Every two years society is treated to watching the world’s top athletes compete at the infamous Olympic Games. Many of the greatest athletic achievements occurred below the five-rings and the thousands in attendance. Think Usain Bolt. Think Michael Phelps. Think Sidney Crosby.
In less than six weeks, we’re going to get a chance to experience that once again. The key word here is chance because with all that’s going completely and utterly wrong in the lead up to the Games, the wonder is how long they will achieve liftoff before falling face first into the hell that currently is Rio de Janeiro.
If you haven’t been paying attention, even the Cliffs Notes to the current news coming out of Brazil is damning. Even Rio’s acting governor Francisco Dornelles said the Games could be a, “big failure.”
To start with, there has been an algae breakout that’s threatening to contaminate the waters used for sailing competition, the air pollution within the city is being likened by experts to being the same as feeding athletes poison and there reportedly won’t be enough water to keep the city running during the Olympics. This goes without mentioning the obvious security risks associated with each and every Olympic Games along with the litany of human rights violations that go hand in hand with the five-ring circus. If that wasn’t enough, organizers recently shot the games’ mascot, a jaguar, at a torch-lighting ceremony when it not so shockingly got loose from its captors.
The whole event has given news agencies around the world endless amounts of content to muse on when Donald Trump isn’t feeding them one-liners about building walls and banning Muslims. The real question buried beneath the headlines is whether any of this matters considering the world’s best athletes will still face off in competition. Except that, they won’t.
As an appetizer, the entire Russian track and field has been banned from the Rio Olympics after evidence was found of systematic doping in the country. To the main course, thanks in large part to the Zika virus scare, major professional athletes like Lebron James, Steph Curry, John Isner, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy are dropping out of competition. The list is over 20 current world-class Olympians and is growing by the day. It’s getting to be the point where, if an athlete wins a medal, we will look back on it in history with an asterisk next to it, questioning its validity with some of the world’s best sitting at home.
Of course there is the optimist’s side to this as well. Michael Phelps could return from his marijuana-induced hiatus, Bolt could continue to break his own records, and we could see breakout stories from new athletes. Each of those storylines could lead to moments of inspiration that will live on for decades to come.
Despite all this uncertainty, the Olympics could still be great. Flowers have sprouted in unfertile soil before. The problem is that optimism seems further away with each athlete dropping out, each headline highlighting a further issue.
There’s still over a month left to change this perception though; things could get better. One could only hope.