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Rio Olympics: Brazil In Dilemma Over Poor Ticket Sales

Brazil’s government sounded the alarm Saturday over meager sales of Olympic tickets and public apathy just five months before Rio hosts South America’s first Summer Games.

With worries about the Zika virus, high crime and a major political crisis already overshadowing the August 5 opening ceremony, Brazil now faces the embarrassing prospect of empty stadiums.

Only 50 percent of tickets to the Olympics have sold so far, Phil Wilkinson, Rio 2016 organising committee spokesman told AFP on Saturday. For the Paralympics, which follow the main Games, the figure is far worse: just 12 percent.

Ricardo Leyser, who this week replaced George Hilton as Brazil’s minister of sport, said in an interview with Folha newspaper that he was working on a plan to boost purchases — as well as to stir up more excitement among Brazilians.

“One measure could be the government buying unsold tickets, particularly for the Paralympics, and distributing them among schools,” he said.

“There is a perception that the Brazilian population has not yet woken up for the Games. We are going to work energetically on this because it’s still not in people’s heads. We need to sound an alert so that people remember this event and go and buy tickets,” he said.

The Olympics were awarded to Rio de Janeiro in 2009 when Brazil was politically stable and enjoying a prolonged spurt of economic growth. But with the final 100 days mark fast approaching, organisers find themselves tackling serious problems on almost every front imaginable.

President Dilma Rousseff faces impeachment, meaning the country does not even know who will be its leader by the time the Games start.

And a bruising recession has forced deep cuts to the Olympic budget, with everything from security to the opening ceremony and even facilities for athletes in the Olympic Village having to make do with less.

A national outbreak of Zika, a mosquito-transmitted virus that is believed to potentially cause serious birth defects if contracted by pregnant women, has sparked numerous travel warnings.

Another worry, highlighted by the abrupt resignation last week of national public security chief, Adilson Moreira, is safety.