Although the country is preparing to host one of the largest athletic and globally recognized events in the world, attention in Brazil has not been as focused on the upcoming 2016 Olympics as one might think. Between police corruption and brutality, protests and utter violence plaguing the country, it is no wonder that the world is holding its breath to see how the country manages to resolve its issues before the rest of the world gathers there in just a year.

Due to large numbers of cases involving police brutality, protest involving the overthrow of the president and change in the overall political system, the entire country is in an uproar. The number of instances of police violence and even cases of homicide at the hands of police officers in the country have been incredibly high. That being said, many of these cases do not receive the type of attention that such instances would in, say the United States, and many officers go unpunished and victims’ families are left without retribution.

That being said, the most recent concern in Brazil is not focused on police corruption, but much higher up in the political sphere. Recent peaceful protests have people gathering in the major city of Sao Paulo calling for a change in the government, starting with the removal of the current president.

These protests and such controversy mean a few things for the country, at least over the next year. The country and the government have to respond to the people somehow, whether they satisfy any or part of their requests or not. Furthermore, the state is feeling the pressure with the Olympics happening in just about a year, meaning there needs to be an answer to the upheaval in time to create stability for the global stage. Over the next few weeks, and even months, it will be interesting to see how the state responds to the protests and what changes the public will push for leading up to the grand event next summer.

Alexandrea Jacinto

Sources: CNN, New York Times
Photo: Storify

health_threat_to_athletesThe World Health Organization (WHO) is asking the International Olympic Committee to run new tests on the water in Rio de Janeiro. The request comes after an investigation by the Associated Press (AP), which determined the waterways still pose a health threat to athletes.

Previous evaluations of the water only checked for bacteria, not viruses, which is what WHO wants to change.

An AP investigation into Rio’s waterways found that pollution levels are still high in places where canoeists, sailors, swimmers and triathletes will compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

The AP reported that some athletes training in Rio have fallen ill with symptoms including fever, vomiting and diarrhea because of dangerous levels of viruses and bacteria in the waterways.

The results of the investigation are disappointing for Rio, as being chosen to host the Olympics was supposed to motivate the city to clean its waterways. A newly installed sewage system was thought to be able to handle 80 percent of raw sewage, but as of March, the treatment rate was only 49 percent.

Still, the results aren’t necessarily a surprise, as Rio mayor Eduardo Paes confirmed to Brazil’s SporTV in March that Guanabara Bay, the waterway that is supposed to host the sailing events, would not be clean by the time the games start.

The waterway has become a place where some of the untreated sewage from the city’s 12 million residents ends up.

Rodrigo de Freitas Lake in Central Rio, a second venue for rowing, canoeing, triathlon and open-water events, also poses a health threat to athletes, with tests showing high levels of viruses in the water.

In response to the results of the investigation, the world sailing governing body said it would conduct its own independent testing of Rio’s waterways.

Matt Wotus

Sources: The Washington Post 1, The Washington Post 2, The Washington Post 3
Photo: The Guardian


The purported benefits of hosting mega-events such as the Olympics have been increasingly criticized by economists and journalists, and questions are being raised. Are the host nations for the Olympics or similar events making a good investment? Could the money be better leveraged to help the poor via other means? What makes hosting mega-events beneficial or not?

The costs of hosting the Olympics used to be small, in the millions of dollars. In the past few decades, this has not been the case. Billions of dollars are poured into infrastructure projects and other related costs in order to create the environment for hosting the Olympic Games.

The huge investment and sunk costs put into hosting the Olympics are not always returning the same value. The stadiums built for the events are often left unused and in a state of decay within only a few years of the events. With little demand for such a large amount of new sports infrastructure, the huge construction costs rarely pay for themselves in the long run.

On the other hand, there is such a thing as the “Olympic Effect”—trade openness and overall transactions tend to increase for the host country following the Olympics. Prestige and attention is also granted to the host country, as the Olympics are a chance to showcase the host’s best qualities and cultural attractions. This is important—but is it worth the cost? Many would say it probably is not.

The Sochi Winter Games cost Russia $50 billion, the highest costs of all time for an Olympics Game. The national economy benefited negligibly from the Games but the regional effect may have indeed had some positive impact. Because of the expected increase in tourism and guests in the region, infrastructure of all kinds had to be upgraded to be able to accommodate the flash flood of spectators and athletes. This could mean a long-lasting positive impact on certain regions of the country, even if the new infrastructure is underused afterwards.

