#Rio2016 – How Brazil pulled it off despite the political intrigues

Despite many hurdles, Brazil hosted an excellent Olympic Games

Despite many hurdles, Brazil hosted an excellent Olympic Games
Despite many hurdles, Brazil hosted an excellent Olympic Games

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]A[/dropcap] survey by the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics, of 2,792 interviewees of over 16-year olds in 171 cities across Brazil showed that almost 60% of those surveyed felt that a successful organisation of the Games was more important than success in sports; only 30% wanted medals as a sign of success.  The results of this survey seemed to coincide with the Datafolha survey which found that 63% of Brazilians thought that the Games would have a negative effect on the country; only a third thought that the effect would be positive.1

Barring a few exceptions and viewing the Games from a Brazilian point of view, the Games were a huge success.

Even in death an Olympian can be generous and a life-saver.

The 2016 Games were given direction by two world leaders who seemed to know how dangerously the world was shaping.  Warmongers boasted of a willingness to use the nuclear weapon.  Some are intent on spreading chaos to secure their illegitimate gains.  The result is a tally of 70 million refugees in the world and ancient cities demolished to dust without any qualms.  In this context, Pope Francis declared that “the Olympians bring us together as one family,” in the interest of “peace, tolerance and reconciliation.”  His one world view was a “civilization in which solidarity reigns and is based on the recognition that we are all members of the same family, regardless of differences of culture, skin color or religion.”2

These lofty ideas are easily said than done, but nevertheless needs stressing.  Pope Francis hails from Latin America and has therefore invested his time, for Brazilian success.  The current Pope speaks from the heart which often leads to doctrinal controversies, as when he said that mothers who were infected by the Zika virus could undergo an abortion.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he second international figure who took an active part in Rio 2016 was Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the United Nations.  He felt that he scored a moral victory when he sent a team of “athletes of no country to call a home, a place on the starting line.”  The refugee team represented 70 million homeless people throughout the world.  Ban Ki-moon saw this team as a part of a larger scheme in which the first-ever class of young leaders would contribute their ideas to Sustainable Development Goals.  Former Chancellor of Austria Werner Faymann would lead the Youth team and seek the cooperation of the International Labor Organisation.3   The Secretary-General was given the honour of opening the XXX1st Olympiad in Rio.

The spirit of the Games is best illustrated when body parts of the late German canoe slalom coach Stephan Henz, 35, who died in a car crash during the Games saved four lives when his heart, liver and both kidneys were successfully transplanted.  Even in death an Olympian can be generous and a life-saver.

Many will fail to realize that the UN added its goal of environmental sustainability to the Olympic objective.  Brazil needs to work a great deal on this score, but it displayed the urgency in its closing ceremony very well.

…several athletes are running for countries who can pay them handsomely. Bahrain has seven Ethiopians, six Kenyans, three Nigerians and no “natives” running for them.

Although Brazil did not hope to do well in the Games, the 31st Olympiad on its home soil recorded its best ever in the medals standings.  Brazil won 19 medals and some of them were emotionally charged, especially the gold for soccer.  Their star, Neymar, was a wizard at the game but he had never captained the national team; he led by example.  He scored the fastest goal in Olympic history, in 15 seconds of the start of a 2016 semi-final game against Honduras.  His last kick in the shootout against Germany clinched the gold.  The victory was so sweet for two reasons: it was revenge, for two years ago Germany beat Brazil in a World Cup, 7-1, a humiliating defeat; secondly, the soccer ball is a major component of Brazilian culture so much so that even if Brazil were down, its citizens would still believe that Brazil is the world’s best soccer nation.  The soccer ball in the Brazilian flag symbolizes soccer’s cultural dominance.

