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Country focus | Is Brazil ready for the world?

It is unusual for the course of preparations for a major sporting event to run entirely smoothly.

However, the degree of turbulence experienced by the country since Germany embarrassed the host nation 7-1 and went on to lift football’s Fifa World Cup trophy two years ago has surely been unprecedented.

At every turn – politically, economically, environmentally and structurally – Brazil’s name has been dragged through the mire, from political scandal at national and state level through to recession, with the constant background hum of disquiet over creaking public services.

In June protestors at Rio’s airport greeted tourists with a sign that stated: “Welcome to hell. Police and firefighters don’t get paid. Whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe.”

The devastating Zika virus outbreak – which has been cited as reasons for several top athletes pulling out of the Games, including golf’s top four players at the time of writing – has dealt another blow to Rio’s preparations for the Olympics.

Behind the scenes, the landscape has been nothing short of chaotic, with an investigation into corruption at state-run oil company Petrobras having implicated politicians as well as top business executives.

Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has been charged by prosecutors with hiding assets from the authorities. His successor, Dilma Rousseff, has been suspended, pending the outcome of an impeachment trial.

However, according to Philip Gray, director of the Brazil Business Hub and commercial director of Commercial Doctor, which currently focuses on helping companies to crack the Brazilian market, the current upheaval will have a beneficial longterm impact.

Integrity is paramount and we see it as our responsibility to ensure it will never be compromised

“The emergence of an aggressive legal movement which is actively pursuing politicians and businessmen suspected of involvement in corruption is a really positive step and should help improve the ethics and transparency of business,” he tells SportBusiness International.

“The key factor behind the current economic troubles is the collapse in commodity prices, especially in China. Coupled with the political upheavals, this has led to a drop in business and consumer confidence.

“In terms of doing business, this has led to an increase in the number of Brazilian businesses looking for partnerships and investment, to introduce new technologies and address emerging market sectors.”

On the streets, despite immense steps from the authorities and the promise of 85,000 police and soldiers during the Games, violence remains a big problem. In June an Australian Paralympic sailor and team official were robbed at gunpoint, leading to the Australian Olympic Committee urging organisers to do more to protect visiting athletes.

It is little wonder that in July, less than one month before the start of the summer Olympics on August 5, the Mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, acknowledged: “This is a missed opportunity. We are not showcasing ourselves. With all these economic and political crises, with all these scandals, it is not the best moment to be under the eyes of the world. This is bad.”

Brazil is in turmoil ahead of the pinnacle of its time in the sporting limelight. However, that is not to say there are not enticing commercial and business opportunities attached to the city, country and region as a whole.

The Olympic Games has never taken place in the Americas south of Mexico. Brazil, in spite of a savage downturn since late 2013, is still light years ahead of any other economy in South America, with a GDP per capita that is more than three times the size of second-placed Argentina.

“Despite its well-documented troubles, Brazil remains a 200-million-person marketplace,” Gray says. “The country has huge natural resources, principally minerals, agriculture and hydrocarbons, together with a long history of industry and commerce. Brazilian technical and management skills are increasing rapidly, helped by the rising numbers of internationally-educated university graduates.”

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