Brazil’s political crisis comes at an awkward time. President Dilma Rousseff has been suspended and faces an impeachment trial for financial improprieties. Numerous other top officials face investigations.
To compound the turmoil, health officials have raised concerns about the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain damage in babies and a form of temporary paralysis.
And the Summer Olympics, a once-in-a-lifetime chance for Brazil to put its best foot forward on the world stage, open on Aug. 5.
It is not the first time the Games have come to a country in time of crisis.
The Winter Games in Sochi in the Caucasus Mountains were essentially on the cusp of a war zone.
There were violent insurgencies in Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, all within a stone’s throw of Sochi. Some rebel leaders made direct threats on the Games.
In response, Russia put in place sweeping security measures, including tens of thousands of police and soldiers, surveillance cameras and antiaircraft batteries. Scores of protesters were detained ahead of the Games.
Shortly after the Games ended, Russia plunged into more controversial waters with a military intervention in Ukraine, and the eventual occupation and reclaiming of the Crimean Peninsula, drawing international condemnation.
A year before the Games, nationwide protests erupted against the authoritarian government, demanding greater democracy to go along with South Korea’s booming economy.
The protests were largely successful, leading to reforms like direct presidential elections. Some Olympics officials took partial credit for the changes, saying that the coming Games had helped prompt them. When the Games were awarded to Beijing for 2008, some even declared they expected democratic reform to follow there as well. Those predictions proved unfounded.
1968 Mexico City
Ten days before the Games, soldiers fired machine guns on thousands of student pro-democracy demonstrators in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, were killed; the numbers remain in dispute. Troops then hosed down the area, to erase traces of the massacre. The killings were followed by a crackdown on the democracy movement on the eve of the Games.
The Olympics proceeded despite the shootings. One of the most memorable moments came when two American sprinters, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists on the medal stand in protest of racial politics at home. Although the massacre had not moved Olympics officials to act, Smith and Carlos were promptly kicked out of the Games.
1948 London/1920 Antwerp
London was reeling from the aftermath of World War II when it hosted the Games. Basic goods were rationed, and there were still many areas that had not been rebuilt after bombing.
The Games were produced on the cheap, and no new venues were built. Male athletes stayed in former air force camps, while women were put up in college dorms. Several visiting nations contributed food and equipment. Clothing rationing meant that some athletes sewed their own uniforms.
The extreme austerity meant the Games actually made a small profit.
Antwerp, awarded the Games in part because of the suffering of Belgium during the First World War, had similar issues in 1920. Athletes slept on cots, and the track stadium was unfinished.
Asia was to have its first turn hosting the Olympics in 1940, and Sapporo and Tokyo were chosen as the sites for the Winter and Summer Games. Japan’s invasion of China caused the events to be scuttled, and Helsinki was hastily chosen to replace Tokyo. Then the Soviet Union invaded Finland. The 1940 Games, as well as prospective Games in 1944, were canceled because of World War II.
All three cities eventually got their chance to host: Helsinki in 1952, Tokyo in 1964 (and again in 2020) and Sapporo in 1972.
1936 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Berlin
Germany was selected to host the Winter and Summer Games in 1931. Two years later, Hitler became chancellor, and the Games took on a sinister hue.
There were a few small boycotts, but for the most part, the world came to Germany. Runners, jumpers and throwers from a number of nations gave the Nazi salute at the opening ceremony and on the winner’s podium, and Hitler was on hand in a place of honor at many events. Germany excluded nearly every Jewish athlete from its teams.
The Berlin Games paved the way for many of the modern elements of the Games. They included the first torch relay, and they were the first to broadcast on television. The whole thing was filmed by the Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl.
1932 Lake Placid, Los Angeles
The United States, like much of the world, was enduring the Depression when it hosted both Games in 1932. Godfrey Dewey, head of the Lake Placid organizing committee, donated family land for the bobsled run. Turnout was low at the Los Angeles Games, but money-saving measures allowed it to turn a profit.
Perhaps of more concern to some athletes was Prohibition. French athletes demanded that wine be available to them at the Games. At one point, plans were made to substitute sugar syrup imported from Cuba. In the end, despite some tough talk, officials mostly looked the other way, and European athletes just may have managed a drink or two.
These Games, considered unofficial by some historians but billed as the Olympics at the time, heralded more than a century of sport-politics collisions at the Games.
In “The Complete Book of the Olympics,” David Wallechinsky described the event: “British and American tourists were shocked when a riot broke out in front of their hotel. Government troops attacked a political demonstration, killing three people and injuring 57. Meanwhile, the Greek royal family was busy entertaining the English royal family at Olympic-related functions.”