The Rio Olympics start Rio Friday night, with considerable gloom and doom.
Then again, there is always gloom and doom before the Olympics.
I covered seven of them and never once left home without being influenced by the Common Wisdom of the Media Herd that the end was near.
This time, however, the Olympics really may have hit triple witching hour, what with the Zika virus and the polluted Olympic waters and security concerns and feuding between the IOC and WADA and Brazil struggling to finish the project and rampant state-operated drug cheating.
This really might be time. In the decades I covered international sport, I came to realize that the stated idealism of spreading the Olympics and the World Cup of soccer around the globe imposed an unfair burden on emerging nations and cities that could ill afford the “honor.”
Unsupportable expense to build white elephants was the reason I was one of the first journalists to strongly oppose New York’s bid for 2012; I was thrilled my home town did not get it.
Drugs are always there. For me, it was a bore to have to wonder whether every sprinter or weight-lifter was clean. But now we have the Russian government running crooked labs. Does anybody really believe Putin? Beside Trump, of course.
To be sure, I wrote apocalyptic words before the seven Olympics I covered.
In 1984, we all fretted about gridlock but it never happened. I have never been able to zip around LA better than in summer of ’84. (“Everybody went to Hawaii,” a Beverly Hills friend explained.)
In 1988, we trembled after protests and change of government in South Korea the year before, but the Games were a delight – many old people still wearing the colorful robes of the past, young people plunging forward toward the 21st Century.
In 1992, there was caution in Barcelona because of separatism in Spain. I never minded when security rolled a mirror underneath the Timesmobile every time I drove to the media center. Mostly, Barcelona was a shimmering Gaudi dream – magic nights on the Ramblas plus Socialist plans for housing and waterfront, leaving maybe the best Olympic legacy ever.
In 1996, I was obsessed with the crassness of the Atlanta operation – until we were stunned by a home-grown terrorist planting a bomb among innocents at the central park. I came to like Atlanta; the city is better for having upgraded downtown.
In 2000 in Sydney, the fear and trembling was mostly about the Sydney funnel web spider (they hide in your boot! 20 minutes at most to get medical attention!) plus sharks in the surf and sunburn damage from on high and poisonous puffballs in the earth and fruit bats hanging from trees in center city. No worries, Mate.
In 2004, the first Games after 9/11, there was talk about bad guys steaming into the harbor at Piraeus. But the real damage from the Olympics was the rust, the empty stadiums and the debt in Greece today.
In 2008, we all fretted about air pollution in Beijing but the government simply shut down factories and traffic. When you went outside you could almost breathe.
Didn’t make London. Not going to Rio. But I am sure if I were still working, I’d go to Rio. I worry about the younger people who are going. My friend Dr. Gary Wadler, former advisor to WADA, is one of 150 experts who called for the Games to be moved or suspended. He says the Games are not worth the medical risk. And the IOC has not seemed up to inspecting the vile waters of Guanabara Bay or judging the Zika threat.
My image of Brazil will remain the music and the people and movies like “Central Station” and “Black Orpheus” and the beautiful team of 1982 with Sócrates and Falcão that did not win the World Cup – plus my friends Altenir and Celia and Neo in Copacabana. Be safe, my friends.
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.