There’s just a month to go before the Summer Olympics begin in Rio de Janeiro. And the bad news keeps coming.
We’ve all heard about Brazil’s government meltdown, its corruption scandals, recession and — who could forget — the Zika virus. But the country is also witnessing some pretty crazy incidents you might not have noticed, right in the final weeks of Olympic preparations.
Here are seven bad omens that have surfaced recently, and one potentially good one, for a bit of balance.
1. 'Super bacteria' — not good
Some of Rio’s waterways were already notorious for being rather sickening. It gets worse. Brazilian researchers have now discovered a “super bacteria” in water, including beaches near an Olympic sailing venue. The bacteria came by way of local hospital sewage. “It feels like there's some alien enemy entering your face," German Paralympic sailor Heiko Kroger told CNN. That finding comes after some nauseating news about the city’s bodies of water. Just ask the surfers.
2. Shooting the Olympic mascot
Nothing quite captures the mix of bad planning and bad luck facing Brazil in its Olympic year like the story of Juma the jaguar. The 17-year-old female big cat appeared in an Olympic torch ceremony last month. A few hours later, a soldier shot her dead after she escaped from her enclosure at a zoo that’s part of a military base in Manaus, in northern Brazil’s Amazon region. She had reportedly been tranquilized, but was shot as she moved toward a team that was attempting to capture her. The jaguar has been wiped out in some Latin American countries, so the shooting was not taken well by animal rights groups.
It’s also a bad omen for the home team: Brazil’s mascot is a yellow jaguar “Ginga.”
3. The Olympic torch (almost) goes out
A 27-year-old man was briefly detained June 26 for attempting to extinguish the Olympic flame with a bucket of water as it passed through the farm town of Maracaju. The man, who has not been named, tried to put the flame out for a bet he made with friends on Facebook, local media reported. Videos of the incident show he didn’t succeed, and the torch relay continued unabated.
Check out the video:
We’ve reported on the collective sense of frustration with the Olympics among residents in Rio de Janeiro and elsewhere. Even after the Olympic torch arrived in Brazil in May, many Brazilians remain underwhelmed by the prospect of the games and see them as a waste of government money.
4. ‘Welcome to hell’
A banner greeting passengers arriving at Rio’s Galeão International Airport last week read: “Welcome to hell. Police and firefighters don't get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe.” According to media reports, the banner was held by a group of protesting first responders. Maybe hell is a bit harsh, but Rio’s deep cutbacks have hurt across many sectors. The state is suffering a bad fiscal crisis that’s shut down schools and could be fueling more violence in favelas.
Rio’s state government relies heavily on royalties from the local oil and gas industry. But the collapse of oil prices and a massive corruption scandal at the state oil company, headquartered in Rio, have decimated state finances. Half a million local public workers, including firefighters, doctors and teachers, recently went on strike after many went weeks without being paid. Security experts say the Olympics should still be safe for fans thanks to a large influx of federal police and an injection of $849 million of federal funds to the state. Still, some media are criticizing the taxpayer “donation” as unnecessary for an event they claim will benefit few outside Rio.
5. Body parts wash up on Copacabana Beach
At least two mutilated human body parts, including a foot, washed up on Rio’s iconic Copacabana Beach Wednesday. It was just yards from where the Olympic beach volleyball events will take place. The body parts appeared to belong to a young adult or a woman, according to media reports. They were first reported by a beach vendor to police, who are investigating the incident.
6. Athletes mugged in broad daylight
Two members of the Australian Paralympic team were robbed in broad daylight last month in Rio. Liesl Tesch, a Paralympic sailor and basketball player, and a team physiotherapist were riding bikes back from a training event when two people jumped out in front of them. Here’s how Tesch, who is partially paraplegic and has some use of her legs, described the mugging on her Facebook page:
“Sarah's bike (without brakes) crashed into mine just as the guy in front of me pointed a gun at me. Oopsy!
“He mumbled something in Portuguese, lifting the gun upwards. Thinking he was asking for money, I lifted up my shirt to show I had nothing. He then gave me a shove in the shoulder with my free hand, and I toppled glamorously onto the cobblestones with my bike between my legs. Sarah was yelling at the guy who was stealing her bike as the guy with the gun grabbed my bike.”
The incident followed other recent muggings of athletes in Brazil, including Spanish sailing team members who were robbed at gunpoint in May.
Australian officials called on Rio to deploy its expanded security force early, in order to keep athletes and visitors safe. Given the state’s dire financial straits, that’s unlikely to happen.
7. Big official says the games could be a ‘big failure’
Talk about mixed PR messaging …
Whereas Rio de Janeiro’s mayor has been trying hard to convince the public that the Olympics will be a sparkling success, the state’s governor struck a different tone in an interview with O Globo news network. “We can hold a great Olympics, but if some steps are not taken, it could be a big failure,” Gov. Francisco Dornelles said. Dornelles was referring to the $849 million bailout to Rio. He said the state can’t afford to pay public safety employees and those funds are essential to keep the city, and visitors, safe in the coming weeks.
1. Good omen: A macaw thought to be extinct reappeared
And now for the good news! Remember the “Rio” movies that feature a blue macaw and his family? Well, that animated bird is inspired by the exceedingly rare Spix’s macaw, thought to be extinct in the wild. Breeders around the world are working to bring the beautiful creatures back, but face multiple challenges. Well, last week, a birdwatcher in the northeastern Brazilian state of Bahia not only spotted a Spix’s macaw, but managed to film it on her cellphone, according to BirdLife International.
It’s a bit grainy, but check out the video:
The reappearance of the nearly extinct bird is a rare bit of good news for Brazil, at a time when the country obviously really needs it.