Boise runner Nick Symmonds is already fired up about the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
That’s because the Brazilian economic crisis has finally hit the 2016 Games. Following a new round of cost-cutting, athletes will be asked to pay for the air conditioning in their dorm rooms. Stadium backdrops will be stripped to their bare essentials. Fancy cars and gourmet food for VIPs are out.
The economics have changed radically in the six years since Rio was awarded the Games — South America’s first. At the time, Brazil’s government pledged $700 million toward any budgetary overrun. Then the economy tanked. Unemployment has soared.
By the time the Games begin in August, the committee plans to have 500 fewer paid staff than the 5,000 it originally expected. The deepest cuts will probably come from operational areas like catering, transportation, cleaning services and amenities for athletes.
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Shifting the cost for air conditioning and other amenities from the host city to each nation’s Olympic committee — or to the athletes themselves — is a big deal, said Symmonds, a two-time Olympian in the 800 meters.
“The world wants to tune in and watch the world’s greatest athletes compete at the absolute highest level,” said Symmonds, a Bishop Kelly High graduate. “If you don’t provide them with good food, a good place to sleep and comfortable temperature, they won’t be able to recover and bring the A-plus product that the world is demanding.
“To cut the budget on athletes’ hospitality and comfort, that’s just going to cheapen the Games.”
Rio 2016 spokesman Mario Andrada said air conditioning is an “absolute necessity” in some areas, though not bedrooms. The 17-day event, which kicks off Aug. 5, takes place in Rio’s winter, and the average daytime temperature is in the mid-20s Celsius (mid-70s Farenheit). Some days are much hotter, though, with highs last August creeping into the mid-90s.
Others worry that the cuts will further underscore the chasm between athletes from wealthy countries and those from poorer ones. (Already some top athletes, including the NBA players who join the USA Basketball squad, choose luxury hotels over accommodations in the Olympic Village.) Those who can afford extra for air conditioning or who travel with laptops or iPads (the host committee has scrapped plans to provide TVs in individual bedrooms) will have it; others may not.
“Some people aren’t going to put up with it because they don’t have to, some will have to because perhaps there is no alternative,” said Rick Burton, the former marketing director for the U.S. Olympic Committee. “Is the IOC going to feel obligated to step in and raise the standards so that everyone is treated equally? Or is it going to be a statement, that this is the best this host country can do?”