On Saturday, thousands of athletes from 206 countries, not to mention those participating under the Olympic flag, will start competing for fame, glory and 5,130 gold medals, in 28 different sports. This is 14 countries more, than are recognised by the UN. The Olympics are expected to attract over half a million spectators. At the 2012, London Olympics almost 9 million tickets were sold. All this translates into many payments.
The « cashless » London games
In 2012, Olympic sponsor Visa strived to turn the London games cashless by promoting mobile and contactless payment technology. Visa ambassadors were equipped with a Samsung phone, which enabled contactless payments within the Olympic areas. In a more controversial move, Visa had 27 ATM machines at the Olympic sites closed down and replaced by 8 new machines, which only accepted Visa cards. Further criticism arose from the Royal National Institute of Blind People, as ATMs were not equipped for blind and partially sighted people.
But the real backlash occurred when card system crashed at a soccer game at Wembley stadium and tens of thousands of spectators were unable to buy snacks. And if further evidence that the London games did not go cashless is required, Link, the UK ATM network Link announced that ATM withdrawals increased by 4.6% during the Olympics compared to the same period the previous year. And this does not include overseas card withdrawals.
How will people pay in Rio?
Of course, it is too early to say. But here are some considerations.
Visa will again be promoting alternative payment instruments. And this year, wearable payments are the fashion. This includes the Swatch Bellamy Watch, the Pulseira Bradesco payment bracelet as well a ring, though the latter is for Team Visa athletes exclusively. And of course, Visa will be the only card accepted at the competition venues.
On the other hand, Brasil has a dense network of ATMs with over 160,000 units deployed. And there is evidence that foreign travellers rely on cash because they are particularly wary of risks associated with card use.
Brasil ranks second in the world in terms of card fraud, according to research from ACI Worldwide and the Aite Group. A staggering 49% of the country’s consumers have been victims of card fraud in the last year. And the figure has risen by 19 points since 2014. Jay Floyd, Head of Fraud Strategy EMEA, ACI Worldwide comments: «With fraud rates in Brazil continuing to soar, it is important that visitors to the Rio Games do everything they can to protect themselves.» And ACI has issued tips for visitors to proctect their card and identity including this one : «When in doubt, pay in cash!»
Paying online while in Brasil will require caution as well. Moscow-based IT security group Kaspersky lab has warned that cybercriminals are training hard for the competition. They have listed a number of potential risks including phishing, fake sites, dangerous wi-fi networks, USB charging traps, card skimmers. In the US, Bill Evanina the chief counter-intelligence officials is warning travellers of the hack risk. “When you travel abroad, assume that your personal information will be breached,’’ he said.