Final Medal Tally Rio 2016
Source: Google

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he event that thrilled Brazilians was the pole vault.  The newspaper, O Globo, declared that “Thiago Braz was god in pole vault.”  In this case, the crowd seemed to have won it for the contestant, so said Braz himself.  Despite rain and heavy wind, Braz missed the 5.98 m jump and raised the bar to 6.03.  He had never jumped above 6 m, but “since my home crowd wanted me to win,” he took the risk, and it worked at his first attempt.  Meanwhile, his rival Renaud Lavillenie failed to clear 5.98 for which he blamed the unsporting booing crowd.4

Despite the numerous difficulties, the show went on as scheduled.  Brazil attributed construction delays to its culture: we like doing things at the last moment.  This may be a bit of an exaggeration but Brazil did have enormous difficulties some of which were shared by other organisers of Olympics.  Construction companies, like Delta in Rio and 18 associated companies, were involved in embezzling R$370 million.  Delta was paid R$80m for transportation across River Turvo and the work was not done.  Public Prosecutor Leandro Metidieri said that cash was withdrawn from ATMs to bribe public employees.  The public was wrongly informed that the money for the Games was private, not public, but this was contested. The authorities argued again, wrongly, that the metro was not part of the construction for the Games, but its opening was timed for the Games.5   Construction problems can therefore be attributed partly to cultural weaknesses and partly to massive corruption.  The impeachment case against the President of Brazil was timed for the end of the Games.

When Brazil bid for the Games, the economy was strong as oil prices were high.  About 30m people were lifted out of poverty.  When the economy tanked new problems came to light like the zika virus, a local flood, and fresh corruption cases.  The Olympiad which was supposed to cost originally $2.8 billion was then estimated at $5 billion and eventually at $20 billion.6   Cost over-runs for Olympics were common: Barcelona’s cost over-run was 266%, Athens was 49%; and London’s 76%.7   Rio, however, took on the World Cup and the Olympics, two expensive world events which the country could ill afford in a recession.  The Games, nonetheless, proceeded with Brazilian flare.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]R[/dropcap]io 2016 was successful on another dimension, security.  About 11,000 athletes and administrators from 200 countries performing at 300 events for 16 days had to be entertained and protected.8   Brazil accomplished this feat with the help of 80,000 soldiers and police, twice the number used in the London Games.9   Brazil arrested in time a network of 10 in different cities, all Brazilians, who were trying to work for IS; the arrests came a week after 84 were killed in Nice.  Security had to be raised to another level.

Brazil took security seriously.  It exposed some athletes who concocted a fictitious story that they were held at gunpoint when in fact they had struck down a latrine door after a party and a guard confronted them – a minor incident in which one swimmer had to pay $10,800 in compensation before he left the country.10   In another incident an Olympic official representing Ireland and Europe was allegedly arrested for scalping; the police noted that the alleged profits would have amounted to US $3.1 million.11

While there were some minor incidents that showed that the Olympic spirit would trump international politics, there were others that showed that the reverse was true.  North Korea’s Hong Un Jong embraced South Korea’s Lee Eun-Ju as a “great gesture” to show unity of the Koreas and the importance of the Olympic spirit.  Medal winner and Afro-American Ibtihaj Muhammad wore the hijab in defiance to illustrate that Muslims were not anti-Americans.

Brazil, as always, presented a carnival atmosphere:…

On the other hand, the Israeli team was stopped from boarding a bus that had Lebanese athletes and Egypt’s El Shehaby refused to shake Israeli Or Sasson’s hand in the 100 kg judo on political grounds.  Australia accused China’s Sun Yang of being involved in drugs in the past and the Chinese press retaliated that Australia was a product of Britain’s penal colony.12  The Chinese were unaware that currently it is fashionable in Australia to trace one’s roots to occupiers of the penal colony.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]S[/dropcap]enior editor of Huffington Post Lilly Workneh13 wanted the world to note that black athletes “defeated odds, broke barriers and set records on their way to success.”  In the sprints and short distances, less than 1,500m, the genes of Western Africa reigned supreme.  Jamaica, the US and Britain were the powerhouses of the sprint events.  Strange as it might seem, the long distances were dominated by genes from East Africa.  Usain Bolt represented the former group and Mo Farah the latter. Like Farah, Ethiopian Almaz Ayana won the gold in the 10,000m and set a new Olympic record of 29:17:45.  NBC commentator noted that Ayana’s performance was “one of the finest achievements we’ve ever seen.

