As the countdown to Rio 2016 approaches, media outlets are paying conspicuously little attention to the games themselves—instead focusing on the plethora of issues plaguing the country as it prepares to host the first summer games in South America.
While Rio appeared an excellent candidate when awarded the games back in 2009, political instability and public health crises have left many questioning whether they ought to be moved or postponed. With the Opening Ceremonies still set to begin August 5, MediaMiser used its media monitoring and analysis software to drill down into online news to better understand which issues are most overshadowing the XXXI Olympic Games.
And despite the Zika Virus having been headline news since 2015, it was the impeachment and political upheaval surrounding Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff which has dominated online news mentions of the upcoming Olympics throughout March and April.
In fact, only 28 per cent of overall online coverage during our study period (March to June) was free of mentions of these negative issues.
Impeachment proceedings against Rousseff began in April, following a year of allegations surrounding corruption and manipulation of government accounts. The final vote on her removal is expected to be cast August 2, just three days before the games will begin.
But speculation around these misappropriated funds has also directed attention toward problems in construction and polluted waterways. Delayed projects and fraudulently awarded contracts are nothing new to the games, but recently, the collapse of an elevated bike path which killed two has renewed public outcry over political graft and shoddy construction.
Similarly, funding has severely impeded Brazil’s ability to follow through on promises to “regenerate Rio’s magnificent waterways”. Aesthetics aside, viral and bacterial levels in Rio’s Guanabara Bay and Copacabana Beach—both sites of open water events—remain dangerously high. Just two months out, this has forced the IOC to openly discuss moving the events to safer waterways, perhaps even outside of Brazil.
Though the political unrest surrounding President Rousseff tops overall coverage across the past three months, mentions of pollution and Zika rose precipitously in mid-May. This increase is no doubt related to the WHO’s dismissal of calls to move or cancel the games in response to the Zika Virus, despite a petition of over 150 public health workers and scientists calling the holding of the games “irresponsible” and “unethical”. Pollution issues were often mentioned alongside that of Zika.
With less than two months to go until the opening ceremonies, negative coverage and a crippling recession has Olympic organizers worried about empty seats. As of April, only half of the tickets had been sold for the XXXI Olympic Games.
But then again, it’s not the first time this has happened recently with an Olympics.