With the days dwindling down to a precious few, there’s no more ducking the obvious question: Why in a world rendered asunder by madness and folly surging all over the map do we need the fragile, flawed, increasingly endangered 2016 International Olympics in totally overwhelmed and unprepared Rio de Janeiro to invite still more chaos?
In other words, when does enough become enough?
Yes, ‘tis true. These gloom and doom diatribes have become a regular feature of the countdown to this quadrennial opus. That’s decidedly been the case since the Mexico City games in 1968, and certainly so since the 1972 nightmare at Munich which, until now, has been the ultimate example of how deeply and perversely modern times can infect these ancient games.
Of late, no renewal has been exempt from pre-game fears bordering on panic. Yet somehow we’ve survived with our patronage intact. So has the Olympic concept, twisted, battered, grossly over-priced, heavily compromised, and hopelessly idyllic as it may have become.
You may recall that London, a stiff upper-lip town that knows how to organize a blockbuster of a party if ever one’s existed in this universe, hosted four years ago amidst predictions of runaway mayhem and ruin and when it was over everyone was beaming and the sporting world was aglow. Had the bloody 2012 games been staged on the set of “Mary Poppins,” they could not have been more charming.
All of which – maybe – should now make the conventional manic and dire prophecies suspect, even tiresome. That’s the line currently being peddled down in Rio, you may have noticed.
Okay, so no one disputes that the costs of the thing have become hideous. The Games set Montreal back a whole generation. The Athens Centennial is widely blamed for precipitating Greece’s still-raging and apparently unending fiscal crisis. They don’t gripe about it in China but the festival’s burden on Beijing is believed to have been brutal. They’re still licking their wounds in Atlanta.
On the other hand, there have also been smashing and relatively solvent successes – LA, Seoul, Barcelona, Sydney, the aforementioned London. Turning a profit, at least in financial terms, has never been a priority. With rare exceptions (Montreal may have been the most conspicuous), towns that have been taken for harsh financial rides have declined to express regrets, grudgingly or otherwise. In the end, civic promotional and vanity values invariably end up outweighing the pain, however egregious.
And if along the way sheer calamity has been averted –although who knows how thin have been those margins over the years – most will agree it’s been worth the price. Meanwhile, wondering and worrying about how long such luck can continue rises with every Olympiad.
Which leads us back to saucy and merry Rio, where the local historical image of a highly cool and cultivated nonchalance is greatly under siege along with everything else associated with this massive and near unbelievably complex project.
The Rio games are already a certified financial disaster: 51 percent over budget before they even begin, before preparations are even completed, actually. It will be another huge financial blow to much beleaguered Brazil for which the people of this desperately poor Third World country will ultimately pay dearly. But that, ironically or otherwise, may be the least of their concerns. Their graver question is, “Can the Games be staged adequately?” And their even greater question is, “Can they be staged safely?” Writes Sally Jenkins, highly esteemed columnist of the Washington Post, “One of these days, there is going to be a catastrophe.” There’s much to back up such mounting fear, especially in this of all summers.
I confess to benefiting from no first-hand research, but I can offer this summation of conclusions culled from prominent media that have studied the situation closely. Collectively, they warn: With but hours to the deadline, no Olympic site has ever been so woefully unprepared. No site has ever been more seriously underfunded.
No site has ever been more recklessly planned or shabbily executed. No site has had weaker support systems or been more lacking in sufficient infrastructure. No site has offered less proven or tested security.
And, most critically, no Olympics have had poorer leadership or been staged in scarier times.
Bear in mind the Games were cancelled during both world wars. Interestingly, with three weeks to go, a distinguished committee of 150 South American scientists, physicians, and researchers demanded that the Rio games be either cancelled or moved elsewhere, their basis being the Zika virus threat, other medical and environmental factors, and tenuous security. Not surprisingly, their entreaties, though clearly wise and sincere, were ridiculed by Brazil’s politicians, Rio’s promoters, and the pompous poohbahs of the International Olympics Committee.
All of which only adds to the soaring reservations of sharp and objective observers like Ms. Jenkins, who’s one of the best in the business and no scare-monger. She writes, “The Olympics will be lucky to escape a large-scale disaster in Rio de Janeiro.”
“Amen to that,” says I. Let the Games begin. And then hold your breath, Old Sport.