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opinion

Ten years ago, Rio de Janeiro began the arduous process that would see it win the rights to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. An Olympic bid has become a frighteningly complex undertaking, and the scrutiny by the International Olympic Committee is demanding enough to dash the dreams of any city unprepared to take on the sporting world's biggest megaproject.

Many are called, but only one is chosen – and that is just the starting point for an idealistic infrastructure program that comes freighted with all the hopes of uncynical Olympians who believe that a quadrennial celebration of sporting excellence can make the world a better place.

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A decade has passed, and guess what – Rio isn't ready. For all the lavish promises and elaborate master-plan specifications, the stern technical assessments by IOC functionaries and well-meaning reassurances that everything will be fine, the people who gave Rio the Games got it as wrong as the people who asked for them in the first place.

There's a lot going wrong in Rio, and even if you set aside the Zika epidemic, the disastrous state of the region's finances (leading to breakdowns in transport and public order), the impending impeachment trial of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and the unfinished accommodation in the athletes' village, these Games look highly precarious.

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It's now too late, unfortunately, to do anything about the heavily polluted and contaminated water in Rio, which doubles as the venue for the sailing, marathon swimming and windsurfing competitions. Athletes will get sick because Rio is unready. The city was awarded the Games in part because it promised to spend $5-billion to solve its obvious sewage problem, the kind of lasting legacy that wins over ambivalent locals who seek lasting benefits from the Olympic festival. But little of that money was actually spent – blame the inevitable "budget crisis" for stadiums taking priority over clean water.

All Olympic Games inevitably come down to the wire, but that doesn't excuse the IOC, which continues to get its institutional priorities wrong. Promises that win a city the Games mean nothing if they're not credible and enforced. Hygienic conditions should be the starting point of a bid and not some hopelessly optimistic, cynically discarded goal.