Has 4 years really passed since London 2012? It seems like only yesterday the country was swept up with celebrity torch bearers, Mo Farah, the Queen jumping out of a helicopter, 65 Team GB medals and of course 29 gold post boxes!
Today is the first official day of Rio 2016 and I can’t wait to have nearly three weeks of wall to wall sport followed by the awe inspiring Paralympics. I say official start as the football actually started on Wednsday in order to get it all wrapped up before the end, not that we are involved with the football due to some strange worry about FIFA only recognising a team GB for the rest of time (because we are doing so well separately!). Unlike the last Olympic outing for our athletes these games are far from home and have come under fire for a long list of health and safety risks, not only for the athletes in attendance but also the hundreds of thousands of spectators who are making the pilgrimage from far and wide.
Eduardo Paes, the mayor of Rio, has tried to allay any fears and told ABC news, “We are working with contingencies, but things are on time, on schedule. We are going to show that Brazil and Rio is something more than nice beaches and great parties and good music and beautiful people”. Even some Olympians themselves have highlighted the negative views being propagated by the media, with rower Megan Kalmoe commenting, “Stop trying to ruin the Olympics for us”.
The list of risks being mentioned is huge but there are three that keep popping up on my newsfeeds;
It is a sad thought that the threat of terrorism is something that can affect people anywhere and would be a worry regardless of the Olympics’ location, this does little to lower people’s concerns though. Only a few weeks ago officials stopped a plot involving ten members of a militant group.
Michelle Bernier-Toth, managing director of the office of overseas citizen services for the American State Department, said that the arrests were “an indication that the Brazilian government is taking the security situation very seriously.” But terrorism is hard to predict, so it is recommended that all travellers take precautionary measures like giving their loved ones a detailed itinerary, staying away from large group gatherings, if possible, and keeping embassy contact information on-hand in case of an emergency.
The most widely reported of the risks is a viral disease mainly spread by mosquitoes. For most people it is a very mild infection and isn’t harmful, however, it may be more serious for pregnant women, as there’s evidence it causes birth defects and it is widely agreed that pregnant women shouldn’t attend the games.
Some have said that flying thousands of people into a Zika hotspot then flying them home again could be a disease control disaster. The World Health Organisation has tried to lower concerns with an open statement saying “”Based on current assessment, canceling or changing the location of the 2016 Olympics will not significantly alter the international spread of Zika virus”. As Rio is now in their cooler winter period the risks of Zika have lowered but all travellers should: consult their GP before travelling to ensure vaccines are up to date, purchase travel insurance and monitor travel warnings for the latest news.
It has been reported that 85,000 soldiers and police will be on duty throughout the Rio games to protect participants and spectators from crime. Brazil has one of the highest murder rates on Earth, with 1,715 homicides in the first six months of 2016 alone. Several athletes have been robbed at gunpoint while out training, including Paralympian sailor Liesl Tesch. Crime has been rising in recent months as a result of rising unemployment and a shortfall in public spending on security.
While very few official bodies have given warnings about traveling to Brazil, it is recommended travellers stay at a hotel with an established security plan, where they have outlined adequate measures to protect their guests, it also important to steer well clear of the city’s “unpacified” favelas.
SO WOULD I GO TO THE OLYMPICS IN RIO?
Yes I would and in my opinion so long as you do a quick risk assessment in your head and action any control measures necessary then the risk of falling foul to any of these is low. There is plenty of dangers and risks everywhere we go and, although the Olympics is used mainly as a very clever and lucrative marketing campaign (a blog for another time), I think the opportunity to see some of the greatest sporting moments of a generation in person is a hard thing to miss even with an element of risk.