Hosting the Olympics offers a country an unmatched opportunity to reap public relations success. Having the whole world’s attention fixated on you, as billions cheer for their favorite athletes, can do wonders for any nation’s image. Such was certainly the case with the 2008 Beijing Olympics, in which meticulous Chinese planning and exuberant showmanship allowed the country to flaunt its newly acquired image as a rising star on the world stage.
No doubt Brazil had similar hopes of grandeur when Rio de Janeiro was selected to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Unfortunately for the world’s fifth most populous nation, this year’s Olympics are gearing up to be less of a display of its wealth and dynamism and instead becoming a showcase of Brazil’s most intractable problems.
As it stands, Brazil is being wracked by a perfect storm of problems – economic, political and biological. Once a lauded member of the BRIC nations, Brazil now has an economy that is experiencing its worst recession since the end of World War II. Both unemployment and inflation rates are in the double digits, leaving many once middle-class Brazilians now struggling to survive.
The governing class of Brazil is faring no better. The hugely unpopular and controversial President Dilma Rousseff was forced out of office just weeks ago in the midst of a major corruption scandal at the country’s state-owned oil company, and she has since been replaced by the even more unpopular and controversial administration of Michel Temer. Shortly after assuming the office of President, a court ruling barred him from running for office on suspicion of corruption, and his poll numbers promptly plummeted to single digits.
If all that was not enough, Brazil is also experiencing a growing outbreak of the deadly Zika virus that has infected thousands and created a massive public health crisis in the process. The Centers for Disease Control issued a warning against travel to the country, while the Brazilian army scrambles to get control of the epidemic.
And it is in the middle of this that the Rio 2016 Olympics are set to play out. One can scarcely think of a worse backdrop in which to hold the games. Instead of happy crowds of Brazilians cheering their national athletes, the festivities are likely to be overshadowed by the ongoing street protests across the nation. The economic crisis will likely cause turmoil too, as thousands of travelers put extra strain on the infrastructure and services of a country barely keeping itself out of an economic depression. Perhaps the only silver lining there is that many of the athletes and tourists planning on traveling to Brazil have canceled their trips because of the Zika virus.
What can a person concerned with PR take away from the multiple crises unfolding in Brazil?
One lesson, perhaps, is that not all press is good press. Securing an excellent platform to showcase your product or service is only as effective as the quality of the presentation you can execute. Fail to deliver, and all you have done is create a wider audience for your ineptitude. Brazil was clearly not ready for the bright spotlight that comes with the Olympics, and the country’s image has suffered as a result.
To be fair, the problems being experienced by Brazil right now could not have been wholly anticipated when Rio put in its bid to host the Olympics. The future is similarly unclear with PR, where the reception of whatever you are promoting will depend on many things outside your control. This is an important fact to keep in mind when considering high-risk/high-reward strategies in PR campaigns.