Usain Bolt won the ‘triple-triple”: gold in the 100 and 200m in three consecutive Olympiads.  One commentator said that he was running out of superlatives to describe Bolt’s achievements.  Bolt is not only a superb athlete who earned the title of the “fastest man on earth,” but he endeared himself to the public when he seemed to be a voluntary mentor to Canada’s de Grasse.  The relationship was dubbed, “little brother, big brother.”  Since Bolt said that he would retire from track and field, de Grasse is likely to carry Bolt’s mantle to Tokyo where the next Games will be held in 2020.  Bolt’s popularity with the crowds is reflected in his appearance fee of $400,000 in a non-Olympic year.  Rohrbach claims that Bolt’s net worth is $60 million, an extraordinary sum for a runner.14   Bolt has a contract with Puma worth $10 million each year until 2025. Bolt said that he “is the best.”  The last word needs qualification.  Muhammad Ali also said that he was the best.  The question is, “best” in what? In the case of Bolt “best” is limited to the sprints.

Canada’s Ben Johnson also claimed that he was the best sprinter, but his gold in 1988 was tainted with a steroid scandal which disqualifies him.  Ashton Eaton qualifies as the “world’s best athlete” since his second Olympic decathlon gold involves a supremacy in 10 varied events: 100m, broad-jump, shot put, high jump, 400m, 110m hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500m.  Mo Farah qualifies as the “best” and holder of the “double-double” in the 5000m and 10,000m.  And, since the marathon is the longest distance run, 42.195 km, Kipchoge should be considered the current greatest long distance runner.  The IOC recognizes the demanding nature of the marathon and its winners are given medals at the closing ceremony, a sign of distinction.  Micheal Phelps should be viewed as the best swimmer ever, while Simone Biles’s view must be given weight: “I am not the next Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps; I’m the first Simone Biles,” unique and the best in gymnastics.  American Mathew Centrowitz’s gold in the 1500m needs special mention since he broke the African monopoly in this event.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]A[/dropcap]nother trend, next to African genes, is the fact that several athletes are running for countries who can pay them handsomely. Bahrain has seven Ethiopians, six Kenyans, three Nigerians and no “natives” running for them.  Generally small, rich, oil and gas producing states attract the best athletes.  Ruth Jebet won gold in the steeplechase for Bahrain in one meet.  Asia’s fastest man, Nigerian Femi Ogunode runs for Qatar, which allegedly pays $1,000 a month for life.  Thirty Kenya-born athletes perform for adopted countries.15

The Chinese have noted that this trend of performing for adopted countries has spread to table tennis.  Of the 177 table tennis players in Rio, one-third were born outside the countries they represented.  China was surprised when they were confronted by Chinese opponents when playing Austria in one competition, for instance.16

Another noticeable trend is the remarkable performances of women in the Games.  Among Canadian athletes 59.2% were women and two-thirds of its swim team of 30 were women.  Eleven out of 19 women in the swim team won medals.  Much to her own surprise, 16-year old Penny Oleksiak won 4 Olympic medals, one of which was gold.

American women were the biggest winners for their national team.  Women won 50.4% of the 121 total medals Americans won, and 58.6% of the 46 golds won.  Simone Biles was inimitable in gymnastics and she won 4 golds and 1 bronze.  Allyson Felix won 2 golds in the relays and 1 silver in 400m.  In all, Felix has 9 medals in 4 Olympics, the most for any woman.  Katie Ledecky, 19, won 4 golds and 1 silver as she smashed the 400m and 800m freestyles in the swim contests.  The success of these women is attributed to the 1972 Title IX which abolished sex discrimination in schools.  American women dominated gymnastics, swimming, basketball, rowing, water polo and soccer in Rio; they won all except soccer.17    American success in any Olympics can be attributed to a large pool of talent which is harnessed first at schools, then in colleges and sports stadia.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]B[/dropcap]ritish writers do not seem to stress the distinction in performances between their women and men athletes, but they seem to be evenly divided in their success.  The Chinese seem to be losing out in badminton, diving, swimming and gymnastics, which were usually dominated by their women athletes.

