Four months before the Rio de Janiero Olympic Games begin, troubling issues are suppressing ticket sales and causing Brazil to consider how it might fill empty seats.
Worries about the Zika virus, a political crisis and ongoing concerns about crime in the country have contributed to depressed sales and caused the country’s new minister of sports to get creative with only about half of all tickets sold. Only about 12 percent of tickets for the Paralympics, which follow the Olympics, have been sold.
The government, Ricardo Leyser told the Brazilian newspaper Folha, could purchase tickets and then distribute them to schools in an effort to fill the stadiums. Public officials, he added, also need to boost confidence worldwide in the country’s ability to host the games. Ticket sales for Olympic Games have been known to lag months before the start of the Games and even the London Games were not immune, but London had none of the other problems presently afflicting Brazil.
“There is a perception that the Brazilian population has not yet woken up for the Games,” Leyser said (via AFP). “We are going to work energetically on this because it’s still not in people’s heads. We need to sound an alert so that people remember this event and go and buy tickets.”
The opening ceremony is set for Aug. 5, which means that the 100-day mark is approaching rapidly in a country that is now less stable than it was when the Games were awarded. Brazil is locked in a recession that has forced budgetary cuts, President Dilma Rousseff faces impeachment and the national public security chief suddenly resigned last week.
All of which is in addition to a national outbreak of Zika, a mosquito-transmitted virus that is believed to cause serious birth defects in pregnant women. In February, concerns about the virus led Hope Solo, the U.S. soccer team’s star goalkeeper, to say that she was not certain whether she’d participate in the Games.
Leyser called security planning “critical” in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. And everyday crime looms beside the threat of terrorism. Parts of Rio, including the Mare slum that is near the airport and stadium in which the opening ceremony will be held, are subject to frequent shootouts between drug gangs and police, AFP reports. So far, a force of 85,000 is expected to police the Games, twice as large as the force employed for the London Games.