Olympics-Weary

I am someone, if you couldn’t tell already, who never cares about sports (I do watch the Kentucky Derby, but that’s where my involvement in sports ends). I always resented coming from a town that revolves itself around high school athletics. I grew up having to sit next to a family watching NASCAR and/or golf every weekend. And trust me, I tried to be athletic, but every attempt ended with a ball smacking me in the face, kid you not.

But despite all of my angst toward sports, I do enjoy a good Olympics. I’m not even necessarily patriotic. If I find myself rooting for another country, that still means I’m watching. Except this year, I want very little to do with it. If anything, I’ll pay attention just to see what goes wrong.

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Another day, another problem in Rio. The time spent being proactive in preventing dangerous situations is over. It’s understandable with so many companies and countries involved that thinking about postponing or canceling the Games seems absurd, but we’ve never had a Games as controversial as Rio.

Call me pessimistic all you want, but I really don’t think the Olympics in Rio is a good idea. And I’m certainly not the only one. I honestly figured somebody would have convinced officials to move the games or cancel them altogether, but what do I know? With opening ceremonies tomorrow night, it’s certainly too late now, but just the controversy surrounding the games makes me uneasy to support it. I couldn’t agree more when the New York Times called this year’s Games in Rio as an “unnatural disaster.”

My issue is definitely the outbreak of the Zika virus. For the past few months, we see the slow but steady spread of the virus from its origins in Central and South America now even crossing into U.S. borders. (Heck, I wrote a column about Zika in February, and the concern hasn’t lessened over the year.) Research is showing that Zika not only leads to complications for infants, but also adults. The World Health Organization does not take this outbreak likely. And yet here we go, bringing international fans and athletes into a place knowingly spreading this disease. The Olympics committee says Zika isn’t even one of their top concerns coming into the Games. I don’t know what information, if any, they’re using to draw that conclusion, but the moment we start downplaying the severity of a disease like this, the more easily it will become a worldwide epidemic.

Need I also mention the issue of pollution in Rio? I think it was on CBS they featured the waters near the city, especially in its slums, and how murky and dirty they are. Athletes competing at Rio last year in a rowing junior world championship got sick from exposure to the water full of debris and bacteria. I’m no swimmer myself, but you can only prevent ingesting the water to a certain extent. Whether they are training or competing, I would not be surprised one bit if we see athletes having the same health concerns this year.

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The contaminated waters are but a single problem in a long list leading up to the main event. All of this drama shouldn’t get in the way of patriotic spirit fueling the Olympics.

The living conditions of the athletes while in Rio hasn’t been too great, either. For some Australians, they were given apartments that had exposed wiring, leaky pipes and clogged toilets. The Italians hired themselves contractors to complete unfinished parts of their apartments.

How about that corrupt Brazilian government? Or the money the country is spending to host the Olympics but is seeing little profit? Or the increasing amount of crime in the city? Athletes have been mugged at gunpoint. Unidentified body parts have washed ashore right next to the beach volleyball sites. Adding more people in city limits won’t ease these problems, but instead emphasize them even more. To me, the whole thing spells a recipe for utter chaos. City officials and Olympic officials have been pointing fingers at each other, but spending time blaming one another isn’t helping anybody.

The Games are a time to bring people around the world together, finding pride in themselves and each other. Especially when this year has seemed so tainted with tragedy, having something to look forward to, a time to take our minds off of that negativity for just a little bit to support international ties is great. Except when it’s risking the health and well-beings of everyone involved.

When I think of the Olympics, I see it as a very prestigious event. Athletes dedicate their lives to competing, and the countless fans from all walks of life supporting them look forward to the biyearly festivities. So with all of these problems occurring before the Games have even begun, I feel like the committee in charge needs to draw a line and set high standards for the sake of all of these people involved. The point of the Games is to appreciate athletes’ talents, not wait around to see what can go wrong next. It’s drawing attention away from the genuine purpose of the tradition. I want to hear news about who won medals, not about unsafe structures collapsing or fires near living quarters revealing intentionally silenced smoke alarms.

I pray that Brazil is putting greater effort into trying to improve conditions, but after learning that they were hosting the 2016 Games, they’ve had years worth of time to make the necessary changes, but with just a day before festivities begin and still seeing headlines about new problems in Rio, my optimism is dwindling. I realize the media enjoys dramatizes minor situations into major headlines, but the problems still exist nonetheless. Athletes aren’t pulling out of the Games over nothing. Let’s just say I’m already looking forward to 2018 in Korea and 2020 in Tokyo.

Who knows, they might surprise me and make a huge comeback after all of this prior controversy into an unforgettable few weeks. But I have a feeling the Games may be concerned “unforgettable” for all of the wrong reasons. Maybe they’ll have a really cool presentation at the Opening Ceremonies. I’ll keep an open mind with my fingers crossed behind my back.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

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