Eric Robert Rudolph thought the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 were “socialist.”
That’s why he set a bomb in Centennial Olympic Park killed two people and injured eleven more.
Besides being troubling in and of itself, the bombing set a precedent of negativity in the Olympics, and subsequent events became bogged down with stories of disorganization, death, and deception.
China uprooted entire communities for the 2008 Beijing Games, displacing large segments of their own population, giving them nowhere else to go.
There were legitimate worries about China’s air quality, and their Opening Ceremony is now best remembered for the little girl lip-synching a song somebody else was performing, hidden away because she wasn’t very cute.
This is what happens when Shirley Temple meets Melania Trump.
Russia started off with banning “gay propaganda” at their Games. Afterwards, it quickly became obvious that Putin used the Olympic spectacle to polish up his international image before invading neighboring nations.
Even in safe and secure Canada, the Vancouver Olympics barely made it to a ready state in time for the Opening Ceremonies, and a man died testing out the bobsled course.
Doping scandals are growing in scale. More and more athletes are being retroactively stripped of their medals, dimming the luster of the award. It’s now a common thing for a thrown-together press conference to become the site of an awkward spectacle.
“So it turns out that the person who beat you cheated, so here’s that gold medal you really should have gotten two years ago. Oh, and sorry you never got to enjoy the moment they did, that we can never take from them, that should have been yours.”
Yay. Sign me up for one of those.
The point being that the Olympic image has taken an absolute beating in the last twenty years. Instead of pride in country and prestigious performances, it seems the Games are now more known for cheating, corruption, and chaos.
“To be honest, I’ve never seen an Olympics with such a wide array of problems.” - Bob Costas
Oh, and hey, for extra fun, the Summer Olympics coincide with America’s Presidential Election cycle, so politics become intrinsically entwined with our own nation’s medal performance.
Which brings us, on the two-decade anniversary of the Atlanta bombing attack, to the Olympics in Brazil. While there are a myriad of concerns about Rio’s readiness, there are three main points of concern that really stand out.
On top of that, there are
1. Unreliable security
Crime and poverty go hand in hand, and there’s plenty of both both in Brazil. A massive recession has led to widespread civil unrest, the desperately destitute, and an enormous spike in violent crime.
An Australian contingent in Brazil were already evacuated from their accommodations because of a fire only to find out that they'd been robbed upon their return.
And, by the way, the police literally said they couldn’t protect anyone. Actually, they said to tourists, "Welcome to Hell."
Hey, want to get even more worried?
The Atlanta bombing happened despite strict security.
Afterwards, the FBI still pegged the wrong guy as the bomber. Instead, the guard who saved more people from death and injury, Richard Jewell, had his name dragged through the mud on a national level for two months while the real bomber made three more attacks.
Now, let’s add in the obvious fears shared worldwide these days of religiously and/or politically motivated terror attacks, like we’ve seen in France and Brussels, and you have multitudes of fingernails chewed raw.
“We can’t protect you. Welcome to Hell.”
The Olympic Games are supposed to showcase the very best of your population. Yet Brazil’s police are warning visiting athletes that they can’t protect them from their own people?
To say that this is concerning is an understatement on the same level as telling a fishing village in the path of a tidal wave to “expect moisture.”
2. Collapsing government
Francisco Dornelles, the acting Governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, gave a confidence-shattering answer to whether or not he’s ready for the Olympics:
"I am optimistic about the games, but I have to show the reality. We can make a great Olympics, but if some steps are not taken, it can be a big failure."
Brazil’s economy has fallen over 5% just in the first quarter of this year. The state of Rio is largely responsible for funding the Games, they needed to call for a federal bailout to cover expenses, and it is still reportedly not enough.
Those police who have told everyone that they’ll be unprotected? Well, they’ll only be funded for the first two days of the Games as of this writing.
Meanwhile the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, has been suspended amongst charges of corruption and faces impeachment. The government of Brazil is in complete disarray.
3. Everybody’s ailing
If the paltry security and governmental collapse weren’t enough, let’s throw in a public health emergency on top of everything else.
Now, we’re not talking about the waters around Rio, so badly polluted that they cause a stinging sensation in the eyes and mouth of anyone in and around them. No, that’s a whole other thing.
We’re talking about the Zika virus.
What we do know about the Zika virus is greatly outweighed by what we don’t. Scientists have mostly ignored it thus far because it had been considered benign. No longer.
Zika is spread by mosquitoes and sexual transmission and mostly affects pregnant women. It leads to birth defects such as microcephaly in their children. There are over 1000 known cases of Zika-caused birth defects in Brazil.
That’s serious enough to give pause to US Women’s Soccer goalie Hope Solo, who has expressed a desire to start a family, and now doesn’t want to go to Rio.
