It’s the Olympics, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

It’s the Olympics, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Alexis ChapmanWednesday,3 August 2016

The Olympics are supposed to be about the global community coming together in the spirit of friendly competition to celebrate elite athletes. But of course humans are the absolute worst, so the Olympics never end up being that good or that simple. We let companies shamelessly and un-ironically use the Olympics to sell things like pizza, burgers, and soda, and we screw up all kinds of other stuff about the Olympics too. For instance, the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi are remembered by many for things like Russia still criminalizing homosexuality, bizarrely inadequate accommodations, unnecessarily dangerous courses, and weather that barely qualified as winter. Sochi may have been kind of an Olympic train wreck but there is a good chance that the 2016 Rio Olympics will be something like a car crash on top of a train wreck. The game’s opening ceremony is this Friday so, in no particular order, here’s a quick rundown of the things that may be putting a damper on the Olympic torch this year.

This is old news for the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) itself has faced corruption charges since at least the 1990s. This year’s specific scandal involves the Brazilian government, which has it’s own history with corruption, and deals with a range of issues including Olympic buildings and missing funds that were supposed to be used to clean up Guanabara Bay where several events will be held.

Economic, Government, and Police Issues
Closely related to the above issue are some other problems. Brazil’s Senate impeached the President in May and the trial will be ongoing throughout the summer, Rio is currently experiencing a bad recession, and many public workers are not receiving pay regularly. This last issue prompted some police officers in Rio to greet arrivals at the airport this June with a sign saying, “Welcome to Hell, Police and firefighters don’t get paid, whoever comes to Rio De Janiero Will not be safe”.

The good news is Zika transmission in Brazil may have peaked earlier this year. The bad news is there were still almost 100,000 new cases in Brazil in 2016, including many in and around Rio. If (when?) international athletes, coaches, journalists, staff, and spectators are infected it will be bad for those who get sick and it will be a potentially huge problem for the countries they return to that are trying to keep Zika out. There are measures being taken to limit exposure, and those who attend are encouraged to take personal steps to prevent Zika. A low, or even 0% infection rate at the games is possible but far from guaranteed and the spread of Zika is a problem that will stick around for years and decades to come. The other, much smaller problem is that a number of athletes have opted to skip these games due to Zika concerns, which is a very reasonable decision but is a loss for the games.

Another reason that a bunch of athletes won’t be attending this year is the Russian doping scandal. Last year it was discovered that the Russian government had known about, and in some cases encouraged widespread use of performance enhancing drugs and blood doping by Russian athletes. The IOC decided not to ban the entire Russian Olympic team but any Russian athlete who has previously been suspended for doping will not be allowed to compete in Rio, which adds up to a lot of Russian athletes. This is bad for Russian athletes who haven’t been doping but whose skills and/or past wins are being questioned, it’s sad that so many have been endangering themselves, and it’s unfair for those who previously lost to athletes who were cheating. This calls into questions decades’ worth of medals and casts a shadow on the Russia versus U.S. medal count rivalry, which is one of the enduring themes of the Olympics.

Just like in 2012 in Beijing, Olympic athletes in Rio will have to contend with air pollution. Rio’s smog is probably not as bad as Beijing’s was but Rio has the added concern of dangerously contaminated water. Specifically, rowers, swimmers, sailors, and triathletes will be competing in Guanabara Bay, which is contaminated with raw sewage.

Bad Accommodations
As athletes have begun arriving in Rio, complaints have been surfacing about the poor quality of some accommodations and how this will negatively impact athletes’ performance. This is obviously not the most serious issue on this list but it’s still kind of a bummer.

Because, as I mentioned, humans are the worst, terrorism is not new at the Olympics. And because ISIS are the worst of the worst they’ve been translating their propaganda into Portuguese and are apparently calling for supporters to attack the Rio games. The U.S. and Brazil are working together to improve security, and hopefully nothing will come of the threat. But even if nothing happens, fear of terrorist violence is now a prominent feature of this year’s Olympics.

Even with all the above there are of course still good things about the Olympics that will hopefully shine through this year. There will be amazing athletes, and it’s still noteworthy that with all our differences once every few years most of the countries in the world can get together to play sports. This year’s Olympic motto is “A New World,” but unfortunately the world of this year’s Olympics is kind of scary and a little depressing. So maybe for 2018 or 2020 we could work on an even newer New World, one where the Olympics can be about athletes doing sports without having to worry about epidemics, or pollution, or terrorists.

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Image Credit: Scazon on Flickr

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