Blame It On Rio

Brazil is really struggling.  The country is in the midst of a severe recession, with the economy shrinking, unemployment rising, and annual inflation above 10 percent.  Crushing poverty is found among large parts of the population.  The country’s President has been suspended from office and faces impeachment, and recent investigations have exposed a web of governmental corruption fueled by the state-controlled oil company.  Crime is an ongoing problem, as are drug gangs, and the hundreds of reported cases of the Zika virus have increased health concerns.

Oh, yeah — and then there’s the fact that the summer Olympics start in Rio de Janeiro on August 5.

5ygfvaBrazil’s Rio state, which is expected to pick up part of the hefty tab for the Olympics, is a financial basket case.  The acting governor recently declared “a state of financial disaster” in Rio.  The statement said “The financial crisis has brought several difficulties in essential public services and it could cause the total collapse of public security, health care, education, urban mobility and environmental management.”

A “total collapse” of public security and health care in a country that has long had a serious problem with violent street crime, disease, and appalling poverty?  Makes you want to get your tickets to those track and field events, doesn’t it?

The idea is that the “state of financial disaster” will help the Rio state government to “honor[] its commitment to the organization of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.”  The declaration will allow the Rio state government to seek millions of dollars in emergency funds from the national government to allow it to try to provide the security, transportation, and other services surrounding the games.

Brazil is the latest example of just how stupid the Olympics have become.  Countries celebrate when they are selected to host, but then they start to think about how they are going to pay for all of the fancy venues and stadia and Olympic villages for the athletes.  It’s a prime opportunity for more corruption, but it’s mainly misguided priorities.  Brazil’s Rio state can’t even adequately fund its hospitals and police stations, or make timely payments to public workers and retirees, and it’s going to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars to “honor its commitment” to the Olympics?  How do you think the poor people of Rio, the pensioners who aren’t getting paid, and the people who can’t get decent health care feel about that?

You can argue about whether the International Olympic Committee should have picked Rio de Janeiro in the first place.  Brazil has lots of problems, and it always seems to swing between claimed economic miracle and total financial collapse.  You can’t argue, however, against the fact that the Olympics are proving to be an ugly, and entirely unnecessary, burden for a country that is facing economic and social calamity.  Even if the Olympics go off without a hitch — and don’t hold your breath on that score — when the weeks of glitzy athletic glamour end, Brazil will be left holding the tab, and the grinding poverty and raging crime and rampant corruption will remain.

I hope no American city ever seeks to host an Olympics again.  It’s just not worth it.

Should The Olympics End?

People are starting to talk openly about whether the Olympics — the celebrated get-together, every four years, of athletes from countries around the world, to participate in summer and winter sports — should just end.

Some of the stated reasons for looking to end the entire Olympics experiment are listed in this piece by Charles Lane of the Washington Post. The Olympics often are hosted by countries that are not exactly paragons of freedom and tolerance — like Russia, which will host the Winter Olympics in a few weeks. The Olympics are corrupt; some athletes cheat by taking banned substances, and the members of Olympic committees allegedly are influenced by bribes or lavish treatment. The Olympics exacerbate mindless nationalism. The Olympics are an inviting target for terrorism.

I know that many athletes, particularly in sports that don’t attract much public attention, view the Olympics as providing their one chance at glory. Americans who win a gold medal, even if it is in some obscure sport like curling, can always say that, at that moment in time, they were the best in the world. And there is no doubt that athletic competition can bring people together.

But the ideal has, I think, largely been lost. The Olympics are so soaked in money that they can’t really claim to present the pure athletic competition that was the original Olympic dream. And it’s not just TV revenue and endorsements, either. Host countries go bankrupt trying to provide the facilities needed to provide venues for the dozens and dozens of sports in which competition occurs and trying to one-up the last host country for the events. If you lived in a city vying for the Olympic Games, what would you rather spend your money on — roads, bridges, and schools, or high-ended, limited utility sports venues that go unused when your three weeks in the spotlight ends?

The Olympics seems like a silly, wasteful luxury to me. I’d be perfectly content if the United States never hosted the Olympics again.