Chinese performances were sliding slowing with the coming years: In Beijing, 2008, they won 100 medals, in London 2012 they won 88, and in Rio 70.  They had to have an explanation for this decline.  Their expectations were high.  Their delegation was the largest with 710 vs the US’s 554.  They had experienced athletes, 27 of whom won gold in previous Olympics.  The reasons given for their decline was that other nations were catching up.  Before, administrators used to get annoyed if athletes failed; today they are more tolerant.  Female athlete Fu Yuanhui had to educate the Chinese public that her menstrual cycle interfered with her performance in the 4×100 m medley swimming race and she was treated as a heroine for being open about a taboo.  Athletes of today do not practice as hard as those of yore, who were recruited mainly from rural areas.  These are the reasons for the Chinese lament that, “even Britain has more gold than us.”18

At Rio, Britain had more support staff than athletes which contributed to success: 900:366. “The secret of our success is the work put into training schedules, diet, medical support and expert advice over the four years since London 2012.”  Surely, it must be more than that.  In the last two decades, Britain started a lottery to fund sport and take a long term view.  The national lotto spent £274 million on athletes for giving more time to their training.19   Elite athletes earn £28,000 tax free; should their incomes rise above £65,000 a year through endorsements etc., their tax free sum is means-tested.

[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]I[/dropcap]n Canada, too, financing played a major role in success.  Since 2004, Canada started Own the Podium to fund sport to targeted athletes.  B2ten organizes private funding for sport.  Money is needed to tap the talent that is dormant in a country.  This was how Derek Drouin seemed to have perfected the Fosbury Flop (1968).  Unlike other competitors, Drouin cleared the bar from 2.33m to 2.38m without dropping the bar; others could have done it too but their knees or hands came in the way.

There were many races that were memorable and spectacular in their own way.  Daryl D. Homer’s victory in sabre fencing was the first that an Afro-American received gold in 112 years.  Avid supporters of basketball feel that Carmelo Anthony is the “greatest ever” since he is the “leading scorer” with 293 points.  Brazil’s Rafaela emerged from Rio slums to win 57-kg judo gold.  Michelle Carter emulated her father who won silver in the 1984 LA Olympic Games; she won gold.  Shannae Miller dived across the finishing line to snatch gold from Allyson Felix in the 400m.  Three, triplets, from Estonia dubbed themselves as the “Trio in Rio” in the marathon.  Only two finished: one was 97th and the other, 114th .  The marathon had two more sets of twins: North Korea’s Hye Song and Hye –Gong Kim who finished 10th and 11th; and, Germany’s Anna and Lisa Hahner who finished together holding hands.  One wonders why the German coaches had to be annoyed for holding hands when the Games were fun.  South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk surprised the organisers and the public when he won the men’s 400m in his first Olympics, in lane 8, and in 43.03seconds.  Van Niekerk attributed his victory to his 74-year old coach Anna Botha whose philosophy is “never too old to learn.”  In at least two cases, their victories were the first for the nation:  Monica Puig won gold in tennis for Puerto Rico and Fiji won rugby leaving the famous All Blacks in the cold.  One cannot forget 41-year old Uzbek gymnast Oksana Chusovitina performing the vault of death, or Produnova with 2½ somersaults.

Brazil, as always, presented a carnival atmosphere: the crowds helped by wearing colourful costumes, the opening and closing ceremonies were spectacular, and Christ the Redeemer blessed Copacabana beach with sun, storms and wind.  “Romance is always in the air in Rio, but when the wind changes, and then comes more romance,” is a Brazilian saying that has a ring of truth.

