Wed | Oct 18, 2017

Hubert Lawrence looks at the Zika threat and Olympics in 2017?

Published:Thursday | February 11, 2016 | 12:00 AM

With the Zika virus kicking up rumpus in Brazil, there is growing discussion about moving the 2016 Olympics from Rio de Janeiro. However, the Olympics are so big and costly that few countries could attempt to take the Games with just six months to prepare. It's a big ask.

Beijing and London, host cities of the 2008 and 2012 Games, would probably be the best bets to take over if Zika forced Rio to defer. Both cities have the facilities and recent experience in organising the biggest multi-sport event in the world. With the schedule as tight as it is, those inputs are critical.

One wonders whether all the other inputs could be mobilised in time. Volunteers play a huge role in running the sporting events and visitor hospitality, and by this stage their recruitment would need to be in top gear already. Even in the case of London, work might be needed to polish and shine the stadia that housed sporting contests four years ago. This requirement would be even greater for Beijing.

Even so, their venue costs would be far less.

Neither city may want to take up the challenge if Rio is out. Added to that, hosting the Olympics isn't cheap. Beijing reportedly spent US$40 billion in 2008 and London shelled out US$13 billion in 2012. The Rio figure keeps morphing, but is probably some in-between the two. That's not chump change.

NO BEIJING OR LONDON

With the short time to prepare and the costs, it's a good guess that Beijing and London won't come running as substitute venues this year.

If the Zika threat clears soon, the best bet will be for Rio to host the Games as planned. If the mosquito-borne virus infects the Games schedule, we could end up with an Olympics in 2017.

With Brazil spending tons of cash to get ready, it's going to be hard on that sports-loving nation to be left with a big bill, no Games and none of the financial benefits from increased tourism income.

It follows then that if the Zika threat causes a postponement but is resolved by year end, the world's best athletes could be doing the samba next summer. That's the only solution that leaves Brazil with the Games it has worked so hard to prepare for.

For everyone's health and for the sake of the Games, we can only hope the Zika solution comes very quickly.

n Hubert Lawrence attended the Games in Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London.