We always knew that these Olympics were going to be a little seat of the pants but the story of these Olympic preparations are almost beyond belief.
With statistically two of the greatest athletes in Olympic history competing, (Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps) and a seemingly idyllic location to host the events, the 2016 Olympics should have been hitting the headlines for very different reasons.
There are some new museums, the sports venues are more or less complete as is the new metro line linking the hotel zone to the Olympic Park, although whether its fully operational no-one yet knows, but there are serious concerns that Rio will not be able to cope with its influx of 1,400 athletes and between 300,000 and 500,000 tourists. Despite specific Olympic only car lanes, there are fears that Rio’s horrendous traffic congestion will bring movement in the city to a complete standstill. The Australian team have been particularly critical of the athletes’ accommodation in the Olympic village, declaring much of it uninhabitable and moving their athletes out into hotels.
Despite the presence of 85,000 soldiers on the streets, safety remains a major concern. Two members of the Australian Paralympic team have already been robbed, New Zealand athlete Jason Lee was kidnapped and robbed at gunpoint and in a particularly grisly reminder of the violence that is never far from the surface in Rio, human body parts were found washed up on the beach near the Olympic volleyball sites. A police spokesperson said “We are in meltdown” and photo sharing sites have been carrying images of protesting police officers holding banners declaring ‘Welcome to Hell. Police and Firefighters don’t get paid’.
And then there are the reports emerging about the levels of water pollution in Rio. According to The Independent, ‘Swimmers need to ingest only three teaspoons of water to be almost certain of contracting a virus’. A sixteen-month study by the Associated Press has concluded that the contamination of Rio’s waterways by raw human sewage is an incredible 1.7 million times above safe levels. Add to that noxious cocktail the presence of the Zika virus, which causes such horrific birth defects and it is hardly surprising that many athletes are extremely anxious about the risk to their health and that several, Jason Day golf world number one and American cyclist Tejay Van Garderin among them, have decided to withdraw from the games.
Could it get any bleaker, should we all just forget about these games and start looking forward to the next ones? Of course not, because whatever difficulties the organisers of the Rio Games face, the Olympic Games is still the greatest celebration of the greatest athletes on the planet.