Last updated: 08:47 PM ET, Fri September 02 2016

10 Things to Know About the Brazil Olympic Games

Features & Advice | Brian Major | June 21, 2016

10 Things to Know About the Brazil Olympic Games

 PHOTO: The 2016 Summer Olympic Games are on track to open in Rio de Janeiro Aug. 5. (photo courtesy of Embratur) 

Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer once said, “Curves are the essence of my work because they are the essence of Brazil.” Niemeyer’s observation is taking on an added significance this week as government and tourism officials struggle to navigate a series of potentially disastrous twists of fate less than 50 days before the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

The Brazilian Tourism Board (Embratur) and tourism stakeholders are faced with health, economic and political concerns as the Rio Games’ Aug. 5 opening date approaches. This week the Brazilian capital’s state government declared a “state of public calamity,” citing a major budget crisis.

Zika virus concerns are viewed in some quarters as a serious threat. In May a group of 152 international scientists and researchers issued an “open letter” to World Health Organization (WHO), calling for WHO and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to consider postponing or re-locating the Games.

READ MORE: Group: Change Olympics Plans To Avoid Spread of Zika

And Brazil’s economic and health concerns are concurrent with what is likely the country’s greatest modern political crisis, one that has reached into the sporting arena. Michel Temer, Brazil’s acting president, recently named Leonardo Picciani as Brazil’s third new sports minister since March. Temer, who is facing his own corruption allegations, assumed office in May following Dilma Rousseff’s resignation after Brazil’s Congress voted to impeach her.

Travelers heading to Brazil for the Olympic Games should be aware of pertinent issues related to visits to the country.

Here are 10 things to know about the 2016 Rio Olympic Games:

The games will go on: Embratur (the Brazilian Tourism Board) is making it clear the Olympics will proceed as scheduled. There has been “no discussion of the possibility to postpone or cancel the 2016 Rio Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said officials in a statement. Embratur cited May recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) which state “a possible change of the Games due to illness does not alter the spread of the virus,” eliminating any reason to delay or cancel the Games.

Rio’s “state of emergency” will ensure games proceed: The state government’s declaration is required to release emergency federal funds to finance the Olympic Games, as Rio struggles with economic shortfalls that have impacted the entire country.

An Embratur official in New York explained, “The State of Rio lost a lot of funding because of the oil crisis and the devaluation of Petrobras (Brazil’s state-owned oil company). The federal government had already promised to send financial aid to assist, especially during the Olympics. But in order to expedite the aid, the state had to declare a ‘financial emergency,’” he said.

He added, “in the case of Brazil and Rio, we have the unique situation of going through all of these issues during an Olympic Year.”

Low health risk: Despite some concerns regarding travel to Brazil and the Zika virus, Embratur officials stress the risk of transmission is low. The virus is currently present in 60 countries, with Brazil representing 15 percent of the total population exposed to the disease, according to WHO data. The health agency’s current guidance does not recommend restrictions on travel to or trade with countries currently experiencing Zika outbreaks.

Embratur officials add that the Olympic Games will take place during Brazil’s winter, when diseases contracted via Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which transmit Zika, reach historically low levels. Cases have fallen 87 percent between February and May, they said.  

Brazil is working to monitor, address health concerns: Brazil’s government remains “in constant contact” with WHO and Pan American Health Organization officials to “(take) all necessary measures to ensure the effective combat of mosquito outbreaks, with specific actions to Rio de Janeiro.” With the exception to pregnant women, the WHO is not recommending vacationers limit or avoid travel to Brazil.

Preventive measures recommended: Regardless of risk, Embratur officials are recommending travelers take preventive measures to reduce potential Zika transmission. Guidelines include using mosquito repellents, keeping doors and windows closed or screened and wearing pants and long sleeve shirts.

Ticket sales appear solid: Picciani, the new minister of sports, recently announced 70 percent of Olympic Game tickets and 55 percent of tickets for the Paralympics Games, scheduled for September 7 to 18, have been sold. Organizers expect to have 100 percent of tickets sold by the beginning of the games, he said.

Airlift is in place: There will be significant airlift available into Rio. The number of international flights to Rio de Janeiro between July 25 and August 21 of 2016 will represent a 289 percent increase over the same period in 2015, according to Embratur officials.

Visa waiver eases access: Citizens of Australia, Canada, United States and Japan can take advantage of Brazil’s visa waiver during the Olympics. The program provides citizens of those countries with exemption from visa requirements for 90 days beginning with the visitor’s first entry into the country. Travelers may thus enter Brazil between June 1 through Sept. 18, 2016 and stay without visa for a maximum period of 90 days. "We believe the current valuation of the dollar and increased foreign purchasing power in Brazil should attract this audience,” said Jose Antonio Parente, Embratur’s deputy president.

READ MORE: Olympics, Copa America Drive Tremendous Travel Demand in 2016 

Sustainable practices in effect: Organizers are taking some measures to ensure environmental responsibility in connection with the event. Brazil’s Olympic medals were created in “the most sustainable manner,” said Embratur officials. Gold medals are forged from gold extracted without the use of mercury and produced according to “strict sustainability criteria.”

Silver and bronze medals were produced from 30 percent recycled materials, and half of the medal ribbons were made from recycled plastic bottles. Cases used to hold the medals were fashioned from freijo wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

Brazil has a track record of success with global sports events. While the political turmoil and Zika virus fears connected to travel to Brazil has heightened concerns the country may be unprepared to host the Olympics, similar concerns expressed in 2014 regarding the country’s hosting of the World Cup turned out to be largely unfounded.

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