Nawal El Moutawakel, the head inspector of the International Olympic Committee, has said Rio is “ready to welcome the world”, but other observers seem less sure.
Will everything be ready on time?
Brazil’s financial crisis means a no-frills approach has been adopted to the various venues, many of which remain under construction. While dozens of test events have been staged, with and without spectators, the area surrounding the Olympic stadium still resembles a building site and the velodrome will not host visitors for the first time until the first day of competition. In terms of infrastructure, a planned extension to Line 4 of Rio’s underground Metro system is way behind schedule, but the Rio transportation secretary, Rodrigo Vieira, has said he has 8,000 staff working around the clock and is “completely sure that everything will be done by 1 August”. It is a ludicrously tight deadline and if Vieira’s optimism proves groundless total traffic chaos seems inevitable.
Will everyone get sick at the sailing?
Possibly. The Olympic sailing events are due to take place in Guanabara Bay, a dumping area for rubbish, untreated sewage and the occasional dead body. The German sailor Erik Heil had to undergo surgery after picking up a flesh-eating virus following a test regatta in August last year, while a five-month Associated Press analysis at each of the venues where 1,400 athletes will have contact with water showed dangerously high levels of viruses. The USA rowing team hope to reduce their chances of getting ill by wearing protective uni-suits, while triathletes and marathon swimmers will compete in Copacabana Beach surf where “the chance of infection is very likely”, according to Kristina Mena, an expert in waterborne viruses at the University of Texas Health Science Center. In the past year, Olympic and World Health Organisation officials have flip‑flopped on promises to carry out viral testing, while much-trumpeted plans to sanitise the bay have been quietly shelved.
Will anybody get Zika?
Most commonly transmitted by the aggressive Aedes aegypti mosquito, there have also been isolated cases of the Zika virus being spread through blood transfusion or sexual contact. Although the symptoms of the few who go on to become ill after contracting the virus are mild, Zika’s links to microcephaly, a condition where babies are born with abnormal smallness of the head, have legitimised the concerns of those worried about infection. Although Brazil is a Zika “hot zone”, Rio is a long way from the epicentre of the outbreak and the cool, dry August climate will greatly reduce the risk of transmission by mosquitos. Olympic organisers have also treated their venues with insecticide to further minimise risk. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says there’s a “very low risk” of travellers to Rio being infected during the Olympics, an assessment with which the World Health Organisation has concurred.
Will everything be happening in the middle of the night?
Not everything. Rio is four hours behind the UK, which means the BBC’s live coverage will be broadcast between 1pm and 4am, with a daily highlights package replacing BBC Breakfast for the duration of the Games. The opening and closing ceremonies both begin at midnight UK time, while TV viewers in Great Britain and Ireland will have to stay up long after midnight to catch most marquee swimming and track and field events. On the track, both the men’s and women’s 100m finals are scheduled for approximately 2.30am UK time, while Mo Farah will also defend his 5,000m and 10,000m titles in our small hours. Those who need their beauty sleep need not fret, with fans of rowing, track cycling and gymnastics being particularly well catered for before bedtime. Likely lads and lasses who avoid results will be able to watch a four-hour replay of the BBC1 coverage from the night before at 9.15 each morning.
Will there be many Russian competitors?
All Russia’s track and field athletes and several swimmers have been banned thanks to their much publicised, state‑sponsored doping programme, although the long-jumper Darya Klishina has been cleared to compete under a “neutral” flag because she is based in the US. The whistleblower and 800m runner Yuliya Stepanova had also been cleared, but now misses out because of the IOC ban on any Russian athletes who have previously served a suspension. Following the IOC’s refusal to introduce a blanket ban, it has been left to individual federations to grant Russians permission to compete, subject to ratification from the court of arbitration for sport. The majority have done so, although their rowing and canoeing teams will be severely depleted. More than 100 of Russia’s original 387-strong team did not board their flight from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport to Rio and many of those who did may yet return home without competing in the Games.
Will Team GB top their 29 gold medals in London?
