The Crying Games

Five Rings Above Misery (Telegraph/Getty)

A Bruised Rio Hosts Its
Low-Expectations Olympics

What a difference 10 years make. A decade ago, when Rio begun its cavalcade to host the Summer Olympics, Brazil was swimming in optimism. Unprecedented economic growth and a hard-earned period of political and social stability suddenly gave Brazilians much-sought global respect and the drive to dream that yes, they could.
In a country suffused with body culture, nothing would’ve marked that spirit as winning the bid for both the games and also the 2014 World Cup. From that point in history, only those two mega-sport events could represent a fitting coronation to what turned out to be an exceptional but miserably elusive moment.
The Olympics and Paralympics competitions that start officially Friday, however, are taking place in a radically different country. Long gone are the joy and effusiveness that fueled the celebrations for being chosen, in October 2009, by the International Olympic Committee, in Copenhagen.
It seems as if Brazil run out of the luck it never really had. Or that was too disappointingly brief. In one moment, it was a model of sustainable growth and the text book for social promotion policies, only to become, in the next, a continental-size pool of resentment and regret.
Not unlike voters for Brexit, Brazilians woke up suddenly and realized they may have thrown away the baby along the dirty bathwater. Two whole years of street protests against corruption, and all they got was a group of lousy politicians with police records who now occupies the government.
Competitors Will Jump in the Guanabara Bay, no Matter What. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)
Deeply divided, Brazil is already suffering another global-scale public humiliation, just as it did two years ago, when the then celebrated national soccer team got thrashed by Germany in the World Cup. A look at global headlines about these games has been source of even deeper embarrassment.
Every media outlet, including the country’s own, has reported a corollary of staggering woes brought to light by the magnifying glare of the games. From raw sewage in Guanabara Bay, site of most water competitions, to fears of disease-carrier mosquitoes, it all looks pretty bleak now.
We will return to foes that everyone is hoping against hope won’t tarnish the innate Olympics beauty, but first, as if almost duty-driven, the focus must be on a few good, or fine, or at least, interesting and even inspiration things about the games, even before they start.

Ok, so we found three, but worth mentioning all the same. Like the 10-people Refugee Olympic Athletes team. Plucked from millions around the world, they will compete in several categories as independents. Since there should be many more, and there aren’t, they will be our own good-for-gold team.
Speaking of athletes, youth bodies, downtime, and a party city like Rio, it all may mean one thing: they’ll get laid. A lot. That’s why nine million ‘Rainforest friendly’ condoms will come in er handy. They’re sustainably-produced, made in Xapuri, the late Chico Mendes‘ hometown, in the Amazon state of Acre, and they’re free. Help yourself.
Finally, like many top world competitors, the third point of light is a cheat. Guilty as charged. But no less meaningful: it’s the (more)
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games themselves, the well wrought tales of redemption and glory they’re bound to generate, the superhuman feats and the records, which will be broken.
Blame at will the gargantuan, undue and undeserving amount of soulless money throw at sports in our age. But not so to forget that when the game starts, and those who work harder than us begin chasing their physical dreams, we’re all sweat and heart and totally convinced that nothing else is as important. For that high they provide us, they deserve every penny and every accolade.

Still, those two words are unlike to be pronounced on the same sentence as Rio or Brazil these coming weeks. So let’s just list what so bad about these games that people are squeezing their noses, and gagging just by mentioning flotsam, or underwater, or open air discharges.
A bad moon was rising over the Olympics even before anyone realized that the Zika epidemic was already hurting women. Once again, we failed to protect them, canaries in the mine of mankind, until stats on murders of black women began to tragically spike. Six months on and they’ve reached an all time high.
Then while the Olympic Torch began its trail through the countryside, crossing disputed territory of tribes threatened by genocide, a bike lane that was to be used for cycling competitions, and (poorly) built over a cliff in Rio, came crushing down in April, killing two people and injuring scores.

Brutal photos of the victims laying on a beach for hours, while people played a ballgame around them, hit the Internet and shocked the world. And then they shot Juma, a 17-year old female jaguar that had been pictured with the torch just hours ago. Outrage hit an explosive point then.
Along the inconvenient acknowledgement, by officials, that some sites had been built on hollow ground, of forgotten black slaves buried centuries ago, and labor violations, came the grim discovery of body parts floating on Guanabara Bay, and also half-buried in the dirty sand of some beaches.
After that, the bizarre kidnapping of a New Zealand athlete, and the fact that entire delegations refused to occupy the Olympic Village, with Australia in the lead, heading to a hotel, and then coming back, only to be evacuated due to a fire, started to play out as a big comedic sketch.
For take the terrified Chinese delegation, being trapped in the middle of a gun battle, and calling it, ‘a Rio adventure,’ plus officials losing the keys to the Olympics Stadium and having to break the lock to get in, and it all amounts to comic gold. That makes that whole affair about the Russians almost redundant to even bring up here.

There was also the theft of TV sets belonging to the Germans (hum, why they?) and not completely believable terror threats; no wonder, at one point protesters managed to extinguish the torch. But now we’re a go, and whoever was to be fleeced with phony tickets, already was. The games have already started.
The opening ceremony tomorrow promises to be fantastic, as usual; can’t blame the land of Carnival of being kind of blasé about that sort of thing. So, if you’re there, whatever you do, don’t swallow the water (if you get somehow thrown in the bay). If you’re not, grab a beer.
In the end, Brazil has fallen to the big illusion that big sports competitions do something, anything, good to residents. They don’t, once and again, but officials keep falling to the snake oil sales pitch of team owners and sponsors, who really stand to make a killing, as always.

A few more useless, half-built structures will join the ones left by the World Cup, and others just like them around the world; being tricked by this tall tale is not a Brazilian monopoly. But lots of people will be glued to the competitions, no matter what, so it’s all good, I guess.
Athletes will excel, and we can’t be hard on them; soon enough, the world’s best ones will compete in isolation, for protection, away from the crowds, while holograms of their performances will travel the world. If it’ll lower costs, then it’ll certainly happen.
So let’s enjoy their sweat and agony and glory in extreme HD, let them break records, some of them to be returned due to later allegations of doping, let’s celebrate that poor kid winning it all, and let’s empathize with former heroes about to face their hour of reckoning and final loss.
Because we, the audience, don’t really need to do anything. In some ways, we’re not even needed any longer. The show must go on, and if some are willing to pay for the ticket, it’s great, I guess. That’s what they probably called the blues, or rather, the spirit of the games. That’s why it may even be OK for Michael Phelps to pee in the water this time around, without having to feel embarrassed for it. Rio will take care of that too.

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