Those are just three of the main issues Rio is dealing with, and they’re leading to many others. Some facilities still aren’t ready, and many workers have refused to continue until they’re given back pay owed.
Much of the population doesn’t want the Games there at all, and many people were displaced from the competitive areas and, like what happened in China, were given no place to go. This will certainly lead to angry protests and civil disobedience.
Because all of this isn’t worrisome enough, now let’s add the scandals that the Olympics bring with them regardless of their location.
Many Russian athletes have been banned for doping already. There are cyclists, wrestlers, weightlifters and handball players both male and female that have been ruled ineligible to compete.
Wait, what? Handball is an Olympic sport? And taken seriously enough to warrant Performance Enhancing Drugs? Learn something new every day.
Anyway, the Russians have a long history of doping, so it’s nice that they cheat in other ways than trying to throw our Election for Donald Trump, at least.
But it isn’t just the Russians. Brazil has had 23 of their athletes fail drug tests prior to their own host nation’s Opening Ceremonies. And there are sure to be many more cases as the Games progress, and even more after they conclude.
There are a whole lot of PEDs in the works here, and despite the International Olympic Committee’s most stringent efforts to eliminate them, they continue to be an ongoing humiliation for the Games.
Speaking of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), they’ve accepted bribes in the past, as it was revealed they did when they chose Salt Lake City as a host for the Games. This story will certainly rear its head in Rio.
You know, because there’s not enough corruption going on down there already.
3. Cheating judges
French figure skating judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne, was pressured into voting for the Russians in pairs skating in 2002. It robbed the Canadian pair, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, of what seemed to be a sure gold medal. Only a sustained day's-long worldwide public outcry forced the IOC to step in and correct the situation.
While the Canadians got their silver bumped up to gold, they still lost their moment of victory. The reason athletes strive to be at the Olympics all of their lives is to stand at the top podium and be recognized with their medal as the very best.
That moment went to the Russians. Nor were they stripped of their medals, even though widespread opinion was that they weren’t deserved as they cheated their way to the gold.
Noticing a theme here with cheating and the Russians? I’m just sayin’.
Long story short, Rio seems to be heading for a disaster.
Many pundits say the Rio Olympics should be called off or that the Games should even dispelled with completely. The dire portents coming from Rio certainly support their arguments.
So why are we doing this? Why are we bothering with this entire mess at all?
Because it’s the Olympic Games!
The Games are humanity’s longest honored contract with one other. Established in Ancient Greece, they are meant to celebrate humanity’s natural competitive instinct.
The Games are an opportunity for every nation to showcase their best and brightest. Even when countries are at war with each other, they will send athletes to compete with one another at the Olympics.
Yes, corruption and greed are showcased too, but the true defining moments of the Games are the triumphs of humanity. This is where the very best of our number come to inspire us all, whether they intend to or not.
If we are going to do away with the Olympics, then we should also do away with the NFL, the MLB, the NBA, the NHL, and all other sports leagues of all different stripes all over the world.
Would you support that? No, of course you wouldn’t.
We are obligated to let athletes perform, their families to support them, and our children to be inspired with wonder and awe.
We are obligated to encourage the gathering together of the world, even in the face of daunting odds, to celebrate and compete together peacefully.
We are obligated to give ourselves a break from the endless cycle of terrible news and to provide ourselves the opportunity to hope.
The Olympics are the culmination of the hopes and dreams of countless of men and women all over the world. They deserve to continue regardless of the problems looming in Rio.
Are bad things going to happen? Yeah, probably. How do we know that? Because bad things always happen at the Olympics. Some right wing zealot set off a bomb there 20 years ago, after all.
Should we back down because of that? Hells, no!
There's how to deal with life, by the way.
Good things happen at the Olympics. In spite of the endless doping scandals; in spite of the corruption and cheating; in spite of the fact that Brazil looks like they’re completely unequipped to deal with the Games; it will not be the bad things that people will remember about these spectacles.
Yes, there was a bombing in Atlanta. But the moment that everyone remembers is of brave little Kerri Strug winning a gold medal by vaulting with a leg she could barely stand on.
In each and every Olympic Games, the good moments have vastly outweighed the bad, and have been the ones to live on in our memories.
The desire of America, of Canada, of Russia, and yes, of Brazil, indeed of all nations of the entire world, is to be the very best. If you’re going to be the very best, you need to be given the opportunity to prove it, even though you look like you’re going to blow it.
Is Rio ready? They don’t look it. But neither did Atlanta, or Beijing, or Vancouver, or Russia, or London, or most every other host preparing for the Games in the last 20 years.
We gave all those other host nations a chance to rise to the occasion and they did. Rio deserves that chance too.
Just, you know, use lots of bug spray, don’t drink the water, and keep your fingers crossed.
Now light the torch![Feature Image Courtesy Jessica Stewart | spoiled NYC]