POSTED: August 21st 2016

NEIL WILSON: Only the athletes can feel proud of these Olympics

IOC President Thomas Bach gives his final press conference of Rio 2016 © Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach gives his final press conference of Rio 2016 © Getty Images

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

(SFC) Ignore the diplomatic words of Thomas Bach when he closes the Games on Sunday. This was not the best ever Games. It was not even close to the best ever. It came close only to being the most embarrassing. 

Bach called it the Iconic Games. The Merriam-|Webster dictionary defines the word as meaning widely known for distinctive excellence. Perhaps he meant in the performances within the Games. As an athletic and competitive event it was iconic certainly. Every Games is.

In every way this was the Scandal Games run on goodwill by an organizing committee that had run out of money and which in its desperation to recoup its investment priced its local citizens out of their own Games.

There was the scandal of an IOC executive board member, the representative of ANOC, arrested while naked in his room at the luxurious IOC hotel, charged with scalping and conspiracy to create a cartel and imprisoned in Rio's most notorious goal.

There was the scandal of the Olympic champion chased out of the country by police who confirmed that he had manufactured a story of mugging which put Rio and its security service in the worst possible light.

There was the scandal of the boxing judging, so erroneous that some judges were sent home early by AIBA, its international federation. And for the first time at any Olympics we had the scandal of Olympians pointing the finger at other Olympians with their suspicions of doping, suspicions they were willing to express while still within the pool or stadium.

Olympian it was not. The Greek gods that the Ancient Games idolized would have been crying from the top of Olympus.

I felt most sorry for the Cariocas, the people of Rio, who won the Games in 2009 when the country was rising towards the top of the GDP table and staged them when they were falling so fast that the state of Rio was technically bankrupt.

The last thing in the world Rio needed in 2016 was a Games but it went through with it like a good host, hospitable and friendly and pandered to the obnoxious greed of the IOC on their massive per diem payments and chauffeured cars.

I have been to 21 celebrations of Olympiads, to 12 summer and nine winter Games, and I cannot remember one that inspired so many shocking headlines since my first in Munich where athletes died. Here they were only mugged and mocked but it was still a Games that was bad news for the Olympic movement and the Olympic ideal.

So in the style of an end of term school report let me judge how Rio has done. 


What can you say when a media working room and a media bus  are hit with bullets, when an Olympic lobbyist had $8,000 worth of camera and computer gear stolen in a media hotel, a British official mugged yards from the athletes' village and four 'packages' were blown up in controlled explosions. Rio employed twice as many security people as London and they needed every one. 



To have the main Olympic Stadium so far from the main Olympic Park and Athletes Village was nonsensical. Athletes were getting to bed after competing in heats at 2am. The Stadium was also in a less than wholesome part of town which may have been one factor which deterred spectators. No attempt to cloak other arenas so most looked what they were: temporary. So fundamentally flawed were the working parts that lifts failed and wheelchairs could not get to their seating. And there was so little signage around the venues you could be excused for not realizing an Olympic Games was taking place. 



Scandalously high and beyond the pockets of most locals. You could pay north of $500 in the Stadium, more than $120 to watch rowing. Even a field hockey match would cost $80. Possible as a package for rich tourists but beyond the means of a city where the average monthly wage is around $800. Not surprisingly the Stadium was mostly less than half full, boxing and judo preliminaries not a quarter full, and though RIOOC claimed to have sold more than 50,000 Stadium tickets on a Tuesday evening fewer than 20,000 showed up. London's full arenas for every event shamed Rio. 



Public was fine. A combination of Metro, overground rail and bus would take you most places, air-conditioned and acceptably quickly. Athlete and media coaches, all equipped with wi-fi, worked well.  There were small problems. Swimmers had to have their heats re-arranged when they were directed to the wrong bus. But generally good. 



Not much chance of it in half-empty arenas and where Brazilians were competing it took on a nasty edge. Rivals to their own were booed. A French pole vaulter was booed on the rostrum even though a Brazilian had won gold, reducing him to tears. Michael Johnson and Michael Phelps both condemned it, as did the IOC but it continued to the end. Perhaps it was a good thing so few Brazilians turned up to watch. 



Forever smiling and courteous, the volunteer core cut in half by financial woes and with little training were the shining face of Rio 2016. A few turned up only to pick up their uniforms and complimentary watch and were never seen again but those who remained did a wonderful job.



They started well by creating a team for refugees but finished in hiding from controversy. Not since 1972 when president Avery Brundage let the  Games continue over the dead bodies of Israeli athletes has IOC seemed so remote from public opinion, as when Bach disclaimed all responsibility for the safety of the Stepanovs, the Russian whistleblowers.  The arrest and charging of an executive board members will be one defining memory of these Games. 

GRADE: Ungraded 

OVERALL:  Must do better.

** NEIL WILSON reported his first Olympic Games in Munich in 1972. He has since covered another eleven 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 · Olympics · Rio 2016

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