The Games of the XXXI Olympiad, aka the Rio Summer Games, start tomorrow, and I’ve been watching the run-up to them in the sort of horror one would bring to watching a train wreck. And not just any kind of train wreck; this is a train wreck accompanied by an earthquake, landslides, flooding, and possibly a plague of locusts for good measure.
As a veteran Olympic-watcher, I’m familiar with the hiccups that precede the games, which usually take the form of hand-wringing about whether all the venues will be ready on time and whether the transportation system in the host city will be up to the job of getting everyone—particularly the athletes—where they need to be, when they need to be there. Delaying the start of a race because of weather conditions is one thing; delaying it because half the participants are still stuck in transit is quite another.
But just consider what Rio has faced, and in some cases is still facing, with the games a little more than 24 hours away:
The entire Russian track and field team has been banned because of systemic, state-sanctioned doping going back years. There was talk of barring all Russian athletes, but in the end the International Olympic Committee decided to leave it up to individual sport federations to decide. As of press time, the whole Russian weightlifting team, seven Russian swimmers, and some members of the canoeing, sailing, and modern pentathlon team—more than 100 athletes, all told—have been disqualified.
Several athletes have announced their intention of not going to Rio because of fears surrounding the Zika virus, which is spread through mosquito bites and can cause birth and other neurological defects. Top golfers Jason Day and Rory McIlroy are just two of the big names who have decided to skip Rio, while long jump gold medallist Greg Rutherford, concerned that contracting the virus might affect his plans to have more children, has had a sperm sample frozen just in case.
Athletes are concerned about sub-standard, and even dangerous, accommodations in the athletes’ village, with the Australian team opting to stay in a hotel after a stress test of their quarters caused water to run down walls and electrical systems to short out. They eventually moved in after some rapid renovations were completed, only to find that they were not aware of a fire that broke out near their building, as the fire alarms had been turned off.
Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, lit the Olympic torch on May 3, then was promptly impeached by the country’s senate and suspended as president for 180 days due to allegations that she manipulated government accounts in the run-up to the country’s 2014 general election. She will presumably be watching the games from the comfort of her living-room rather than the stadium. The Rio Olympics will also be taking place against the backdrop of a long-running corruption scandal involving the state-run oil firm Petrobras.
There was horror when mutilated body parts washed up near the site of the beach volleyball tournament. Again, delaying an event because of inclement weather is one thing; delaying it because the site is now a crime scene is a very different matter.
So here’s hoping that the Rio Games manage to recover from these and other setbacks, scandals, and sensations. It’s one time that “Start as you mean to go on” may not be the best course of action.