Rio reminder: Every Olympics seems like a disaster before it happens
If you haven’t heard, the Olympics are in disarray. Nothing is ready. Citizens are angry. There are safety concerns, financial concerns, travel concerns. Forget about pulling it off, there’s worry they’ll even be able to get started. Read all about it:
• "The Olympic Park [is] going to be ready only a week before the Opening Ceremony. Seven million tickets hadn’t been printed. Training of the volunteer staff of hundreds has not yet begun. Remodeling of the airport is incomplete. A large proportion of the money required has not been raised."
• "Thousands of stray dogs will be poisoned ahead of next month’s Olympic Games."
• [The delay] dovetails with all the clichés about, at best, the nation’s inefficiency and, at worst, the nation’s untrustworthiness."
"If all this weren’t depressing enough, government and opposition have turned the Olympic delays into political football, trading bitter words and accusations over the whole mess."
• "Official government figures show that the initial $5.4 billion budget has increased by half as much again. But government economists admit in private that the end figure may be nearly $13 billion.
• "More than half the tickets remain unsold. Tour operators report sluggish bookings and up to 6,000 of the 62,000 hotel rooms are up for grabs with just weeks to go before opening ceremonies. […] Olympic construction delays and terrorism concerns are being floated as the main reason for the lagging interest."
• "The Olympics are an irresistible stage for athletes—but also for those who wish to act out their grievances before the world. The Summer Games, which kick off on Aug. 8, are hardly an exception."
"The Olympic sailing venue has been hit by the worst algae blight in living memory, forcing officials to order an emergency clean-up of threatened regatta routes."
It’s going to be bad. Really bad. Except that in the end, chances are it probably won’t. The (slightly tweaked) news excerpts above are from the Summer Games in Greece (2004) and Beijing (2008), two events that were supposed to be complete Olympic disasters that would set back the movement and forever change how we viewed the greatest, largest spectacle in sports.
We didn’t even get into the Sochi Olympics in which Russians were going to spy on athletes and journalists, kill stray dogs, put up competitors in ramshackle accommodations and create untenable toilet situations. There were "specific" terrorist warnings and Chechen separatists were apparently just going to mosey up the coast. And, oh yeah, Putin was probably going to wake you up in the middle of the night in your single-sized room with two beds and force you to wrestle him and a grizzly, shirtless, by the light of the moon. Oh, the Sochi Games were going to be a mess.
But by the end of the Olympic fortnight, things usually work out okay.
The Beijing smog wasn’t a massive problem. Chinese censors weren’t throwing reporters into jail. Athens somehow pulled things off. That’s the way things go. It’s the normal cycle of the news. Nobody cares about high jumpers and rowers in June and there’s no news value in everything being wonderful, so news outlets look instead for the very-real preparation problems that plague every Olympics. The water is bad in Rio. People are protesting. We should be worried about the police and military providing protection and the danger that could come from any rogue terrorist. These these things aren’t made up.
But then Friday of the Opening Ceremony hits, we’ll see some samba, a mini Carnival, Pele; the next day Michael Phelps will be in the pool, we’ll see shooters and weightlifters accepting gold medals and suddenly, all the worries just disappear.
Someone might get locked in a bathroom and people might not have Facebook access and traffic might be an issue. There might be a judging scandal. Protestors might make some noise outside some venues. More often than not though, with a news cycle that now has sports to report, the other stuff gets pushed to the back.
That’s not to say Rio will end up all peachy. Sadly, as we see every week in our nation, bad things can happen anywhere at any time. We can only hope the Games will be safe. But whether they are or aren’t usually has nothing to do with the doomsday prophecies of the build-up. Remember, the worst Olympic disaster since Munich happened right here, when the Centennial Park bomb blew up in Atlanta. It doesn’t take a disorganized Olympic preparation to lead to tragedy.
I asked a friend of mine from Brazil about the Olympics. Her parents still live there. She said the big concern isn’t about what happens when the eyes of the world are on Rio, but what happens when they turn away.