country’s economic woes.
In the hotel sector, the number of guestrooms was increased to 25,000 and dozens of new establishments were built; but a year after the Olympics many of them are struggling, with room occupancy averaging just 40 percent, far below initial estimates.
The metro line built to link downtown Rio with the Olympic installations also has proved to be a disappointment thus far, with just 140,000 passengers using it on a daily basis, 46 percent fewer than expected.
Shortly before the Summer Games, the governor of Rio de Janeiro state declared a state of financial emergency and issued an urgent call for federal funds, saying there was a risk of “total collapse in public security, health, education, transport and environmental management” amid the burgeoning crisis.
It turns out that cry for assistance was a harbinger of what was to come just a few months later.