Whatever happens in individual games over the next two weeks, this may be the most depressing Olympics since Berlin in 1936 and Munich in 1972. And it makes me happier than ever that Boston came to its senses and dropped its 2024 bid.
The opening ceremony said it all. Unremitting commercials interspersed with some tape-delayed programming. Yes, there was some great music and lively dancing. An overly-long celebration of an obscenely airbrushed Brazil, that distorts the hypocrisy that created these games, ignores the troubles of the games themselves and disguises the tragedy of what will be left in its wake. I assume the tape delays will also permit NBC to cut out any embarrassments to the sanitized extravaganza, including demonstrations by those protesting misplaced priorities and the gross abuse of public dollars.
Brazil is in an economic toilet, with rampant inflation, political corruption, rising crime and public health crises. The shame of this venue is nicely captured in Alex Cuadros’ The Broken Promise of the Rio Olympics in The Atlantic. This article illustrated the rampant corruption and how the benefits of the investment will go to wealthy elites, ignoring the long-suffering residents of the favelas and other poor areas. Charlie Pierce’s well-documented piece in Sports Illustrated showed why the 2016 Olympics should have been moved from Rio.
Construction delays and cost overruns are expected with all big ticket projects. In light of the shoddy construction of World Cup stadiums in 2014 in Brazil, it wasn’t surprising that the Olympic bike path crumbled, killing two people, and the athletes’ village was declared uninhabitable (blocked toilets, leaky pipes, exposed wiring) before part of it caught on fire.
Because it is winter in Brazil, the Zika virus may be less a threat than originally feared, causing some golfers to opt out, but the water pollution rotavirus could be devastating for visitors, especially marathon and triathalon swimmers, rowers and sailors who must contend with fecal matter and other raw sewage. And last month there were reports of drug resistant bacteria on Rio beaches, and human body parts washed up on a beach near a volleyball venue.
The acting governor of Rio de Janeiro declared a state of financial disaster, requesting nearly a billion dollars of additional federal support, after dramatically cutting police, fire and public health budgets.
Impeachment hearings on Brazil’s president for corruption will start later this month, and neither she nor her tainted predecessor (who led the Olympics bid) are expected to be highly visible.
Ah, but you say, let’s focus on the games themselves, celebrate the athletes who have worked so hard with such carefully refined skills. We have no real assurance that anyone is clean. The IOC caved in dealing with the World Anti-Doping Agency findings of long-term systemic Russian abuses. Only its track and field team was banned. How many competitors will fail to qualify for medals because of the illegal behavior of those who do? Can this problem ever be solved or even better controlled, especially with DNA doping on the horizon? It’s sad. Will this be like watching Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa 1998 steroid-infused battle for home run title?
Yes, there will be some human interest stories worth watching, such as American rower Megan Kalmoe or the entire refugee delegation including Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini. But why isn’t Yulia Stepanova, who risked her life to blow the whistle on doping in the Russian operation, able to participate?
NBC may effectively whitewash repugnant IOC practices and the disastrous behavior of the host nation, but the human costs to long-suffering Brazilian residents shouldn’t be forgotten in the afterglow of colorful closing ceremonies.
It’s long overdue time to provide permanent sites for the summer and winter Olympics games. My choice would be international investment to create something in its Hellenic home, maybe on a secure Greek island, but definitely not in August. As for a single site for winter games, I’m agnostic. Something in Canada, Europe or Japan, again with international support, but no more Sochis.
If people want to celebrate different parts of the world every four years, then different cities could be selected as honorary hosts to be featured in the opening ceremony. As I wrote in February 2014, it’s is message worth taking seriously.
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