POSTED: August 12th 2016

NEIL WILSON: No such thing as a free lunch in Rio

Big media turnout at the NOC of France's hospitality house © France Olympique
Big media turnout at the NOC of France's hospitality house © France Olympique

THE NEIL WILSON COLUMN / An exclusive, authoritative series from Sports Features Communications

(SFC) All four cities bidding to host the summer Olympic Games in 2024 have been reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee for inviting members of the global media to share their hospitality in Rio.

Michael Phelps and Michael Johnson, two Olympian legends, are concerned that the IOC is being seen as soft on doping, and in particular state-supported doping in Russia. So is breaststroker Lilly King who made a strong stand against all dopers, Russian and on her own US team, after winning gold in the 100 metres breaststroke.

Talk to almost any athlete in Rio and doping is their first concern, the  establishment of a level playing field that will allow their hard work and talent to be measured fairly against that of every rival.

Talk to the locals and their concern is cost. How much is the Olympic Games in their city costing at a time when the city is technically bankrupt, bailed only by a massive grant from the state. Will their pensions be paid? Will the police receive their unpaid back-pay? Will the pot-holes in the mosaic pavements of Copacabana which sprain ankle daily ever be filled?

Their lack of interest in the Olympic Games is seen everywhere in the seats left empty at the arenas. What they care about is the huge difference between what the IOC will profit on these Games and what the city will lose.

Meanwhile, the IOC is concerned about hospitality for hard-working journalists, many of whom do not get to bed until two each morning because the IOC did a sweet-heart deal with NBC to put back the swimming schedule to the witching hour. The IOC fiddles while Rome bids (and Budapest, Los Angeles and Paris).

Bidding cities were banned after the Salt Lake City scandal from any form of hospitality, not because the media accepted a cup of coffee, but because the IOC's own members were accepting scholarships for their offspring, gold plated taps for their bathrooms and jobs for their family.

They were corrupt. Their votes were being bought and sold. But the media? They do not have a vote on which city's coffers will be stretched to bursting by hosting another Olympic Games.

Mea culpa... I have received an invitation to lunch at Casa Italia. The Italian Olympic Committee (CONI) operate its much-favoured hospitality place at every Games, summer or winter, and whether or not one of its cities is bidding. I have enjoyed its superb food at many Games.

Similarly on the beach at Copacabana the Danes and Germans are offering hospitality. The British have taken over the Escola Britanica in Barra da Tijuca, and Tokyo 2020 has taken over the Cidade das Artes, a futuristic gallery.

That is fine with the IOC but because cities within Hungary, USA, France and Italy happen to be bidding for a future Games, hospitality is off the menu. And if the IOC members cannot partake, why should the media?

Because, Mr Bach, the media spreads the word on Olympism. It promotes bidding cities who spend small fortunes on their bids without tangible return except in the promotion of their tourism unless they win.

While journalists research an article on the attractions of a city is it so wrong that they are offered a double expresso or a double cheeseburger with fries? Can Hajo Seppelt, the German documentary maker who revealed Russian doping, be bought for a pizza. Or David Walsh, who ran Lance Armstrong to ground, for a glass from Napa Valley?

The media does not have a vote but it does have a duty to inform, and that information is most easily gathered by talking to the bidding cities. Is an expresso too much to ask, or perhaps the IOC draws the line at an aperitif.

It is time the IOC listened to the athletes. Free lunches for the world's media is not high on their agenda.   

** 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 · Neil Wilson · Rio 2016

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