I was greatly looking forward to the Rio Olympics. As expected, it has been a wonderful escape from the grinding heat of the Jamaican summer and an excuse to stay at home on the couch with cups of tea. But now I feel I have had enough. I want to get back to sports-free days – apart from the English Premier League’s new season, which has just got under way. Go Gunners!
Looking back at the Games – the media coverage, the social media – I realize there are things I did really enjoy, and others I didn’t. Here’s my quick list of likes and dislikes:
The beautiful energy of the host city and its people, the Cariocas. I spent one week in Rio a few years back, and would love to return and explore some more. There was so much negative publicity (the Zika virus, etc) ahead of the Games, but much of it seems to have evaporated as the events progressed.
The Refugee Team: When they appeared at the Opening Ceremony, there was a lump in my throat. The team of six men and four women includes athletes competing in swimming, judo and athletics. Five are from South Sudan, two from Syria, two from the Democratic Republic of Congo and one from Ethiopia. To commemorate their presence in Rio, Brazilian artists have painted a beautiful portrait of each one of them on the wall of the Olympic Boulevard. As artist Rodrigo Sini said: “There is no medal that justifies the pleasure or the weight each of them carries, for the story each of them has, for the determination and courage they all had when they had to abandon their home countries to restart their lives somewhere else.”
The beautiful bodies: Well, hammer throwers aren’t exactly svelte, but still impressive in their own way. There were nimble gymnasts; slender divers (I got a rather perverse thrill watching them showering afterwards); the strong, graceful underwater movements of the swimmers; tall, slender high jumpers; and the sprinters’ muscle-packed physique. There was plenty to admire. A sort of ode to the human body, its power and symmetry. I was in awe of their skill, their coordination – and their beauty.
The athletes themselves and their stories. I always find this the most inspiring part of the Olympics. These men and women have arrived from all over the world, carrying their personal stories with them. South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk broke the World Record in the men’s 400 metres and his mother Odessa Swarts was so proud of him; she was a world-class runner herself but was not able to compete under apartheid. There are so many others, of overcoming huge challenges and struggling to reach Rio.
The persistent flag-waving – quite often accompanied by the “my country is better than yours” attitude – or even ” [Insert country name here] is the best country in the world!“ The Olympics is supposed to promote global peace and unity, but many supporters (especially those commenting online) don’t seem to have caught that spirit. I find excessive patriotism – including the dissing of individual athletes, who have worked their hearts out to get there – so unpleasant, wherever it is coming from.
The cloud of doping: This was hanging on the horizon even before the Games started. The New York Times reported that at least 120 athletes in Rio had prior suspensions for doping – from close to one third of the country delegations. Swimmer Yulia Efimova was booed whenever she competed. Justin Gatlin was also booed. It’s depressing, and complex, and it certainly detracts from the world of sports.
Random incidents of unpleasantness: One, the strange episode of the American swimmers, who apparently fabricated a robbery and have now brought themselves into disrepute and embarrassed the United States, their fellow competitors and the U.S. Olympic Committee. Secondly and on the local front, a single one-word tweet clouded the excitement over Omar McLeod’s emphatic gold medal in the 110 meters hurdles. Happily, this was swiftly dealt with, and celebrations could continue. Another one that left a bad taste in one’s mouth was Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby’s refusal to shake the hand of Israeli Or Sasson after a judo match. El Shehaby was sent home.
The social exclusion: It worried me to see acres of empty seats in the athletics stadium and other venues (which only appeared reasonably full when Usain Bolt was running). Were the tickets too expensive? If there were unsold seats, why not organize groups of local schoolchildren (some of whom may well be budding sportsmen/women), disabled persons and other groups who would not have the opportunity, to fill them? Photographs of residents of the poverty-stricken favelas looking down on the brilliantly lit stadium from their hillside made me sad. Ticket prices for the opening ceremony ranged from about $63 to $1,400. A minimum-wage worker in Brazil takes home around $55 a week.
Well then. Time to wrap up now. Time to go home, everyone. See you again, God’s willing, in 2020 in Tokyo. And let us all get back to “normal.”