And I’m not just talking about what goes on in the village after the athletes finish competing!
I’m talking about the repeated, mutli-media, doomish press narrative, seemingly written by journalist Negative Nancy, telling us all why the Rio 2016 Olympics are going to be a failure and we will see some of the worst examples of human spirit, whether it be bankrupt governments, disorganised event management, cheats, muggings, thieving opportunists, body parts on the beach, hygiene, and every other problem imaginable.
All of the above will most likely happen at the Olympics this year, and as horribly regrettable as they are, the show will go on. As I reflect on my Olympic experiences across London, Beijing and Athens, they have all happened before.
In London the press narrative was the contempt Londoners felt towards hosting an Olympics. Instead they needed community investment into a broken city after the riots of 2011. In Beijing, it was about pollution and the safety of the athletes’ windpipes, as well as the hygiene of the food and our poo pipes. And in Athens, the press narrative was about how unprepared the venues were going to be, and I experienced that first hand…
As a fresh-faced, hair farming 24-year-old I was at my first Olympics as the reserve for the rowing team. All the venues were rushed to be finished in time. I was taken on a tour of the Athlete’s Village (as a rowing reserve you’re not accredited to live in the Athletes’ Village) the day before the Opening Ceremony and there was still bulldozers levelling huge piles of dirt to finish the landscaping.
50km out of town, at the rowing course, a shiny, brand new boat storage, offices and athlete training facility had been built. I completed my first training session there, to maintain preparedness in case anyone needed a reserve to fill in.
Afterwards, I eventually navigated my way through a poorly-designed maze of corridors to find the showers. Standing underneath a row of showerheads, I turned one of the taps and no water flowed. I tried the next one. Still nothing. Tried another, and the tap was a little loose and turning it, the tap came off the wall in my hand. There I was holding a lone shower tap, naked, staring at a gaping hole in the wall, with nothing behind it.
It would be cool to think it was my Olympic strength that ripped the tap off the wall, but reality is the Athenians had rushed the completion; plumbing would’ve obviously slowed that down, so best they tile the walls and stick the taps on for the final inspection.
Luckily, the Athens Olympics aren’t remembered for that awkward showerless moment. It’s not always a fairytale for the athletes or for the host city, but the Olympics are a chance for the best spirit to be revealed by a country. For some it’s the best in human spirit, the best in athleticism, as well as the triumph of the Games going ahead despite so many things that can (and do) go wrong at such a large event.
And despite the risk of disasters, I’d still be going this year if I could. The Olympics are something I’ve never regretted going to… and doubt I ever would.
The Olympics should be about the athletes, and the performances haven’t started yet. The press needs something grubby to talk about, hence the cluster of problems reported daily. But it’s my hope once the cameras focus on incredible athletes at the start line, we will remember what is good about the biggest sporting event in the world.
Who knows yet what incredible displays of Olympic strength will be exposed, but that’s why we watch… because unlike other types of reality TV, the script hasn’t been written yet.
All the ‘problems’ being reported in Rio de Janeiro existed before the games arrived, and one thing the Olympics does is puts a bright spotlight on the host city and nation, and that can be one of the good things about the Games. The awareness that Rio isn’t all bikinis and feathered headdresses, may end up honing some attention directed towards the less fortunate. With so many people in one hotbed of a city, you will get all types, good and bad… just like you do in the mini-city that is the Olympic Athletes’ Village (but more about that next time).
It’s also my hope now there’s greater awareness and discussion about Rio, and because of that exposing spotlight those in positions of responsibility and capability do something about the quality of life for the battlers of Brazil, and that’s where the Olympic spirit can be used for good.