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Rio 2016: Recalibrating the apocalypse narrative
- Alan Abrahamson
Tuesday, 30 August 2016 - 09:50 AM IST



Colours of rio: The Rio Games had its fair share of positive as well as negative news, but it had Samba punch for sure.

Los Angeles: From the Department of the Obvious: many if not most pre-Games reports of the 2016 Rio Olympics bore the tone of prophecies signaling the Biblical end of days. From the same department: this did not happen.

It is now a week since the 2016 Games came to a close. Thus the logical follow-up question, why, before the August 5 Opening Ceremony, did Rio produce so many projections if not outright declarations of imminent doom?

And the corollary, going forward, isn’t it worth serious reflection and reconsideration from the many who predicted the sky would fall — not just about what they produced but about the role and value of the Olympics in our fragile world.

To be clear, the Olympics do not represent, nor have they ever, an exercise in perfection. That is not possible nor even in the least bit desirable. What the Olympics stand for is an appeal to our better selves and the notion of certain ideals, in particular friendship, excellence and respect.

To be even more clear, the Olympic movement is itself full of imperfections. We are all human, and we are flawed. All the more so the International Olympic Committee.

Yet a Games produces a moment — 17 days, really — when athletes from all over the world, young people in the main, gather and don’t kill each other. This is a unique thing in the annals of the human experience. It is worth celebrating. And yet.
The IOC for sure can, and should, do a better job both of acknowledging its shortcomings and of explaining the constructive things it does, and why.

For all that: No one likes criticism, least of all my colleagues, friends and otherwise in the media. But — to the collective you: Your scare stories were absurd. Your level of expectation: ridiculous. Your predictions of far-reaching calamity: 100 percent wrong.

Social media amplified the predictions of catastrophe. A threat on Reddit was dedicated to the “Apocalympics.”
Consider the Zika thing — which, among other consequences, purportedly led to the withdrawal of many top male golfers from golf’s debut at the Olympics.

The World Health Organization said last Thursday that no one appears to have caught Zika at the Games. That means, according to WHO, “spectators, athletes or anyone associated with the Olympics.”

To be even more direct — not one worker at the Rio golf grounds. Yet the world’s top guy pros wouldn’t or couldn’t go?
Hello, everybody — when did it dawn on you that August in Brazil is like February in the northern hemisphere and the mosquito populations in Rio would be way, way down? I was in Rio from July 28 through August 22 and literally did not see, hear or feel even one mosquito.

Twelve years ago, things before the Athens Olympics were in such a state of unease - the first post-9/11 Summer Games - that the Los Angeles Times, where I was then a staff writer, ordered us all to undergo gas-mask and terrorism-response training before flying to Greece.

Do the Olympics deserve scrutiny? For sure. And for emphasis: journalistic responsibility and holding accountable those in positions of authority is wholly appropriate.

But — what’s also appropriate in the big picture is a more appropriate measure, please, of balance and perspective.
A fair judgment on any Olympics takes 20 years. Look at Barcelona before 1992, and now. The place is totally transformed. Athens has a ways to go before history can be in any way fair in rendering a verdict on those 2004 Games. Are there sports facilities that are just sitting now in the sun? For sure.

Same in Rio. New transport lines. New waterfront park makeover. As the New York Times observed in a story published last Sunday, Rio “is altered if not reborn.”

In the meantime, it’s a real question why the ladies and gentlemen of the press, who are free with criticism when it’s someone else, don’t do the one thing they ask of the people they cover - that is, to be consistent.


Examples
- How many stories were produced before the Sochi 2014 Games about Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law? And after?
- How many reports were published before the Beijing 2008 Games about China’s human rights record? And after?
- The good news about Rio is not just that disaster was, in fact, averted. It’s not even that a whole bunch of people wrote “gee, I guess that was OK” stories upon their Rio departures.
- It’s that Rio has confirmed for increasing numbers within the IOC the realization, after 30 years of the Games as catalyst for wholesale public-policy makeovers, that it really is in a different game. It’s not in the infrastructure business. It’s in the inspiration business.
- The consequence: the IOC needs - not should, but needs - to go for the 2024 Games to a city where the sports venues, the transport, the overall logistic package already exist. Essentially, this means either Paris or Los Angeles. Rome and Budapest are also in the race. The IOC will pick next September.
- The IOC is recalibrating.
Time for the press to do the same.
(The writer is with the AIPS media)

 
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