Rio 2016 had 4 betrothals.  The Marjorie Enya – Isadora Cerullo marriage proposal was amongst rugby players.  Said Enya, in the end, “love always wins.” Chinese diver He Zi who won silver in the 3m springboard proposed to bashful Qin Kai at the medal ceremony.  GB speed walker Tom Bosworth proposed to his walker colleague Harry Dineley.  Triple Olympian Charlotte Dujardin had already agreed to marry her fiancé Dean Golding but he had a placard pleading, “Can we get married now?”

Now that Rio 2016 is over, it is time to assess the cost-benefit repercussions for the Games.  Many countries feel that the expenditure for the Olympics exceeds the benefits that a host country derives, especially by the economic south.  The costs for hosting an Olympiad needs to be changed. The IOC which provides lofty ideas and high standards should bear a third of the costs, the host country a third, and a third should be paid by participating countries for security, board and lodging.  The host country could be a region where several cities participate.  The host country or region could finance its expenditure with lotto money.

Bibliography

  1. Folha.vol.com.br.
  2. Griffin Adams, “Pope Francis on Rio Olympics: ‘Fight the good fight,” usatoday.com, 3.8.16.
  3. Ban Ki-moon, “An earnest call to empower the world’s youth,” chinadaily.com.cn, 16.8.2016; see also, Griffin Adams, ibid.
  4. Matt Gatward, independent.co.uk, 16.8.2016.
  5. Robert Dias, “Olympic make-believe,” folha.vol.com.br, 7.7.2016.
  6. Dan Steinbock, “Olympics should cherish the merit of cost control,” chinadaily.com.cn, 16.8.2016; see also Andrew Downie, “Venues ready, but many challenges remain for Rio Games,” reuters.com, 17.4.2016.
  7. Steinbock, ibid.
  8. Jennifer Hassan & Tiffany Harness, “10 of the biggest political moments at the Rio Olympics,” washingtonpost.com, 19.8.2016.
  9. Xinhua, “Brazil arrests 10 over alleged Olympic terror plot,” chinadaily.com.cn, 22.7.2016.
  10. “Attorney: US swimmers can’t leave Rio, face inquiry over alleged robbery,” ca.sports.yahoo.com, 17.8.2016; also, “Ryan Lochte made up Rio robbery story, Brazil police says,” cbc.ca/AP, 18.8.2016.
  11. “Europe’s top Olympic official arrested in Rio over ticket sales,” bbc.com, 17.8.2016.
  12. Jennifer Hassan & Tiffany Harness, op. cit.
  13. Lilly Workneh, “These black athletes are powerfully dominating the 2016 Olympics,” huffingtonpost.com, 12.8.2016.
  14. Ben Rohrbach, “Usain Bolt will cash a massive paycheck in 2016,” yahoo.com, 20.8.2016.
  15. Joshua Masinde, “Obsession: Rio 2016,” qz.com, 11.8.16; see also Patrick Redford, “If you’re a small, rich country you can buy an Olympic medal,” deadspin.com, 17.8.2016.
  16. Wang Xiangwei, “Why is China’s gold medal count at the Rio Olympics so low?” scmp.com, 21.8.2016.
  17. Katie Daugert & Greg Myre, “US women are the biggest winners at the Rio Olympics,” npr.org, 21.8.2016.
  18. Wang Xiangwei, op.cit. Xiangwei resides in Beijing and is a consultant and senior adviser to the China Morning Post.
  19. Jeremy Armstrong, “Rio 2016 is Britain’s Golden Age, but what has been the secret of Team Great Britain’s Olympic success?” mirror.co.uk, 21.8.2016.
Henry D'Souza is a prolific author who has written over 60 papers and 4 books, of which 2 books, 1 booklet and 28 papers were published. He is a distinguished sportsman, having represented Kenya in Field Hockey and also played tennis for the country.

Henry currently resides in Canada.

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