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Rio Olympics: Is Brazil ready to host the Summer Games?

With every Olympic Games, the host nation inevitably faces pressing issues once the 100-day countdown begins. But few, if any, countries have endured the obstacles affecting Rio de Janeiro’s preparations for the first-ever Olympics to be held in South America.

Zika virus, water pollution and political unrest affecting preparations

CBC Sports' Scott Russell discusses Rio's readiness for the Olympics 5:18

With every Olympic Games, host nations inevitably face pressing issues once the 100-day countdown begins.

Prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China dealt with human rights concerns and high levels of air pollution. In 2014, several protests put Russia's anti-LGBT laws in the spotlight ahead of the Sochi Winter Games.   

But few, if any countries, have endured the obstacles affecting Rio de Janeiro's preparations for the first-ever Olympic Games held on South American soil.

"No other country in Olympic history has lived through such difficult political times so sharply close to the Games," Mario Andrada, the director of communications for the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee, told the BBC.

Will Rio be ready to host the Summer Olympics once the opening ceremony commences on Aug. 5?

Here are four significant questions the Olympic organizing committee must address first:

Zika virus wreaking havoc on preparations

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes infected an estimated 1.5 million people with Zika virus in Brazil in 2015. (Felipe Dana/Associated Press)

An estimated 1.5 million people were infected with the virus in Brazil in 2015. Zika is spread mostly through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, with most people showing no symptoms and displaying mild illness.

Among the potential problems athletes could face if they contract the virus would be performing with flu-like symptoms. The virus also has the potential to cause birth defects, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned pregnant women to either stay away or take precautions if travelling to Rio.

As part of a measure to ward off the virus, Rio workers are spraying insecticide to kill the mosquitoes that transmit Zika. On average, August is the coolest month of the year for Brazil, which should reduce the risk of the virus.

From Canada's perspective, the Canadian Olympic Committee's medical team has prepared a memo on the Zika virus, warning its athletes to take the appropriate precautions while travelling to Rio, including the proper bug-bite prevention.

Venue delays always a hot topic

While the velodrome for the track cycling events has experienced delays, the venue is expected to be ready for the Rio Olympics. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Prior to any Olympic Games, the construction of venues is always a major topic of discussion, and Rio is no exception. Delays have affected the progress of the velodrome, where track cycling will take place, along with the tennis centre.

Rio organizers are also continually struggling with venues for swimming, diving, water polo, and synchronized swimming. The Rio Organizing Committee was also warned in February that if conditions for Games construction workers didn't improve, venues would not be ready in time for the Olympics.

Ricardo Leyser, Brazil's new sports minister, expressed confidence that all competition venues would be completed in time for the Games.

"Rio is 98 per cent ready," Leyser told Scott Russell of CBC Sports. "[No] country [is] 100 per cent ready before the Games. But all the infrastructure...it's OK. You have some delays in the velodrome and in the tennis centre but it's not really a big worry.

"Now we are working on the transition to [managing] operations. So moving from the structure of the venues and going to safety, security, airport, weather forecast, all these things that are important for the operation."

Leyser also reassured Russell the facilities are safe and well constructed despite the collapse of a recently built elevated bike path that killed at least two people last week.

Water ravaged with pollution

The polluted Guanabara Bay receives a majority of the Rio’s raw sewage and officials have recently admitted their cleanup goals won't be met in time for the Olympics. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Who could forget the images of thousands of dead fish washed up on the shores of Rio's Guanabara Bay? The site of the sailing competition has been ravaged with high levels of pollution, bacteria and viruses that were first reported by The Associated Press last July.

Some athletes developed illnesses during water-based test events in 2015, and raw sewage continues to flow into the bay every day.

Even with a promise to improve the sewage sanitation, Leyser concedes the water won't be clean for the Olympics, citing a dire Brazilian economy as the main reason.

"We ourselves put a lot of pressure to make it happen but unfortunately it didn't happen when they had money," Leyser told Russell. "Now they don't have money and so it's even worse, and I don't think we're going to see that change now."

Political upheaval

Brazil President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment over allegations her administration violated fiscal laws. (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

The economic troubles have been linked to a major political scandal brewing with Brazil's highest office.

Last week, the country's lower house of Congress voted 367-137 in favour of impeaching Brazil President Dilma Rousseff.  

Rousseff is accused of using money from state-run banks to fill gaps within the budget during her 2014 re-election campaign, a move critics point to as the biggest contributor to Brazil's worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

An anti-government demonstrator, left, and a supporter of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff clash in March before the appointment of former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as chief of staff, near the Planalto palace in Brasilia. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)
Aside from the public relations nightmare this scandal had generated ahead of the Olympics, the Rio Games are also directly affected as several Brazilian construction companies responsible for the majority of Olympic infrastructure projects have also been implicated in the multi-billion scandal.

And in March, Brazil's government announced it was cutting the security budget by more than 30 per cent. Most of the cuts deal with future investments but the government did confirm some of it will affect the Olympics, which some fear could leave the Summer Games in a vulnerable state when it comes to terrorism.

With files from CBC News and The Associated Press

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