The Olympic Spectacle

English: The Olympic Flag flying in Victoria, ...

English: The Olympic Flag flying in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, outside the provincial legislature of British Columbia, in recognition of Vancouver’s hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Olympics of course roll around every four years. I’m not particularly a sports fan, and in fact I don’t think that I’ve watched any of it this time, except for the excerpts on the evening news show. That doesn’t stop me feeling pleased whenever one of my countrymen wins a medal.

But much of the Olympics is not about the sport. Much of it is to do with how the host nation is coping with the huge sporting event, and this time the host nation, Brazil, has come under fire for a number of reasons. Obviously big spending on sport in a poor country is not a good look, and if things go wrong with the accommodation or the actual venues, then it looks even worse.

Unfortunately it’s the nature of the beast for things to go wrong. There is a high need for accommodation, for athletes and officials and this pretty much has to be flung up in a hurry given the short time frames. Hence athletes arrive to find unfinished quarters and other such issues.

The same is true of the venues. In a country like Brazil where there isn’t a lot of money to spare, things like water pollution are a fact of life, and a rushed clean up is not going to fix that. Even in this country harbours and marinas can sometimes be less that perfectly clean. Such is life, in spite of strenuous efforts to clean things up.

I believe it to be true that many of these sports venues may become white elephants after the games, especially those for the minor sports. It is unlikely that there will be the level of usage from local athletes after the Games that would permit them to be kept open. The accommodation areas may fare better in this respect as there is always a demand for accommodation. I believe that this is true for all past Olympic host nations, at least to some extent.

The Olympic Games do draw people to the host country, to spend money on tickets and accommodation, not to mention the myriad of trinkets and souvenirs that they will no doubt purchase. It’s questionable however whether or not the host country is going to profit in either the short term or the longer term from the Games. Of course they hope that people will enjoy themselves and maybe return to spend more money.

News crews having been going out in Rio and asking the locals their opinions on the Games, and naturally, they are not very positive about them. If you are living in sub-standard accommodation and you see millions being spent on short term accommodation for visitors who will only occupy them for a few weeks, you would likely not be positive either. The locals’ opinions on the news crews who ask silly questions is not, however, recorded.

Most nations have one or two representatives. When a really small nation gets a medal of any colour, the world’s press tend to descend on the winner and breathlessly ask the same old questions. “How does it feel to win a medal?” and “How will the folks back home be feeling right now?”. Of course the athletes are ecstatic and the folks back home will be proud too. Such cookie cutter question and answer session are so predictable that they become amusing.

Medal presentation at the 1936 Berlin Olympic ...

Medal presentation at the 1936 Berlin Olympic games, Sivano Abba-Italy (3rd place) Gotthard Handrick-Germany (1st place) Charles Leonard-USA (2nd place) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, that not a comment on the amazing achievements of the athletes from small nations who win medals, some of whom will have scrimped and saved to attend the games and may not have had the opportunity to be coached by the best coaches, but it’s a comment on the predictability of the media’s responses.

Nations always have high hopes for their athletes, and are unreasonably disappointed when they come up against the best in the world and don’t do too well. Of course the athletes from a small nation don’t have the resources and coaches that the larger nations do, and so when an athlete from a small nation claims a medal, it is a significant event, not that this diminishes in any way the achievements of the athletes from the larger nations.

There are many unique features of the Rio Olympic Games. One of them is the presence of athletes who are competing as refugees. They have (so far) obtained two medals, a gold and a bronze in shooting. These athletes (there are 10 of them) have undergone great hardships, often travelling long distances through multiple countries, and to nevertheless be able to take part in the Olympic Games and even win some medals shows a great deal of fortitude.

Another is the perceived risk from the Zika virus. It’s commendable that so many athletes have ignored the risk and come to Rio anyway. The only group that stayed away purportedly for this reason were some of the golfers. As the linked articles suggest there may have been other reasons for their absence.

Brazil is not known as a particularly safe country to be in, though it isn’t thought to be as dangerous as many countries can be. However, there does not seem to have been much in the way of trouble between the local population and the athletes, support staff and spectators who have come to Rio.

One notable exception was the case of four American competitors who were supposedly robbed at gunpoint while celebrating a medal win. As it turned out, what really happened was that the four were drunk and trashed a service station. The station’s security guard pulled a gun to prevent them driving off and made them pay US$50 to cover the damage that they had done.

Scandals are part of the Olympics, and the drugs scandal has been the worst so far. At one stage it looked as if the whole Russian team was going to be banned, as it was alleged that there was a government led doping programme in place.

While it was evident that some athletes do take performance enhancing drugs, the fact that in Russia this was actively encouraged by the state was a shock. In the end Russian athletes who could prove that they were clean were allowed to compete. While this is good for the athletes themselves, it was a let off for the Russian state doping scheme. This is not a good look for sport and unfair to other athletes.

 

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