The more recent Olympic Games have been held in emerging economies such as Russia and China, with Brazil upcoming. This trend away from more developed nations such as the United States and European countries is important to recognize. Government spending is particularly important for these developing nations. Investing wisely is the name of the game for economic development, and the Olympics net return on investment is questionable at best. This is not a good sign for these countries. For example, Brazil built massive stadiums in small cities for the World Cup that had no use for them past the mega-events for which they would be used. The government even cleared out favelas (slums) in order to build new infrastructure and gentrify city outskirts. It begs the question, is it possible that Brazil should be using the billions of dollars to help those in the favelas and others like them, rather than build massive stadiums? These are the questions that emerging economies must consider carefully when they make the investment that most economists consider an economic net loss.

Norway recently withdrew its bid for the 2022 Winter Games due to concerns that the cost would be too large and a lack of public support. The lack of evidence that the Olympics produce the economic benefits advertised is a message that must be heeded. The hidden costs of hosting mega-events such as the Olympics and the World Cup are especially prominent to a developing economy like Brazil. First, they might end up losing money and, secondly, that money could have been leveraged to a much greater degree. Just imagine if instead of hosting the Sochi Games, Russia had the same enthusiasm for spending $50 billion—but on social and job-training programs designed to reduce poverty within their own borders. These are the hidden costs of hosting mega-events.

– Martin Yim

Sources: NBER, The Economist, International Business Times, Reuters
Photo: NPR

special olympics
Rhoda Kaittany knew something more needed to be done to help her son. They lived in Nandi, a county in Kenya where children dealing with intellectual disabilities, including her child, lacked the resources to overcome their handicaps.

Working alone, she set out to organize everything required to bring a Special Olympics program to her county. During this process, she discovered children with intellectual disabilities growing up isolated from the world. In one case, a boy had been kept rope-tethered in a sheep’s pen to keep him from straying into danger.

Kenya’s situation is typical for poor countries. In fact, the majority of people dealing with developmental disabilities reside in developing countries. As Kaittany’s discoveries show, these people are often excluded from societies which lack the means to accommodate their special needs. The governments of developing countries are often too poor to devote the necessary social, health and educational resources to assisting the intellectually disabled. Moreover, few eligible families with disabled children receive government benefits in low-income countries. Lacking these resources, the disabled get stuck in poverty more often than those without disabilities.

Kaittany saw how desperate the problem had become in Kenya, one of the world’s poorest countries and home to an estimated 3.9 million people living with intellectual disabilities. She knew that the Special Olympics were part of the solution.

The Special Olympics is defined as a “global, grassroots movement dedicated to empowering the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.” The movement empowers lives first by promoting fitness through sports. A study conducted in The Netherlands found that children with intellectual disabilities tend to have less aerobic endurance and physical strength than other children. Since other research papers have suggested that improved physical fitness leads to improved cognitive and physical development in all children, it is imperative that the intellectually disabled find more opportunities to improve their fitness.

But the Special Olympics does more that just promote exercise. The organization provides health screenings, youth programs and public awareness campaigns for a population typically marginalized. It also believes in the potential of sports to educate in addition to promoting fitness. For example, in Botswana, the organization taught its athletes, who as a group were at a greater risk for contracting infectious diseases, about HIV/AIDS.

Globally, about 190 Special Olympics competitions take place every day—or 70,000 per year. The number is impressive, yet the movement strives to do more. The goal? Reach 200 million disabled people around the world through Special Olympics programs. For example, a relatively new program, the Global Football Initiative, is using the world’s most popular sport—soccer—to bring the organization closer to its goal. Through this program, Special Olympics athletes train with the support of professional clubs: the Italian Inter-Milan and the English Manchester United, for example.

So whether it is developing the bodies and minds of people living with disabilities or teaching communities how to help these individuals, the Special Olympics can play a crucial role in developing countries—as Rhoda Kaittany’s efforts have shown.

– Ryan Yanke


Sources: USAID, Journal of Intellectual Disability Research 1, Journal of Intellectual Disability Research 2, Special Olympics, World Bank, KAIH
Photo: Special Olympics