Almost certainly not. Bill Sweeney, the British Olympic Association chief executive, has predicted a gold medal haul in the “high teens or early 20s”, numbers that tally with Gracenote analysis that predicts 18 for Team GB, even in the absence of Russian swimmers and track and field athletes. In an analysis of medal counts of five events – track and field, weightlifting, boxing, gymnastics and team games – over a century of summer Olympic Games, a model devised by the University College, London statistician Nigel Balmer calculated that any host country can expect to win about three times as many medals as usual, because of increased investment, partisan local support and bias on the part of those judging certain sports. Without the benefit of home advantage, British athletes should win significantly fewer than 29 gold medals in Rio.
Will a leading politician be booed at the opening ceremony?
Despite the feelgood factor that swept London four years ago, George Osborne was booed by a capacity Olympic Stadium crowd and high‑profile Brazilian politicians are likely to endure similar abuse at the Rio Games. Dilma Rousseff will not be one of them; the president is currently battling impeachment and plans to boycott the opening ceremony along with her predecessor, Lula da Silva. In June, the state government of Rio de Janeiro announced a “state of public calamity” that could cause “total collapse in public security, health, education, mobility and environmental management”. An oil crash has left Rio financially crippled and its people enraged that the Olympics are being prioritised over more pressing public concerns. The doctors’ union, SinMed, has filed a complaint against the governor Luiz Fernando Pezão, who seems likely to receive as cool a reception as the Olympic torch bearer who recently had water thrown over him by a protester.
What will be the three things most likely to make me cross?
Whether by accident or design, the boxing judges are invariably good for at least one extraordinary decision per Olympic Games, with Roy Jones Jr probably the most high-profile victim of their famously “idiosyncratic methods”. Before embarking on his stellar career as a professional fighter, Jones lost at the hands of the local lad Park Si-hun in the light‑middleweight final at the Seoul Games of 1988, despite landing 86 punches to his opponent’s 32. Meanwhile on the athletics track, the staggering inability of Team GB’s relay teams to complete what you would think ought to be the fairly straightforward task of transporting a baton from the starting blocks to the finish line without dropping it is also a constant source of Olympic irritation for British viewers. The preposterously sycophantic and upbeat interviews conducted by various BBC reporters with British Olympians, however badly they have performed, are also bound to grate before too long.
What will be the three things most likely to make me smile?
Only three? Pfft. The opening ceremony. Usain Bolt’s goofy grin. The raucous reception afforded to whichever hapless athlete happens to finish his or her heat long after the winner has showered and gone back to the Olympic village. Weightlifters dropping the barbell. The inevitable Luz Long moment of extreme sportsmanship in the face of political cynicism. The sight of hundreds of samba dancers resplendent in extravagant headpieces at the Games opening ceremony. The ubiquity of Pelé. The obligatory sore loser staging a futile one-man or one-woman protest. The effortless cool of Sir Bradley Wiggins. The news that a drug cheat has been busted. Gymnasts falling over. The American sprinter Justin Gatlin’s bullshit. Gymnasts not falling over. The usual kamikaze dash to the first corner in every BMX cycling race. Tales of various sordid goings-on at the Olympic village. Vladimir Putin’s customary sour grapes. And, of course, the closing ceremony.
Will Australia beat Yorkshire in the medal table?
The uncharacteristically awful performances of Australia’s swimming team at London 2012 prompted one Leeds-based wag to observe that Yorkshire were trouncing the Aussies in the medal table midway through the Games. Jessica Ennis-Hill, Luke Campbell and Ed Clancy were among those to contribute to a haul of seven gold, two silver and three bronze medals for their county, while Australia eventually rallied to finish two places above God’s Own Country thanks to their knack of producing more medal-winning losers. It is unlikely to be as tight a contest in Rio. Campbell will not be back to defend his title, while Leeds-born Nicola Adams will have to do something only one boxer in Olympic history has done if she is to retain hers. Gracenote, the US data provider, has predicted a fourth‑place finish in the medal table for Australia, one ahead of Team GB.
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