I declare the Games Of The First Olympiad Of The Flesh-Eating Bacteria Era…Open!
I noticed on Aug. 3 that, for no apparent good reason, NBC would be running the Aug. 5 opening ceremony of the Rio Olympic Games on a one-hour tape-delay. I’m sure there is a small regiment of marketing geniuses and brand wonks who can tell me why this is good for the teevee bidness, but I’m also suspicious that it gives NBC just enough time to eliminate footage of protesters, logistical catastrophes, and toxic sludge monsters from the deep who barrel-ass ashore and carry off Gisele Bundchen, thereby giving Tom Brady a chance to be an action hero during his month-long sabbatical from the NFL. Call me cynical.
It is too late now. The Olympic Games are going to happen and they are going to happen in Rio de Janeiro come hell or high water, and there likely is to be plenty of both. It never should have come to this. The Games should have been pulled from Rio a year ago. The Games should have been pulled from Rio on the entirely practical grounds that the government of Brazil, and almost all of its institutional public infrastructure, is a pile of splinters on the ground. The Games should have been pulled from Rio on the grounds of human decency because the optic of staging a plutocratic athletics hootenanny in the middle of some of the worst grinding poverty in any hemisphere is enough, in the words of the late Molly Ivins, to gag a maggot.
The Olympics are going to make all these problems worse. (And thank god for The Nation’s indefatigable Dave Zirin, who has been banging the drum for common humanity almost from the moment that the International Olympic Committee awarded the Games to Rio.) These are the most basic reasons the Olympic Games in Rio never should happen. Here are some of the others.
• Because the Zika virus, which has now made its debut in Miami, is still running as wild as it was in May when The Harvard Public Health Review ran a study that suggested that the Games be delayed or postponed for Zika-related reasons alone.
• Because two people died when the Olympic bike path fell into the sea.
• Because the “venues” for rowing and sailing and open-water swimming are overgrown biology experiments containing God alone knows what and also more than a few independently operating anonymous arms and legs.
• Because the athletes village was declared uninhabitable and that was before the Australians moved into their quarters, which swiftly caught on fire, during the course of which somebody robbed the Aussies, except for the one dude who slept through the whole thing.
• Because of this quote alone: “We hope the Olympics will show the world another bay. There is the bay for the rich, for visitors to see, and there is the bay of the fishermen, who are suffering. That is the bay of excrement, garbage and oil. It is the Guanabara Bay of violence.”
• And this one: “They shot at me in front of the fisherman’s association. Shrapnel hit my waist, but I knew I had to keep fighting. Other fishermen have been killed.”
• And this one, too: “If I were going to be in the Olympics,” said Griffith, the California water expert, “I would probably go early and get exposed and build up my immunity system to these viruses before I had to compete, because I don't see how they're going to solve this sewage problem.”
• Because the mascot got murdered in broad daylight.
• Because there’s all kinds of strange wildlife—“Hey, marshal? Do I get a drop from in front of this giant freaking rodent here?”—living on the golf course.
• Because there may not be police.
• Because there may not be medicine.
• Because unclaimed body parts are going to harsh the mellow of the beach volleyball competition.
• And, because human sewage, that’s why.
Speaking of human sewage, let’s talk for a moment about the IOC. In addition to trying to sell the world on a Roger Corman movie masquerading as a sporting and cultural extravaganza, this pack of buffet grazers so completely bungled its handling of the Russian doping scandal that it managed to make Vladimir Putin seem like the wronged victim of capricious authoritarian regimes. That’s quite a feat.
Of course, if you’re looking for pluck and grit and good ol’ American optimism, there’s always rower Meghan Kalmoe.
If you are that insecure about where we stand, America, let me be the one to say it. I’ll say it, if it will allay your fears and put some of these issues to rest: I will row through shit for you, America.
Roll over, Patrick Henry, and tell Nathan Hale the news. That’s OK, Meghan. It’s enough for me if you just come back without having grown an extra head.
The modern Olympic Games have been ridiculous and borderline obscene for going on five decades now. In 1968, the Games were preceded by a massacre. In 1972, the Games were interrupted by a massacre. In 1976, the city of Montreal nearly went out of business. Then came the two Boycott Olympics, from which the Games emerged as a quadrennial diorama of corporate indulgence and media excess, garish enough and loud enough to obscure the fact that the very awarding of the Olympics now gives the host city carte blanche to commit the human rights violations of its choice.
In 1988, I attended the Olympics in Seoul and had an altogether splendid time of it. Only this year did we learn that the preparation for the Seoul Olympics were an unholy combination of a pogrom, slavery and the Magdalene Laundries. This means that, whatever crimes the Brazilian authorities are committing against their more luckless citizens ought to be hitting the media just in time for the 2044 Games on Neptune.
There are only two solutions to this problem—either keep giving the Olympics to countries where human rights abuses are part of everyday life, or just build a permanent site somewhere in the world and base the Games permanently there, which is more in keeping with the Games of antiquity than is the convention of the International Brotherhood of Bagmen that takes place every time the Games go up for bid.
This should be what used to be called an Open City. Its construction and maintenance should be paid for entirely by the IOC, either through its own revenues, or through corporate sponsorship. Not a dime of public money should be spent on it. Further, it should not be dropped in some impoverished nation, nor should it be put any place where the local oligarchs can use the Games to knuckle the regular folks. It should be in a place where’s there’s plenty of room, and where as many events as possible can take place outdoors.
A place like, say…Omaha.
Omaha is a terrific place that has ordinary sized rodents. It does a great job every year hosting the College World Series. There’s plenty of space in and around town. The Missouri River is there for the rowing events, and there are plenty of lakes around for the sailing competition, as long as we can schedule it around bass season. (Hey! Bass fishing! New demonstration sport! Makes as much sense in the Olympics as golf does.) God knows there are enough venues for the equestrian events, and you can play beach volleyball any place where they can truck in sand, which Nebraskans have been doing for decades. There certainly will be no problems with altitude, random hands and feet, or flesh-eating bacteria.
It is possible that the Rio Games will prove catastrophic enough finally to drive the IOC to consider a permanent home for the Games—which, of course, would involve the IOC giving up its informal motto, “Me some too, yes?” Meghan Kalmoe aside, the Rio Games are opening with serious health and safety risks to the athletes arriving from all the points of the compass. And have we mentioned kidnapping?
These are Games that never should have happened. No matter what glories we may see over the next 18 days, the Olympic Games of Rio remain a reckless operation run by people who never get near the social problems into which they have dropped their party. Almost as revolting as the Games themselves is the inevitable whitewash of all the problems that will occur if, somehow, the entire city of Rio doesn’t vanish under the waves over the next couple of weeks. We will hear nothing but amazing stories about “overcoming adversity,” and how the plucky Brazilians managed to pull off a logistical miracle after an (admittedly) rocky start. Then the world will leave. The favelas will fill again. The government will continue to be a phantom. The fishermen will keep getting killed and the flesh-eating bacteria will once again, well, eat flesh.
Citius, Altius, Vibrio Vulnificus!