Brazil Olympics 2016 – Security in a time of austerity

A secure Olympics

Amid all the fears about a possible terrorist attack on the Olympic Games, I would describe Rio de Janeiro as one of the safest places on the planet.

Certainly that is the case at the media accommodation at Deodoro Village that could not be any more secure – it is inside a military base.

And with a ring of steel surrounding the complex, that is also home to Olympic officials and volunteers – games makers as they were known in London – the biggest obstacle for some has been getting entry to the complex.

The media buses are ushered through, but I have been told of others who have struggled to gain entry and convince guards they are going to work.

And looking at the soldiers on the streets of Deodoro, all armed with hand or machine guns, it would be nigh impossible for a terrorist to infiltrate.

And travelling through Deodoro, it is certainly an impressive district which is synonymous with the military with the army and air force based there, all accommodated in impressive colonial style buildings.

Deodoro is also the district – one of four sporting hubs – where the Olympics are being held. And there is a military feel to some of the events there – shooting and modern pentathlon. Hockey, rugby sevens, equestrian events, white water kayaking and some of the preliminary basketball matches are being staged.

Military personnel

Security outside Deodoro is also tight with 85,000 military personnel deployed in Rio – it is twice the number used in London four years ago.

And it is on both land and in the air with helicopters flying low over Copacabana, Rio’s tourist jewel, with soldiers clearly visible brandishing machine guns.

It is hard to travel more than a couple of hundred yards without seeing soldiers either on foot or in military vehicles, something that is reassuring rather than alarming.

The Olympic Games would be a high-profile target for terrorists, but Rio would appear to have fewer enemies worldwide than had it been held in many other nations.

Security is tight gaining entry to competition venues with airport style scanning the norm at every venue as it has been ramped up considerably over the last decade in the wake of new global threats.

It can be frustrating to remove items of clothing and having to empty pockets umpteen times each day, but that is a necessary evil of the society we live in today.

And it is reassuring that Rio is taking security seriously. Despite shortcomings in certain areas, they are certainly not compromising in this area.

Cost-cutting and drop in demand

The Games are taking place against a backdrop of a country deep in recession, something noticeable here with cutbacks clearly evident.

It was not long ago that Rio state ran out of cash and had to go cap in hand to the federal government for cash bailout.

The Olympic highway, which was feared may not have been completed, is open and makes travelling between the four hubs far easier.

But the economies are clear with huge scaffold walkways linking transport hubs and the sporting venues whereas you would have expected proper walkways.

And aesthetic things like landscaping have been started, but not completed.

The state of the Brazil today is far removed to seven years when Rio was awarded the Olympics. It was known as a tiger economy growing at an incredible rate, too great to sustain, hence the recent crash.

It is hard to judge how successful the Olympics will be. We are told there will be 500,000 visitors yet on the other hand there are one million unsold tickets.

I sense the number of visitors is below expectations, something based on personal experiences.

I know from experience how difficult is to to get a flight out of an Olympic city the day after they have ended.

Rio was initially the same having to return home via Sao Paolo and Milan to London Heathrow.

Yet a fortnight before departure I received notification of a change and that I was being offered a direct flight from Rio to London. That told me demand is not as sky high this time.

A license to print money

It is also said visitors are expected to invest 1.7bn dollars in the Brazilian economy, something that I can see by the hugely inflated prices.

Olympics have traditionally been a rip-off in terms of air fares and accommodation, this time more than ever before, but the prices of food, drink and merchandise in the Olympic venues are exorbitant.

And because there are no other alternative amenities near most of the venues, visitors are trapped and with little option than pay.

It has also been publicised here that television rights for Rio will be 9.3bn dollars compared to 5.5bn in China and 8bn in London.

It is true the Olympics are a licence to print money for the International Olympic Committee. However, they remain the greatest show on earth and for the next two and a bit weeks the world will witness an extravaganza like no other starting with tonight’s opening ceremony which I am lucky enough to have a ticket.

Though the budget will be much reduced to London’s lavish opening, those who have had a sneak preview say it in impressive showcasing everything that Rio and Brazil has to offer.

And as we saw when Brazil hosted the World Cup two years ago, it is a country that certainly likes to party which will lighten the mood as the country witnesses a worrying economic downturn.