Rio 2016 hysteria is polarising opinion but Olympics… possibly… maybe…will be successful

 

Truth, wisdom dictates, must invariably lie towards the middle of two polar opposite views. So if two sides are telling you something completely different about a given topic, you can be fairly sure that neither are totally right and neither are totally wrong.

British ethologist Richard Dawkins disagrees. “When two opposite points of view are expressed with equal intensity, the truth does not necessarily lie exactly halfway between them,” he said. “It is possible for one side to be simply incorrect.”

Preparations for Rio 2016 provide a perfect model for this dilemma. The foremost view coming through the media, and in increasingly hysterical commentaries about Brazil, is that everything that could possibly be going wrong ahead of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is, indeed, going wrong. They are going to be a disaster, claim these same voices who preached similar prophecies of doom ahead of London 2012, Beijing 2008, Athens 2004 and just about every other Games in living memory.

After all, bad news and disaster sells.

On the other hand, you have the approach of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other Rio 2016 officials during last week’s Coordination Commission visit, the final one before the Opening Ceremony on August 5.

It is usually nigh-on impossible to speak to members of the inspection panel during these visits as they are invariably whisked from one meeting, tour or dinner to another. At times last week they could not escape from us and the message they delivered was one of wholehearted and unmitigated positivity – a Games which is going to set new highs and ooze new levels of brilliance.

“I have never seen as Athletes’ Village like it,” said one mesmerised official.

“The basketball venue is unreal,” said another.

“Unlike anything I have said at an Olympic Games before.”

Name a concern and an answer was swiftly provided.

Would the Games be affected by impeachment and political chaos? “Oh no, that will have no impact. Sport is not affected by politics.”

Subway line extension delays? “We have received every assurance it will be ready in time and have no reason to doubt them.”

Water pollution: “Gosh no, it was a complete coincidence 15 members of the United States rowing team got taken ill at last year’s test event, because one who fell in the water was not affected. In fact, we will prove it is clean by jumping into the Bay…”

Without good and unrestricted access to projects like the subway line – which we did not have – it is hard to definitively corroborate statements like. In fact, in my experience you are also far more likely to be wowed and taken in by the hype when visiting than if you are viewing something objectively from afar, although the former does provide you with insight you would not otherwise get.

On the venues themselves, I was tentatively impressed. The main Olympic Park at Barra de Tijuca looks impressive, with most of the venues completed so far as construction in concerned. Areas such as the Live Site officially unveiled last week even conveyed an ambience similar to that seen at London 2012. We did not go to the second main cluster in Deodoro, but all the feedback we heard, from International Federations as well as Coordination Commission members, was that significant and impressive improvement has taken place.

Concerns remain over some of the construction contracts here, and you feel a corruption scandal could emerge at anytime, but the major catastrophe everyone once feared should be averted.

The main concern at Barra now relates to the Velodrome following the cancellation of the planned test event due to begin later this month.The IOC inspection panel did not visit the venue and it is certainly the biggest construction challenge remaining ahead of the Games. Half of the track is laid, they were apparently told, and the remainder will be completed in the next month or so. It should thus be fully ready in time for the pledged completion date of May 31.

Even if this claim is to be taken at face value, significant overlay work will still be required both at the Velodrome and at other venues to ensure it is Games-ready in time, particularly given the absence of a test event to hone expertise. Given Brazil’s lack of experience in holding major events in many sports, you do worry if they will have the necessary skills and have the opportunity to training volunteers and workforce in time to be fully ready. 

Given where the host nation were two years ago when concerns rose to the fore during the 2014 SportAccord Convention in Belek, their improvement has been startling. Whether it will prove enough, time will tell.

It is similarly difficult to conclude regarding the subway line. Brazilian officials hailed a “major breakthrough” last week as a linking tunnel was completed. Even while rumours circulated that an Olympic ticket will be introduced in which locals are effectively barred from travelling, this is less worrying that it first seems as most are expected to be put off anyway by high prices and – during the Games, at least – tourists and spectators are the priority. 

Zika is a second major issue, at least in the eyes of the rest of the world. I was shocked how low profile it seemed in Brazil. Journalists, dressed in shorts and tee-shirts, asked no questions about the mosquito-borne disease during the closing press conference, even on the day in which a link with microcephaly was proven and doom-mongering US officials declared the Zika epidemic “worse than they feared”.

Bad as Zika clearly is, as officials pointed out, in Rio de Janeiro, in August, it should not be an issue so long as adequate precautions are taken. I did not see a single mosquito last week, and it was still summer with hotter and tropical conditions. But the problem, of course, is one of perception, and if potential visitors from the United States and other countries are put off because of it, then it is a big problem. Perhaps the greatest concern in Rio, concerns impoverished locals in favela communities who live in the worst conditions and have less access to treatment.

The final, and perhaps most ambiguous challenge, relates to the impact of Brazil’s political stability – or lack of.

This comes as impeachment proceedings continue against Dilma Rousseff. Following last night’s Congress vote, it now seems more probable than possible that she will be suspended from office before the Olympics are due to begin on August 5. The second in line, vice-president Michel Temer, is also facing impeachment, while the third, Lower House speaker Eduardo Cunha, is another politician accused of corruption.

Olympic officials claim the Games are popular and seen a sign of respite and hope at a time of crisis. Some claim that impeachment will help Brazil unite and the economy stabilise.

I would not go this far, but, rather than opposition, the public response in Brazil appears one of apathy. Most people will probably enjoy the Games once they begin, but neither will they wholeheartedly support it at a time when budgets are being slashed in hospitals, educations and other areas.

  • By Nick Butler
  • Republished with permission insidethegames.biz
 

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