POSTED: August 10th 2016

NEIL WILSON: The buzz at the Rio 2016 Olympics is not the mosquitos

Ben Rumsby on Twitter notes Olympic white water rafting venue barely a quarter full for K1 semis and final #emptyseats © @BenRumsby
Ben Rumsby on Twitter notes Olympic white water rafting venue barely a quarter full for K1 semis and final #emptyseats © @BenRumsby

A man aboard a media bus prior to being detained in the Deodoro Cluster of the Rio 2016 Olympic Park © Getty Images
A man aboard a media bus prior to being detained in the Deodoro Cluster of the Rio 2016 Olympic Park © Getty Images

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN in RIO DE JANEIRO / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications 

(SFC) If there is a buzz about these Olympic Games in Rio it is not from mosquitos, Zika-affected or not. The pesky mossies that commanded so much attention in the months before the Games have failed to show. Like the golf and tennis players they frightened away. 

Surprise, surprise but the arenas were also finished on time. So was the metro line, and even those whose craft have capsized on local waters have not been reported as needing their stomachs pumped.

The fears spread world-wide in the year before the Games have not been realized. The Olympic Games began on time, is running on schedule and, to the best of our knowledge, nobody has run into a dead body in Guanabana Bay. As at every previous Olympic Games it was all right on the night.

The only unanswered question is whether the people of Rio care. The Cariocas hidden behind the gated apartments with the rolls of barbed wire beneath first floor balconies to fend off potential intruders are staying at home. And they are the ones in the districts of Copacabana, Ipanema and Barra who could afford the over-blown prices being asked to watch the Games in person. In the favelas, the slum tenements, the little money they have is too precious to spend on the frivolities of fun and Games.

These are the Unseen Olympics, attended largely by the tourists who ignored the threats they were told they would face. Before the Games started it was revealed that overall only 29% of tickets were sold, and that seems about right to my eyes. Don't believe your television pictures. The lenses focus on small groups to pretend there are crowds.

Sports such as swimming, sold out in London and where even the media have to have tickets to enter, are not full in the public seating. In others such as boxing the noise is generated by the young given free tickets by local authorities.

The fear now is that when the five-ringed circus leaves town left behind the departing tourists will be another herd of white elephants, like those in Athens eight years ago. Recreation for the locals is best had free on the beaches with their volleyball nets and fitness equipment, and beside the beaches the running and cycling paths. Who needs fancy arenas?

Bringing the Olympic Games to another continent for the first time - only Africa and Antarctica remain to visit - to spread the Olympic ideal is not likely to have sold anybody on the Games that was not already conversant with the message. Inspiration in this city is what they need to get through another day, not embark on a four-year Olympiad.

You have to wonder whether asking a country to invest billions of dollars it cannot afford in a sixteen-day festival of sport is a viable way forward for the Olympic movement in the 21st century. Why not choose your site and stick with it.  Greece would be obvious - Athens only needs refurbishment - and perhaps somewhere in Switzerland for the Winter Games.

The obvious pair might not appeal to NBC, the IOC's paymaster, because of time differences but NBC did very well in ratings with London's five hour difference to East Coast and the network is very experienced in any case at tape delay.

Just think of the trouble it would save the IOC. Constant Coordination Commission visits would be a thing of the past. So would epidemics of negative news stories about mosquitos, polluted waters, unfinished Athletes Village rooms and inflated hotel prices.

It will never happen, of course. Turkeys voting for Thanksgiving? What chance! The IOC membership's raison d'etre would be removed at a stroke. Keep the same sports every four years at the same city and what point would there be for the existence of those 100-odd members on huge per diems wherever they show up.

So in two years, and four years, and six years and on and on endlessly the circus will keep on rolling along, persuading city after city to give it a home for a fortnight. And all the while the world's media will keep on finding Fear Factors that are unrealized.  

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another nine summer and nine winter Olympics for various newspapers, including The Independent and the Daily Mail with whom he has worked for the last 19 years as Athletics and Olympic correspondent. He was Britain's Sports Journalist of the Year in 1984 and is the author of seven books. 

****The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sports Features Communications.

Keywords · Olympics · Neil Wilson

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