The 2016 Rio Olympic Games have been riddled with problems. Many athletes have pulled out of the games to due health concerns from the Zika virus or water that’s contaminated. A doping scandal involving the 2014 Sochi Olympics has cast a cloud over Russian athletes possibly being banned from competing.
However, there’s another problem facing the people in Rio that has gotten less attention: drugs.
Martin Rogers, a writer for USA Today Sports, has detailed the problem in an article entitled “Cracklands: Where Drug Abuse Meets the Olympics”. Rogers joined CBS Sports Radio’s Gio and Jones to discuss the article. One of the most surprising things for him was to see how close the “cracklands” are to the Maracana Stadium where the opening ceremonies will be held come August 5.
“This area, it’s weird Rio, in that you can be just a mile away from the main stadium, but it feels like you’re in a different world” said Rogers. “While this is on a busy street, it’s not on the sort of main thoroughfare where a lot of Olympic visitors could be expected to travel. Frankly, hopefully, they don’t.”
That raises the question, just how extensive is the drug problem in Rio?
“Drug use in Rio and in the whole of Brazil was de-criminalized about 10 years ago,” said Rogers. “At that time the prisons were overflowing because the drug use is rampant. Especially the use of crack/cocaine and other street drugs. The drugs are very cheap to obtain. Brazil shares borders with Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia, which are the three biggest cocaine manufacturers in the world. It’s very difficult to stop the supply of it, difficult to stop the usage of it. The authorities, from what it seems to me, are at the point where they’re really just trying to control any associated crime that stems from the drug use rather than trying to stop the drug use.”
“So, in terms of trying to protect visitors, it’s tough,” said Rogers. “For the most part, the crack users don’t seem to be violent towards visitors. A lot of the time they’re really focused on trying to collect the recycled cans and bottles, which they use to turn into just a few cents in cash. They then use that to get their next hit.”
With this kind of drug problem going on in the country, in addition to some of the other issues that have come out in advance of the Olympics being held there, it presents a moral dilemma. There are so many real life problems going on in the country, yet for the next month, we’ll largely be holding a celebration of the best athletes in the world. Did Rogers get that feeling after reporting on this story?
“That part of it I definitely feel, the celebration part,” said Rogers. “It just makes you feel kind of bad as a human who lives in, by comparison to these people at least, a very fortunate and privileged situation. In terms of whether it (the Olympics) should go to Rio or not, I feel that everywhere has problems. I’m English, as you can hear, and London has huge problems and great social inequality and that didn’t get spoken about during London. There were major drug problems in Atlanta in ’96 and Chicago if they had won the bid for 2016. I think wherever you go there are going to be issues.”
“There’s been a lot of talk about Zika and dirty water and all the other problems with Rio, yet in a funny kind of way I think this will be perceived as a pretty good Olympics,” said Rogers. “The reason I think that is because of the place of Rio and the people of Rio. The part that the Olympic viewer will see, is a pretty awesome place despite all the problems. The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming and I think anyone who goes there will have a pretty cool experience and they won’t witness the kind of stuff that we witnessed on our trip. We had heard about these places and we sought them out to report on it. For the average Olympic traveler, realistically they’re not going to see that.”