Even Rio’s acting governor is warning the Rio Olympics could be “a big failure”

Hanging by a thread?
Hanging by a thread?
Image: Reuters/Ricardo Moraes
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The Rio Olympics have a public relations problem and the top official for the state of  Rio de Janeiro isn’t helping.

On Monday, Francisco Dornelles, the acting governor of the state, warned that the Olympic Games could end up being “a big failure” if he doesn’t get a big cash injection from the federal government to shore up the state’s overstressed budget.

“I’m optimistic about the games, but I have to show reality (link in Portuguese),” he told Brazilian newspaper O Globo.

The international sporting event, which starts August 5, is taking place as Brazil muddles through one of its worst political crisis in recent memory, with many of the nation’s top elected officials accused of one form of corruption or another. The country’s economy is in shambles. A Zika outbreak is scaring athletes away. In addition, local officials were unable to fully clean Rio’s bays as promised, meaning competitors will have to swim through raw sewage.

Earlier this month, Dornelles declared a state of calamity, saying the state is essentially broke.

The city of Rio de Janerio has delayed payments to workers—which Dornelles likened to a form of slave labor in the O Globo interview—and cut back operations at state health clinics. If it doesn’t receive a 2.9-billion-real (around $850 million) payment from the federal government, the state may have to suspend police patrols by the weekend because it doesn’t have enough cash to pay for gasoline, he added.

While the city of Rio is mostly responsible for putting on the games, the larger state of Rio de Janeiro was supposed to build a yet-to-be-completed metro line to transport sports fans to the far-flung Olympic venues, and help with security.

The city of Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, has downplayed the state’s turmoil, saying that his city is in great shape to host the Olympics. A young politician once seen as potential presidential candidate in Brazil’s 2018 elections, the stakes are high for him.

Dornelles, on the other hand, is on his way out. Having signed up for a quiet term as vice-governor before he retired from politics, he had to step in after the state’s governor, Luiz Fernando Pezão, took medical leave earlier this year to undergo treatment for lymphoma.

“I’m not a candidate for anything anymore, so they can lay all the blame on me,” Dornelles said.