If it’s not one thing, it’s another. That’s an expression I’ve heard my whole life. It’s not an indication that I’m a pessimistic person; instead, it’s a simple statement that points out that some situations cannot get out of their own way. In other words, as soon as one mess gets cleaned up, another is hitting the floor.
And with that — Welcome to the modern Olympic Games!
In August, the greatest athletes the world has to offer will descend upon Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The competition will be intense; the storylines shoved down our throats will be scintillating, dramatic, and emotional; the primetime TV coverage will be “can’t miss TV”; and the behinds-the-scenes antics will remain behind-the-scenes because who wants the Olympics to be spoiled? In fact, if you don’t watch or don’t speak glowingly and passionately about the Games, you’ll be deemed un-Patriotic (that’s why I’m getting this in beforehand!).
But here’s the story of the Olympic Games that no one will want to talk about when we’re all sick with “Olympic-itis”. The city of Rio, the host of this Summer’s Games, is marred in internal strife, from the global pandemic of Zika to the bacteria-ridden water that flows through the city. Just seven weeks until the Opening Ceremonies, Rio’s Governor declared “a state of calamity”. Oh, and then there’s the little issue of the IAAF (international sport’s governing body) and the International Olympic Committee banning Russia’s participation in the Games due to the illegal drug doping of Russian athletes.
It’s never a good thing when words like “banning” or “suspended” come up when speaking about an athletic event. But it’s really bad news when The Center for Disease Control (CDC) starts issuing statements regarding the sanitation and health risks associated with the venue. The threat of the Zika virus is so serious that more than 200 medical experts and doctors wrote a letter to the World Health Organization (WHO) contending that the potential spread of the virus was severe enough to postpone or relocate the Games.
Hang on, though, the CDC isn’t finished. As if the potential spreading of a globally threatening virus wasn’t enough, scientists have discovered a dangerous, drug-resistant “super bacteria” in waters where swimming, canoeing, and rowing events will be taking place. It’s already been established and widely reported that Rio’s waterways are filled with sewage – clearly making them unsafe and unsanitary. And, frankly, dangerous. Now, a “super bacteria”? How are Olympians, honestly, expected to get anywhere near the water there?
The thing of it all is that officials in Rio knew of the dangers present in the city back in 2009 when they made the case to the IOC for Rio to be an Olympic host site. Moreover, members who voted to award the Games to Rio knew of the problems the city faced. Yet, here we are 7 years later – and Rio is the host of one of the world’s largest gatherings of people.
Now come reports from Rio that the government is bankrupt, Brazil’s president is facing impeachment hearings, and the country’s economy is in shambles. While it’s expected that the federal government has just enough money to support Rio through the Olympic Games, the question of what will happen afterwards remains unanswered.
However, if history has any way of predicting the future, I’ve got an idea of what Rio’s future – post-Olympics – will look like. Just close your eyes and point to a scenario. You want Montreal after the ’76 Games? Great, you get $2.7 billion in debt that doesn’t get paid off for nearly 30 years. Take Barcelona, instead, after the ’92 Games? While the Olympic organizing committee in the city broke even, the national debt of Spain skyrocketed to $6.1 billion. Atlanta, too, broke even after the 1996 Games; and while the public did not incur debt, it’s not as if a windfall of wealth was bestowed upon the city. There were insignificant changes with regard to revenue in the areas where you’d expect major growth during the Olympic Games – retail, hotels, airports. In 1997 when Athens was chosen to host the 2004 Games, the budget was $1.6 billion. The public cost for the Games ended up being ten times the original budget, and today the venues and facilities are underused with maintenance costs helping to sink the Greek government, financially.
Could Rio end up looking more like Vancouver (who’s experienced economic growth since they played host in 2010)? Perhaps. However, Rio seems to already be behind the eight ball. On top of the health issues and water scare, the state security in Rio has been cut by 33% due to the financial struggles. Crime is raging – murders are up 15% from last year and robberies up 30%. Not exactly the stage you want set as the eyes of the world prepare to focus in on your city, state, and country.
Commentators will wax poetic about the beauty of the city, the gorgeous Brazillian coastline, the Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks the city, the wonderful weather, blah blah blah. I get it, of course NBC isn’t going to bash the Games or bring light to the blemishes. That’s fine. There just seems to be something disingenuous about holding one of the the most watched spectacles, worldwide, in a place where so much is going wrong — but it shouldn’t come as any surprise because it’s nothing new. This is modus operandi for the Olympics. The citizens of Rio who live with the threat of Zika, who can’t drink their own water, who live in conditions that are falling apart at the seams – we tell them, “Hang out for a few weeks after everyone leaves town, then we’ll see what we can do to help you”. It’s like cleaning your house and throwing everything in your closet. The only difference is Rio’s putting its people in a closet for the betterment of the Olympics – the very Olympics that are likely to drive Rio further into recession.
If it’s not one thing, it’s another.