May 4, 2016 / 4:31 PM / in a year

Brazil's Olympic marketing campaign victim of government paralysis

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Images of Brazilian beaches, samba and soccer should by now be lighting up television sets and adorning metro stations around the world, tempting tourists to flock to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic Games in August.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff attends the launching of the new Family Agriculture plan at Planalto Palace in Brasilia , Brazil, May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

But, despite the artwork being ready since February and the launch planned for last month, Brazil’s advertising campaign is gathering dust three months before the Games are due to kick off - a victim of the country’s political crisis.

The impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, which could see her forced from office as soon as next week, has stripped her government of political support and left several ministries rudderless.

Tourism, Health, Energy & Mining, and Sports are among the ministerial portfolios now held by civil servants with little political authority as their teams prepare for a new government led by Vice President Michel Temer.

Embratur, the government tourism department responsible for promoting the Olympics overseas, has had three leaders in 30 days, as consecutive parties abandoned Rousseff, derailing efforts to press ahead with the campaign.

“It’s been a mess,” said one source involved in preparing the Olympic campaign, admitting Brazil was missing an opportunity by leaving it so late. Britain launched its much-lauded “Great” campaign for London 2012 nearly a year before the Games.

Without the international campaign, there has been little to compete with negative headlines surrounding the Zika virus, the deepest economic recession in decades and political collapse.

Several governments, including the United States and the United Kingdom, have advised pregnant women to consider not traveling to Brazil due to the Zika virus.

Domestically, sales have been slow with only 62 percent of the available tickets to Olympic events sold, although the Rio 2016 organizing committee denies the political crisis has harmed preparations.

Embratur is sticking to its estimate that the Olympics will attract between 300,000 and 500,000 foreign visitors. That compares with the 590,000 foreign visitors that visited the United Kingdom for the last summer Olympics in 2012.

But the marketing campaign’s delay could jeopardize government estimates that the Olympics would give a much-needed $1.7 billion boost to the economy.

With the Olympics three months away, Brazil has an uphill task in getting the world and its own population excited about the Games.

“There hasn’t been a ton of buzz yet,” said David Carter, head of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.

MISS BUMBUM

Nine ministers have resigned from Rousseff’s government in recent weeks as her coalition partners abandoned ship.

Tourism Minister Alessandro Teixeira was derided by tabloid newspapers as a symbol of the disorder when his wife Milena Santos, a winner of beauty pageant Miss BumBum, posted photos of herself in a revealing white dress posing in his ministerial suite. She proclaimed herself on Facebook “the First Lady of Tourism”.

If the Senate votes on May 11 to put Rousseff on trial, as expected, Temer will move quickly to name his Cabinet and get government moving again, his aides say.

A priority for the new government will be to secure Congressional approval for a new budget for 2016. Without this, government will shut down next month.

“Since February, the only thing that has been discussed here is whether President Rousseff should be impeached,” said Senator Otto Alencar, of the Social Democratic Party which left the government at the end of March. “This is hurting Brazil very much.”

While Rousseff denied at a rally on Sunday that her government was paralyzed, aides say many officials are already packing up their things in the presidential palace and ministry buildings.

ZIKA IMPACT

The political paralysis also appears to be harming Brazil’s ability to respond to the Zika outbreak and care for children born with the birth defect microcephaly linked to the virus.

Marcelo Castro resigned as health minister last Wednesday, leaving the ministry without a politically appointed head as cities in the northeast continue to struggle with a surge in babies born with abnormally small heads, brain damage and motor control problems.

The city of Campina Grande in the interior of northeastern state of Paraiba, and one of the worst affected by the Zika outbreak, is still waiting for 6 million reais ($1.7 million) and a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner promised in February.

The money and equipment is vital for the remote city of 350,000 on the front line of the fight against Zika. As the only specialist clinic for microcephaly in the interior of Paraiba, Campina Grande is caring for over 40 mothers from the surrounding region.

“The political situation the country is going through is delaying everything,” Luzia Pinto, the health secretary for Campina Grande, told Reuters over the phone.

The Health Ministry did not respond to requests for comments.

Additional reporting by Alonso Soto; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Kieran Murray

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