Blog Post

The Construction Problems of the Rio Olympics

Mega-events such as the Pan American Games in 2007 and the FIFA Confederation Cup in 2013 translated into an era of massive construction for Brazil. In the late 2000’s Brazil was on an economic hot streak. Fast paced construction was the driving force of the Brazilian economy. Projects such as large hydropower dams, railways, oil rigs and offshore platforms all contributed to the prosperity of the country.

In 2011, Brazil’s thriving economy began to fail; income rates decreased and unemployment rose. Oil prices fell, shipyards closed and office buildings and hotels were left empty as hopes of a continuing boom died. Coordination between city, state and federal governments became increasingly difficult and construction projects began to lag behind.

In June 2016, the acting governor of Rio declared a state of financial disaster and requested $900 million in federal funding.  Combined with completing construction projects related to the Olympics, Brazil also faced political and health crises. The President and other members of Congress were under investigation for corruption and with one-quarter of Zika virus cases occurring in Rio, completing necessary construction projects for the upcoming Olympics was a major concern.

 

Under pressure, workers were expected to put in overtime which far surpassed the maximum 10-hour shifts stipulated by law. There was a lack of required safety equipment on sites and over 600 workers were hired informally. Accidents increased and when the Ministry of Labor conducted over 260 audits and inspections between January 2013 and March 2016, a total of 1,675 infractions were found and 38 temporary suspensions were issued on construction.

It was difficult to enforce regulations due to outsourcing by the main companies heading the construction projects. There was a lack of integration and it was not uncommon to find 50 companies working on one site. The tragedy of these issues is that 11 workers died on the job during construction for the Rio Olympics since January 2013.

 

When the Olympic Games finally approached, construction workers were still putting the finishing touches on several Olympic sites. The velodrome was completed in the nick of time and workers were still completing work on the Olympic Village right up until the Games started. Projects that were completed were not always up to par as evidenced when an elevated waterfront bike path collapsed into the sea when it failed to withstand a large wave. Concerns over water pollution, unrest, and crime all contributed to the serious problems Rio faced as the host city for the Games.

From a different perspective, many people believe that Rio 2016 was successful as it implemented reusable construction projects. The handball court is an example of what is called nomadic architecture. After the Games, it will be dismantled and the materials will be used to help build four schools. For a country that has spent billions of dollars amid a period of economic crisis, it remains to be seen what challenges Brazil will face in the future.

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