Original Story | www.nytimes.com
April 27, 2016
By Rebecca R. Ruiz

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazil’s president is facing impeachment. The country’s economy is in sharp decline. Bodies of water that will be used for Olympic competitions are polluted, and global public health officials are trying to tamp down the Zika virus epidemic.

With 100 days before the Olympic Games come to South America for the first time, Rio de Janeiro faces more than the usual challenges that bedevil host cities, like delayed stadium construction and transportation concerns. (Rio has those, too.)

The mood here, however, is hardly one of panic. Officials in charge of executing the Summer Games say they feel insulated from Brazil’s turmoil at this late stage. The Olympics, after all, tend to exist in their own bubble, elaborately coordinated to ensure that the multibillion-dollar operation goes off smoothly.

“The machine is in place, and it’s relatively stable,” Ricardo Leyser, Brazil’s sports minister, said in an interview this week. “My biggest concern isn’t any individual issue. It’s the small demands that all come at once.”

Local organizers are beginning to lay colorful comforters — patterned with the silhouettes of cartoon cyclists, fencers and swimmers — on the twin beds in the athletes’ village. They are monitoring the growth of 14-month-old grass that will be transplanted to Maracanã, the famous soccer stadium that will also be used for the opening and closing ceremonies. They are pulling trash from Guanabara Bay, the sailing venue; mopping standing water to minimize mosquito breeding; and ramping up a 24-7 security operation — all the while publicly expressing little worry about the unrest encircling them.

In Rio, the race to be ready is intensifying, with construction workers here still laboring on mass transit projects that were key promises in the city’s bid seven years ago. Costing several billion dollars, those projects include a new subway line and express bus lanes that connect the Olympic Park in Barra da Tijuca to the rest of the city, which is expected to swell with more than half a million visitor.

As the value of the Brazilian real has drastically declined over the last year, some have expressed doubt that the transit projects will materialize beyond the sleek modernist weather shelters that have been built at various stations. At a news conference Wednesday, the city’s secretary of transportation said that the new routes would be ready in time but did not specify when.
To the vast majority of people watching the Games on television, however, such infrastructure may not matter.

The permanent venues for competitions here are mostly complete — all but those for tennis and track-cycling — and athletes from around the world have competed in dozens of test events in Rio in recent months. “It’s about the filling of the cake,” Mr. Leyser said. “It’s not about the stadiums, it’s about the scoreboards.”

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As of the latest counts, 62 percent of the 5.7 million tickets on the market have been sold, roughly half of the total tickets for the Olympics, and 24 percent of tickets available for the Paralympics have been sold. But unlike at past Olympics, those spectators may be disproportionately international compared with other Games, according to Andrew Parsons, president of the Brazilian Paralympic Committee.

shadow on the celebration. President Dilma Rousseff’s ouster looks increasingly likely amid a sweeping graft scandal, and the lawmakers in line to succeed her are clouded by their own controversies.

Questions of corruption have extended to Olympics planning, particularly after a businessman who worked on many Olympics projects in Rio was convicted of corruption and money-laundering related to separate contracts. Mr. Leyser said the issue centered on the Deodoro facility, and that no public official had been accused of wrongdoing. “It’s more an administrative issue than a corruption scheme,” he said. “It’s basically a question of the numbers.”

But not everyone sees the event as a boon to the country. Shirlei Alves, who lives in the Santa Marta favela of this city, criticized the government for spending on the Olympics in the face of Brazil’s problems.

“The world is just getting worse here,” Ms. Alves said, noting she was without medication and electricity. “The government is making a mistake. I’d like if they’d take a better look at the poor people and not help people who are already rich.”

Eduardo Paes, mayor of the city of Rio, said Wednesday that the city had a “comfortable financial situation,” and had spent 1 percent of what it spent on health education on stadium construction.

“I know people are skeptical,” Mr. Paes said, noting the “huge deliverables” for the Olympics. “Of course the situation here has been difficult. But there is a commitment of the Brazilian state to deliver the Olympics” in the face of the political and economic turmoil.

Perhaps the most vexing issue for local organizers — the one that might stir anxiety among athletes and spectators — is the mosquito-borne Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects and temporary paralysis. Zika is of greater concern outside Rio, in the far north of Brazil, but the World Health Organization has declared a global public health emergency and advised pregnant women not to travel anywhere in Brazil.

“The Olympics is a pretty effective way of taking whatever disease is local and making it global,” Ashish K. Jha, director of the Global Health Institute at Harvard, said.

Some scientists have suggested that by the time the Olympics start in August — wintertime in Brazil, when mosquitoes are fewer — the virus might be more prevalent in the southern United States.

But the virus poses a unique problem because it is so far beyond the control of local organizing officials, and so many questions remain unanswered about it. Few athletes have publicly expressed concern, but it is unclear how many might withdraw as the Games get closer.

“At this point,” however, “you just keep going,” David Wallechinsky, an Olympics historian, said. “You have to continue as if everything’s going to be fine. These are real concerns — Zika, the water quality. But even if Dilma is forced out of office, it’s not going to stop the Olympics.”

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Mariah Mendez