Weeks away, Olympic Games are not looking good
OK, admittedly, I am more of a Winter Olympics guy than a fan of the summer games.
Skiing, snowboarding, hockey, bobsled and the hypnotic power of curling make for exciting viewing. I can do without the figure skating, but to each their own.
Of course, the Summer Olympics are so much more popular throughout the world — logically — as more nations participate.
But how are the games in Rio de Janeiro, which start next month, going to go?
Truthfully, not very well.
The Olympics are at a flawed site and the integrity of competition is at risk.
Why not Chicago?
It’s important to bring the world’s sports festivals around the globe. Putting soccer’s World Cup in South Africa for 2010 was historic. We welcomed back that country to the community of nations after years of apartheid.
Of course, the 2014 World Cup came to Brazil, which works. That country is absolutely soccer-mad. Building a stadium in a rain forest, perhaps, was not the greatest idea, but it’s logical to hold the event in a big South American country.
The Olympics are a different matter for Brazil. It’s a massive undertaking for a country, which clearly doesn’t have the financial resources to do it. And this was predictable even before the country was engulfed in political and health crises.
As with every major sporting event, some places are better equipped to take on and handle such a smorgasbord. London, a three-time Olympic host including 2012, had an infrastructure and a lot of facilities already built before it got the games. The Tube’s been around for a while, people.
London had stadia and arenas and even when it built a new Olympic Stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies and track and field, there was a plan to convert that site into a multipurpose sports facility after the games — West Ham soccer plays there.
London spent $15 billion to host the games.
Rio’s budget is $14.5 billion. That’s a budget. Olympic Games almost always go over estimates. London initially budgeted $4 billion, and look how that turned out.
The Associated Press is reporting ticket sales are sluggish and ticket prices are being reduced. Rio’s facilities are behind schedule, which usually means more money. Throw in health issues like the Zika virus, water pollution and security, and this is a mess.
How’d this go for Montreal (1976), or, more recently, Sydney (2000), Athens (2004) and Beijing (2008). The last won’t admit to “white elephant” projects, but those games cost $60 billion.
So after all of this, how did Rio beat out Tokyo, Madrid and Chicago in 2009?
The Russian conundrum
The answer is money, and that’s why the Russian track team is already banned from Rio and may soon be followed by the rest of its delegation. Despite their noble roots, the modern Olympics are cash extravaganza be it to athletes or organizers.
Medals mean money — be it endorsements or simple lump-sum payments from governments, and the incentive is there to cheat with performance-enhancing drugs. The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, were proven to be a sham as PED use was rampant and state run. That and similar abuses Russian track team led to expulsion from this year’s games. And now the International Olympic Committee is considering kicking the entire Russian team out.
Let’s not be naive — the Russians aren’t the only ones in this game. Everyone is. As always, the cheaters are ahead of the testers. (And as an added bonus, Rio’s drug-testing center has been shut down because of corruption.)
Banning Russia’s entire team would be a bold move by the IOC, an organization not known for daring. Sports need to send a big message that cheating isn’t tolerated. (Bravo to the International Tennis Federation for banning Maria Sharapova for two years for PED use.)
This is more of chemical competition than an athletic one.
Maybe, it will work out. There are always gloom-and-doom reports before Olympics. Lake Placid in New York in 1980 was an infrastructure disaster until the U.S. Hockey Team made everyone forget their problems.
I hope for the athletes themselves that Rio becomes about competition and not health issues, PEDs, cost overruns and useless facilities after the events.
I’m not confident.
Sports Editor Chris Freud can be reached at 970-748-2934, email@example.com and @cfreud.