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The Olympics have begun in Rio de Janeiro — and the fears that the host city is not ready are well known. Brazil is in the midst of a deep recession, a corruption scandal at the state-owned oil company and a political crisis that has the president battling impeachment. Rio is an infamously chaotic and violent city that must now host tens of thousands of athletes, dignitaries and spectators from around the world.
Yet Rio 2016’s organisers insist the Olympics will be a success. For this optimistic view to become a reality, here are the main things that would need to happen over the coming 17 days of the competition.
Doping arguments are put on hold once the sport begins
The issue: The Olympics has been rocked by state-sponsored doping by Russia in previous games. In July, the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the governing body of the games, refused to impose a blanket ban on Russian athletes, instead forcing individual sporting federations to decide which competitors could be deemed clean. This means many Russian sportspeople will not know if they can compete until just hours before the games begin, while athletes from other nations are still questioning whether the Russian flag should be raised at the opening ceremony.
What to hope for: The best the IOC can hope for is that the argument recedes once the sport begins. But pitfalls await. Rio’s anti-doping laboratory must deal with thousands of doping samples during the games without hitches — it was suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency in June for failing to comply with international standards, only to be reinstated two weeks ago. Failed drug tests by high-profile athletes, or anyone in the depleted Russian team, would be devastating.
No terrorist attacks — and no more muggings
The issue: Recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the US have put Brazil on edge ahead of the Olympics. Brazil has never been a target for Islamist extremists — but this also means that it lacks experience in dealing with the threat of terrorism. Brazil has been co-operating with intelligence agencies from around the world to make up for its lack of antiterrorism know-how.
What to hope for: Brazilians joke that terrorists will probably leave Rio alone, saying that the city has already done itself so much damage with its chaotic preparations that an attack would go unnoticed. But Rio will also need to control its high crime rate — it plans to combat this by putting 85,000 security personnel on the streets, one of the highest numbers ever for the games.
Brazil wins gold on the football pitch and volleyball courts
The issue: Sporting success has helped previous hosts to boost local support for the contest. For Brazilians, some events will matter more than others. The country has never won the Olympic men’s football tournament, an inexplicable failure given its historic dominance over the “beautiful game”. Volleyball is another national obsession — Brazil is the favourite to win both the men’s and women’s indoor volleyball tournament, and it is also the current world champion for men’s and women’s beach volleyball. The Olympic beach volleyball contest will take place on Rio’s Copacabana beach, the sport’s spiritual home.
What to hope for: Brazil should beat its previous Olympic best from four years ago in London, when it won 17 medals including three golds. Anything other than a sweep of the football and volleyball medals would be unacceptable. Luckily, home field advantage usually benefits hosts — since the games resumed in 1948 after a hiatus during the second world war, the USSR, Spain, Mexico, Italy, Greece, Finland, USA and China have all enjoyed their biggest medal hauls when hosting the games.
Athletes and media arrive on time for the events
The issue: Rio’s games are one of the most geographically spread out in history. This is good for the games’ legacy, in that the Olympics projects are more evenly spread out throughout the city’s neighbourhoods. But it also creates a big logistical challenge in terms of moving people around the congested metropolis during the contest.
What to hope for: Organisers will need to ensure that all athletes, as well as the media, get to their events on time. New venues and public transport projects will also need to cope with the crowds. Some projects were rushed and teething problems are inevitable — for instance, the metro connection to Barra da Tijuca, the site of Olympic Park, the main venue of the games, only opened four days before the start of the contest.
Dramatic sporting feats
The issue: Tight contests and new world records often make for the games’ most memorable moments. Lasting achievements include gymnast Nadia Comăneci scoring perfect 10s at Montreal 1976, sprinter Michael Johnson smashing the 200m and 400m world records at Atlanta 1996, and swimmer Michael Phelps winning the 100m butterfly final by his fingertips during Beijing 2008.
What to hope for: There are a number of athletes at Rio 2016 who could give a games-defining performance. Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, who was 8 seconds short of breaking the world record during the London Marathon in April, will be competing in the 26-mile race. American gymnast Simone Biles is attempting to win 5 gold medals, US swimmer Katie Ledecky is a favourite to win four golds and China’s table-tennis star Ma Long is likely to win two golds.
Only one president turns up
The issue: Brazil is going through one of the worst political crises in its democratic history. Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s leftwing president, is being impeached for allegedly manipulating the budget, charges she denies. Ms Rousseff has been substituted by her vice-president and political nemesis, interim president Michel Temer.
What to hope for: It seems Ms Rousseff plans to skip the games but, if she changes her mind, Brazil could become the first country with two competing presidents hosting the festivities. If so, that could be the most fiery contest of all.