August 02, 2016, BY Division of Communications

The Olympics are supposed to be a global spectacle, but this year the world's eyes are turning to the Summer Games more than ever. Will Brazil be able to overcome allegations of widespread corruption, delays in ambitious infrastructure projects and concerns over public health and safety to wow the world? Five Bucknell professors discuss these pitfalls and promise of the Rio 2016 Games. 

Professor Janet Jones, classics & ancient Mediterranean studies

Q: What is the ancient origin of the Olympic Games?

A: The ancient Olympic Games were held in late summer every four years in honor of Zeus at the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia as both a religious and an athletic festival. Only Greek males were allowed to participate. The traditional date for the founding of the ancient Games is 776 BC, and there are various myths about their origin.

According to one story, the Games were founded by Heracles, who built the stadium to mark the completion of his labors and established the first events. Another myth held that the Games originated from a treacherous chariot race for the hand of a beautiful princess — it was this event that was recorded in the sculpture on the façade of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.

Read more of Jones' answers about the ancient origins of the Olympic Games.

Professor Marie Pizzorno, biology

Q: Spectators from around the world will attend the Olympics, and some of them could contract the virus. Is there a risk of the Olympics creating a Zika pandemic? 

A: Some scientists believe the Olympics will increase the spread of Zika around the globe to areas where it is not already found and recommended that the Olympics be postponed or moved to another country. Others have noted that it will be winter in Rio de Janeiro when the Olympics are taking place, which will decrease the mosquito population. In addition, in the areas of Brazil that have been heavily hit by Zika, many people have already been infected with Zika and are immune to the virus, making it harder for it to be spread to new mosquitos. Together they believe this will reduce the risk significantly. I don't know which side is correct, but it is clear that the risk of infection is lower now than it was last winter, when the epidemic was at its height.

Read more of Pizzorno's answers about Zika and the Olympics.

Professor Paula Davis, theatre & dance

Q: What can we expect from this year's opening ceremony? And why is the ceremony an important Olympic tradition?

A: Millions of people all over the world watch the Olympics opening ceremony. Starting the games this way provides an opportunity for the host country's artists, culture experts and government to communicate carefully crafted notions of identity, nationalism and cultural ideals to a vast international audience. Often, this starts before the games, in the way the ceremonies are described. You can see this on rio2016, which says that the opening ceremonies will feature "a thrilling fusion of Brazilian culture set to the rhythms of the country's vigorous musical styles." In addition, it brings many people together to participate in the games. This year, more than 6,000 volunteers are dancing in the opening ceremonies to share Brazilian culture with the world.

Read more of Davis' answers about the opening ceremonies.

Professor Matías Vernengo, economics

Q: The state of Rio de Janeiro recently declared a state of financial disaster. Was this caused by the expense of preparing to host the Olympics?

A: The current problems are more a result of a broader fiscal crisis. Brazil is going through a horrible recession. In 2015, Brazil's gross domestic product fell 3.5 percent and 2016 will likely be the same, which over two years is very large — the largest since the Great Depression. The first thing that happens in a recession is consumer spending goes down because people lose their jobs, which means they don't pay as much in taxes, which leads to smaller government revenues. On top of this, Rio is already strained since it is spending on infrastructure in preparation for the Olympics.

Under normal circumstances, a host city will have some fiscal problems related to all of the big things it needs to do leading up to the Games, but it likely wouldn't have led to as dismal of an economic picture as exists in Brazil now. To a great extent, this crisis is worse than those you might have heard about for previous hosts because normally, the Olympics don't occur in a country that's having its worst recession in over 80 years, so this is more bad timing than anything else. If there were no upcoming Olympics, Rio and Brazil would still be in dire economic straits. The fact that Brazil is hosting the Olympics amplifies its problems because the entire world is watching.

Read more of Vernengo's answers about the Brazilian financial crisis.

Professor Douglas Hecock, political science

Q: The Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, was recently impeached due to alleged corruption. What circumstances led up to the impeachment?

A: This is a country with high inequality and poverty that is undergoing a severe economic recession. From around 2000–10, Brazil's economy boomed due to high demand for its commodities. During this time, Brazil's president, Inácio "Lula" da Silva used the windfall to support social programs to combat poverty. These programs significantly decreased extreme poverty and levels of inequality. This and the strong economy made Lula extremely popular such that he was basically able to name his successor in Dilma Rousseff.

As the commodity market tanked at the beginning of this decade, however, Brazil went into recession. This was bad in and of itself, but it also highlighted the fact that most of the gains for the underclass under Lula had accrued to the rural and not the urban poor. Dilma's popularity has been in freefall ever since the recession began. The persistence of this worst economic recession in at least a generation has created the opportunity for opponents of the Workers' Party to use a long-simmering corruption scandal to oust the president.

Read more of Hecock's answers about corruption in Brazil.

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