Olympic Fever: it’s crunch time in Rio

As anyone who exercises casually, I have always had great appreciation for the discipline, will power and effort that go into qualifying and training for the Olympic or Paralympic Games. I deeply admire the para-athletes and athletes who put everything on the line to fulfill their dream of competing in the most important international sports competition.

Rarely, however, did I think of what it takes for a city to host such a mega-event. Living in Rio de Janeiro for almost three years now, I have had the chance to observe up close the tremendous effort and the political, financial and social complexities that must be overcome to host the Olympics and Paralympics. With the eyes of the world expectantly watching, Rio has built stadiums, fields and new neighborhoods. The city revamped urban infrastructure as lasting, brick-and-mortar memorials of a historic moment, by which the country’s president, the state governor and the mayor hope to be remembered. Behind the scenes, Rio’s politicians unremittingly tied new alliances as they grappled for legitimacy to justify massive public investments in “nice-to-haves”, while basic infrastructure such as sewage is lacking. All along, the mayor and his entourage never seem to tire of emphasizing the lasting legacy of this one-off event, pointing out the jobs created and lives improved thanks to the upgrades to urban infrastructure. &nbsp Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 1.48.49 PM

But despite the city’s best efforts to prove that it can recover its glory, glamour and international significance of the early twentieth century and become the “world capital of sports”, Brazil’s stars just don’t seem aligned in 2016. For months, it is not the upcoming historic sporting event that leads international headlines on Brazil, but the political turmoil that led to the current President’s impeachment process. Fed by the country’s worst economic crisis since the 1930s, the political drama is unfathomably crude and, to an outsider’s eyes, worthy of a telenovela (unfortunately not one of the clever kind). The transitional government’s legitimacy is questioned by many, if not for the legal grounds of the impeachment, then because of the mounting corruption accusations against its members. To top it off, the large-scale outbreak of the Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya viruses has further put a question mark on whether the country is suitable to host the Olympic Games, provoking calls for the Games to be canceled, postponed or relocated.

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Against this tumultuous backdrop, it has truly become difficult to sense the Olympic Spirit among the Cariocas. Usually vociferously proud of their city, I experience Rio’s people as subdued and restrained; the anticipation or excitement are not there. They are weary to talk about the upcoming Games, which seem tantamount to never-ending construction sites obstructing traffic. Few have purchased tickets yet, as if unsure whether the Games will actually happen (or perhaps economically cautious due to the crisis). Every day, the media uncover yet another corrupt politician’s wife’s shopping tour or publish yet another transcript of an incriminating private phone call. So, to the general public, the Olympic Games are simply not top of mind.

Life at swissnex Brazil, at the same time, has been defined by the upcoming mega-event for months. Together with our colleagues from the Swiss Foreign Ministry, we have strategized carefully how to best build on the platform of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to bring Swiss and Brazilian people and institutions closer. In the context of the House of Switzerland Brazil 2016, swissnex will showcase innovative Swiss projects that shall serve as catalyzers for new partnerships with Brazilian peers. For us, the upcoming events hence represent a tremendous opportunity to reach Brazilian audiences and show our trust in the country’s potential.

So, despite my awareness of the Brazilian people’s undeniable dire straits, I dare to call on the Cariocas to let their pride, enthusiasm and love for sports and their country resurge. In a mere six weeks, the city will stand still as the world’s best athletes will compete for a place in sports history. The world will be watching and reports on outstanding athletic performances and records being broken will provide a much-needed break from negative headlines.

At the very least, I trust that the Cariocas will resort to the same mind-set they displayed two years ago during the controversial Football World Cup: “We don’t agree with it, but now it’s here, so let’s make the most of it!”

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   Gioia Deucher, CEO swissnex Brazil