I had a call last week on behalf of the Organizing Committee of the Rio Olympics as, I imagine, did some of my colleagues. They were conducting a survey about how the upcoming Games were being perceived in the United Kingdom. Among other things, they wanted to know what interest there was here with the event now just over two months away. Sadly, I had to tell them it was precious little.
That was until the story broke about 150 global health experts asking for the Olympic and Paralympic Games to be postponed or moved because of the Zika virus.
Only then did Rio 2016 became a major talking point- for a short while.
Apart from this latest demand – rightly rejected by the World Health Organization and the International Olympic Committee – there have been numerous other calls for the Games to be called off, warning that the anticipated attendance of 500,000 international visitors could cause the virus to rapidly spread outside of the country as well as possibly affect those competing in the Games.
One even imagined there might be a suggestion that tickets should be issued with a similar message to that you now get on cigarette packets: “Warning – these Games can seriously damage your health.”
Unfortunately, a great deal that has been broadcast or written here about the Rio Olympics has been negative – citing economical and environmental issues, pollution, construction hiccups and major political upheaval resulting in the deposing and impeachment of Brazil’s President virtually on the eve of the Games.
And in swept Zika, who many could be excused for thinking was the name of a player in the Brazilian football team.
It was exactly a year ago that IOC vice-president John Coates called Brazil’s preparations “the worst I’ve experienced” and went on to claim that construction and infrastructure projects were severely behind schedule.
He said the IOC had formed a special taskforce to try to speed up preparations but the situation is “critical on the ground” and such an intervention was “unprecedented.”
Obviously since then the Rio organizing committee have been moving heaven and earth – particularly the latter – to get things ship-shape in time for the opening ceremony in the iconic Maracana Stadium.
But they must have felt at times they couldn’t win because on top of all this came the massive doping scandal which has seen the current suspension of all Russian athletes and their possible non-participation in Rio.
This shameful episode and the global escalation of doping in so many sports has caused worldwide cynicism about whether or not what will be witnessed in Rio is for real.
It is true that negativity has been a byword before most Olympics – including London 2012 -but for Rio there has been a curious air of indifference.
Only recently a neighbour – an Aussie who was enthused by 2012 and all that – asked me: ”Is there an Olympics this year?”
I doubt he is alone in wondering if this is the case.
Does anyone outside of the committed Olympics fan know what the Rio 2016 logo, or the Games mascots Vinicius and Tom, actually look like?
For the Brits, the build-up to Rio 2016 has been exceptionally low key.
Of course for those likely to be involved the interest is naturally immense, as no doubt it is for the followers of insidethegames.
But for the general public there have been too many distractions, not least the forthcoming in-or-out referendum on the European Union; the rise and rise of Leicester City: the fall and rise again of Jose Mourinho; the hopes of three of the home nations in the European Football Championships and the start of a new Premier League season which clashes with the Olympics.
Also, as far as Great Britain is concerned, inevitably there is a sense of anti-climax after the Lord Coe show.
Few doubt whether Team GB can get anywhere near emulating the record-breaking golden achievements of 2012.
I really do hope that Rio comes alight and captures the interest and imagination of not only the seemingly apathetic Brits but the rest of the world.
It is an exciting, vibrant city, throbbing with a sporting passion undeserving of the opprobrium that has been heaped upon it, notably over Zika.
I am certainly not among those who believe that Rio should be abandoned at this desperately late stage as host city either because of the virus or other vicissitudes.
Sadly, however, I do fear that when the Games begin on August 5 the focus is more likely to be on drugs and disease than who wins what.
By Alan Hubbard
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz