Midweek Fixture: These are the worst PR Olympic Games in history

By Dylan Cleaver


Before the torch has been lit inside the Maracana, let's declare these as the worst PR Olympic Games in history.

It might be exactly what the movement needs to get the IOC dragged kicking and screaming into the real world.

It could be construed as premature to label these Games as such when you have the boycott-riven Olympics of 1976, '80 and '84 to consider, and the Nazi propaganda exercise that was the 1936 Berlin Games, but as a communications tipping point, a critical mass of negative publicity, nothing compares to Rio 2016.

In normal circumstances, the International Olympic Committee's shameful dissembling on the Russian doping issue, and its member nations' embarrassing attempts to buttress that indefensible position, would be enough reason to condemn these Games to infamy. These are not normal circumstances, however. The Russian fudge is just another entry into the catalogue of shame.

To recap some of the issues, big and mosquito-sized:

The contracts for the biggest infrastructure projects in relation to the legacy aspect of the Games went to five companies, all of whom are being investigated for bribery and corruption.

The epidemic status of the mosquito-borne virus has possibly been overblown - it is cheerfully reported that in Brazil women are more likely to be raped and men shot than they are to contract the disease - but it did move more than 100 doctors to write to the World Health Organisation asking for them to lobby to have the Games shifted or postponed. As it was, the disease just provided a happy excuse for golfers to stay home.

The Olympics want to modernise, we're told, so what do they do? Include golf, a sport barely played by Brazilians and for which they had to, according to some, damage the environment in order to build the course at Barra da Tijuca.

The only other problem? They forgot to ask the best male practitioners of the sport whether they had any interest in playing at the Olympics. The answer has been a resounding "no".

Violent crime
It's Rio, it happens. Just ask New Zealand journalist Laura McQuillan, whose partner Jason Lee was 'escorted' by armed police to two ATMs where he was made to withdraw cash. When they made the bold call to make a complaint, they were exposed to a "debacle" that was, in McQuillan's words, "emblematic of wider corruption in Brazil's public agencies".

They are now living in Canada.

Water pollution
The water is filthy. A 16-month Associated Press commissioned study showed "showed viral levels at up to 1.7 million times what would be considered worrisome in the United States or Europe".

Said the report: "The most contaminated points are the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, where Olympic rowing will take place, and the Gloria Marina, the starting point for the sailing races. In March, 2015, sampling at the Lagoon revealed an astounding 1.73 billion adenoviruses per litre; this June, adenovirus readings were lower but still hair-raising at 248m adenoviruses per litre. By comparison, in California, viral readings in the thousands per litre are enough to set off alarm bells."

The shame of this is not the fact that tourists might get sick, or even that the athletes might. It is the fact one of the major 'legacy' missions of these Games was to clean up Rio's water.

But hey, let's try to stay positive, says American rower Meghan Kalmoe.

Nothing quite highlighted the entitlement complex of the modern athlete like her unfortunate blog, where she boldly offers to row through muck for us.

"My request to everyone who is fixated on shit in the water: stop. Stop trying to ruin the Olympics for us...

"It seems like it's all people want to talk about. And I can't really understand why. At this point, it is known that there are issues with the water quality... Great. Let's move on."

Sorry, it is not the journalists' job to cheerlead. The broadcasters will do that for us. At its most basic, journalism is reporting of the facts; at its most empowering it gives a voice to those who are rarely heard.

Kalmoe might be happy to "row through shit" for America, but try living in it every day of your life. She can pack up and go home when its finished, cariocas can't. The Olympics were meant to improve their lives, not least by cleaning up significant stretches of water even beyond the rowers' narrow outlook.

Shame on those doing their jobs properly for mentioning that with every floating body part in Guanabara Bay and every turd in Lagoa de Freitas, it clearly hasn't.

I've been here before, which you can read here.

There are hundreds of Russian athletes in Rio. The chances are they will win medals. There can be zero confidence in the fact they haven't cheated at some point in their careers. That's the sad truth.

Have a quick read up on the Russian cyclist that pipped Linda Villumsen for bronze by a couple of seconds at the London Olympics. I'd be intrigued to known if Kereyn Smith or Mike Stanley have sat down with the world champion to talk through IOC/ NZOC's spineless stance.

Nobody wanted these Games to be so blighted, but they have been and we haven't even mentioned the readiness, or lack of it, of the Olympic Village. Most thought it long overdue for the Games to go to South America or Africa. It was hailed as a bold gamble.

There's been bad luck too, though most of it the making of Brazil's political elite. The Games were awarded in the midst of a boom and will take place in a crippling recession, but the over-riding sense is the IOC has been too passive an observer of the troubles.

According to the Washington Post, in the years between 2013-16, the IOC revenues will total US$1.375b. That is a lot of money to help push legacy projects that will have a tangible benefit to the people of Rio de Janeiro. Because what else will they leave them with - some nice sporting facilities that will be used by few and a mountain of debt?

It is the absence of legacy for those in Rio de Janeiro that is most damaging to the Olympic brand.

The only part of Rio manifestly improved by the staging of the Olympics is Barra da Tijuca, a governing-class enclave for those with money and mobility who don't like to reminded of Rio's poverty on a daily basis.

Life isn't changing much for those in the favelas. It's getting worse if anything as the drug lords reclaim stakes in some of the larger favelas that were 'pacified' in time for the football World cup two years ago.

Perhaps nothing illustrates the complete loss of perspective than what happened in Providencia. This teeming favela, the oldest in Rio, was desperately seeking an injection of capital for clean water systems and education. Instead it got a cable car that hovers over them. All the better for tourists to see how the bottom half lives.

None of this might seem to matter when these Games are beamed into your living room, but they should. Behind every aerial shot of Copacabana and Ipanema, behind every wide-angled shot of Cristo Redentor, there is a city in turmoil.

And an Olympic movement that should be desperately seeking redemption.


Here's the WaPo's graphical look at the cash cow that is the Olympic 'movement'.

More good news for those who believe sport is increasingly grubby.

Tino Best will never go down as a great cricketer, but he might be a decent storyteller.

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 23 Oct 2016 17:58:13 Processing Time: 800ms