Part 2 of 2: Every four years, some city with a bankruptcy wish hosts a Summer Olympics, usually successfully! Every four years, somebody says it’ll fail or won’t be ready in time and should be boycotted, postponed, cancelled or moved.

Click here to read Part 1.

Written by Kyle Magin

This summer, the Zika virus and impending collapse of Brazil’s political system are conspiring to join previous damn good reasons to inspire worrywarts to call for a cancellation of the Summer Olympics: Hitler, mass protests, Jimmy Carter’s leadership, terrorist threats, uncompleted venues and visitor accommodations (leader in the clubhouse!) and comical human rights violations. One thing each of these warnings have in common: They are almost never heeded and the Olympics usually come off OK, human consequences be damned.

To wit, the 21st Century:

Sydney 2000

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Backstory: Sydney came off OK, but its 1993 bid acceptance kicked a massive can down the road, namely, China and the rest of the developing world. Sydney won its bid at the expense of Beijing, and the Chinese immediately began making noise about re-starting their nuclear testing program, maybe boycotting Atlanta and generally throwing around the weight of the world’s next superpower.

It would send a loud, clear message to the IOC–continue to ignore us and our billions of potential viewers at your peril. It would also lay the tracks for other human rights abusers–namely Russia and potentially Kazakhstan–to advance bids based on building a spectacle rather than a sustainable(ish) collection of stadia and infrastructure.

Were the Olympics cancelled? No.

Athens 2004

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Backstory: After a handful of competent Games, Greece put on an all-time shitshow in ‘04 in regard to readying Athens and its venues for competition. With two months to go, the Greeks, with their renowned work ethic, decided to just go ahead and leave the roof off of the swimming venue in one of the world’s great ‘Nah, we’re good’ moments.

Just weeks before the Opening Ceremonies, Greece speed-finished both a tram and ring road crucial to transporting spectators. This is an especially revealing passage from a 2004 60 Minutes report on the run-up to the Games: Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyanni admits that when Greece won the Olympics in 1997, they did nothing to get ready – for years. “That’s unfortunately true,” says Bakoyanni.

“Because we’re a charming people who feel that they need to sit and discuss many things,” says Alex Rondos, a top Greek Olympics organizer. “And I don’t mean to be frivolous about it. We don’t run ourselves like a bunch of drill sergeants.”

Were the Olympics cancelled? No.

Beijing 2008

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Backstory:  For the first time since Moscow, the Olympics went to an undemocratic kleptocracy with a spotty human rights record. China secured the Olympics through bullying and promises of opening up to the press corps and cleaning up its pollution. It followed through on neither; restricting the media’s internet access and physically harassing reporters who tried working stories outside of the venues and athlete’s villages.

Beijing is remembered for its glittering spectacle of an Opening Ceremony, which papers over the fact that Beijing was stunningly unprepared for the Games with just weeks to go. Hotels weren’t yet built, unfinished sidewalks were pushing pedestrians onto city freeways which make the 410 during rush hour look like an Amish byway.

The air was so fucking bad, even the evil count who ran the Olympics at that time thought some events would have to be postponed until the air was less toxic for competition. Were people calling for the Olympics to be cancelled? You bet your ass.

Were the Olympics cancelled? No. W showed up at the Opening Ceremonies!

London 2012

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Backstory: London came off pretty well, though the city did allow an aging goat to bully it into allowing it to perform at the opening ceremonies.

Rio de Janiero 2016

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Backstory: First, the World Cup laid down the tracks for Rio, bulldozing low-income neighborhoods to make way for stadia and accommodations. Then, this, before the World Cup two years ago.

Then the velodrome was barely built ahead of the Games, and two people died on a cycleway near an outdoor venue, and a jaguar got shot for acting like a jaguar instead of a set piece, and zika (which probably isn’t the worst of Rio’s problems, but still) gutted the Olympics’ first golf tournament in 112 years, and the Australians got robbed after abandoning the shoddy athlete’s village during a fire. The list goes on and on.

The lead-up to Rio has been an unmitigated disaster, a comical display of inept planning of a magnitude we’ve almost never seen before. I’ve experienced this inability firsthand–as of this time last year, my girlfriend, sister and I were enrolled in the Olympics’ volunteer program, with designs on attending the games in a helping capacity.

Rio’s virtual volunteer recruitment and information portal has been a wreck–frequently crashing and displaying information in every language besides the one you enrolled in. Volunteer interviews via skype started with a video introduction that didn’t play for any of the attendees, so the dozen or so attendees from around the world could only sorta stare when the moderator asked us how the video inspired us.

Around December–two months after we were to receive our volunteer assignments–we started to think about pulling the plug. By June, when our assignments finally came–6 months after promised and with just 50-ish days remaining to train, find plane tickets and housing–we’d long-since abandoned our quest.

All that said, Rio may just pull it off. The weight of a global TV audience, powerful sport-officiating bodies and the experience of the IOC could salvage what the locals failed to prepare ahead of time. It wouldn’t be the first time…

Click here to read Part 1.

1 COMMENT

  1. It seems like every 4 years we get the same gloom and doom stories about the games. Frankly I think a lot of this relates to a whole group of large media outlets that hold in contempt any sports not the NFL/NBA. i.e ESPN which will be wall to wall with Packers/ Colts preseason this weekend.
    Sure things are a bit screwed up in Rio but can’t we say that about Chicago / LA / etc.
    Hopefully things come off with only a few hitches. Rio looked really really cool on TV last night. Especially spectacular is the Beach Volleyball set up on what appears to be one of the best beaches in the world. I plan on enjoying what is always some of the best 2 weeks any kind of sporting events. Go USA

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