Now it´s an interesting time to visit Rio de Janeiro, as in almost exactly one year the city will become the first Latin American one to host an Olympic Game.
To host an event of the magnitude of the Olympic Games is no walk in the park. Rio de Janeiro is hosting the Olympics that will begin in August of next year. The city has the advantage of recently having hosted a mayor sporting event, the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where Rio was one of the main locations, even hosting the final match at the famous Maracana Stadium.
But needless to say, this is a whole other story: the FIFA World Cup was played in 12 different cities and now all the responsibility falls on Rio. The football championship had 32 participant countries; the summer Olympics will have over 200. So how is Rio preparing for this?
After my visit to the city I would say the two biggest challenges they are facing right now are transportation issues and the cleaning of the waters where the athletes will be competing.
The Guanabara Bay waters -where a lot of the water sports competitions are supposed to be taking place – are very polluted and it seems that bringing the levels of pollution down is not going as fast as the Rio government had expected.
The mayor himself, Eduardo Paes, admitted that the target will most probably not be reached.
At the time when Rio was chosen to host the Olympic Games, the government committed to cut down the amount of raw sewage flowing into the bay by 80%. The latest information I could find on this subject was that the amount of sewage treated before getting into the bay had risen from 17% to 49%, still a long way to go until that desired 80%.
The neighbouring city of Buzios (at 190km from Rio) has already offered to host these competitions if the Guanabara Bay waters are not clean enough for the athletes to compete in them.
As sad as this sounds, I have to say a good part of the time I spent in Rio I was stuck in traffic.
Rio is a city with a surface of 1182 km₂ and almost 6.5 million inhabitants, and yet it only has two subway lines.
One of the main hubs for the Olympics, Barra da Tijuca, has no subway station even remotely close and with the usual traffic jams in the city it definitely feels like this will be a big issue.
Rio is building a 3rd subway line that is supposed to connect the center of the city with Barra da Tijuca, but it seems unlikely the government will have it finished before August of next year.
The other project to improve mobility in the city is the VTL, a light rail system currently being built to connect the center of the city with the Santos Dumont Airport and Barca Rio-Niteroi.
The goal of the VTL is to reduce the circulation of buses in the center of the city by 60% and the car circulation by 15%. The VTL is also meant to be finished before the Olympics.
It seems the Olympic Village, all the sport venues and housing are going as scheduled and will be finished in time for the games.
There are already projects to make sure these venues don´t have the same fate as the Manaus Stadium, built for the 2014 FIFA World Cup- in a city with no football team –and practically never used since then.
Some venues will be turned into schools, other used as training facilities for athletes, among other projects.
Rio still has 359 days to rise to the challenge. Let´s hope it does.