I know I promised a more optimistic 2016 prediction to follow the weekend’s frowny emoticon post about my expectation (low) of the FEI and EC in the coming year. But, given the doom-and-gloom stories that keep coming out regarding the upcoming Olympic Games, I feel compelled to cover this prediction now.
I hereby predict that Rio 2016 will be a giant cluster. Possibly the biggest and most dangerous cluster the Olympics have seen in decades. Let’s start with just what’s been in the news this week. First off, the mosquito-borne Zika virus nearly eclipsed the US Presidential election today on NPR (what I listen to when I am out of my beloved CBC’s air space); anything that comes even close to being bigger than ‘The Donald and Foes’ three days before the first primaries has got to be serious.
It’s too early to know how much the Zika outbreak in Brazil will affect the Olympics, but it would be naive to think that, just because pregnant women tend not to be all that numerous competing in Olympic events, there will be no Zika-related health risks this summer (which is actually winter in Rio, but there are mosquitoes year round in that near-tropical climate zone). This week’s comprehensive (and just possibly fear-mongering) NPR reports touched on the mass mosquito extermination already taking place in Brazil right this minute. And guess what the men in HAZMAT suits are spraying on the little disease carriers. You guessed it, good old Deet. It’s tempting to make a comment about Deet not being conducive to athletes achieving their best while their lungs are full of it, but if everyone made it through Beijing, I can’t imagine they will face worse in Rio.
So, let’s imagine that Zika has been contained and its spread brought to a halt, more or less. What else in the news this week has the accredited media wondering if we’ll find grandstands or overturned buckets to sit on while watching the sport this August? Oh, only the firing of the contractor hired to do major upgrades to the Deodoro complex, a site that belongs to Brazil’s military and has seen plenty of wear and tear since being used for equestrian sports at the 2007 Pan Ams. No biggie.
Of course, it’s an Olympic tradition that the media goes on a panic bender of sorts in the months before the Olympics take place. No city is immune from such treatment: not London, not Beijing, certainly not Athens. I still remember the hilarious potato chip commercial that came out in the UK before the 2004 Olympics.
The difference this time around is that it’s not just media nay-sayers and Olympic haters making general predictions about Rio not being ready for its Olympics. The equestrian venue is being singled out for a special designation as the Olympic venue least likely to succeed.
Having been to the 2007 Pan Am Games in Rio, I can say a couple of things from experience. First of all, the Brazilians can pull rabbits out of their bundas when their feet are held to the fire. In June 2007, just over one month before the Pan Am Eventing was scheduled to take place, it was nearly cancelled due to the complete non-existence of a cross country course. Mission was accomplished in very short order, and I don’t remember there being anything too wrong with the course that was built with lightning speed. But they were danged lucky grass grows so quickly down there.
The other thing I can say about Rio with first-hand certainty is that, even if the Deodoro complex were completed under budget and ahead of schedule (in a parallel universe), we are guaranteed to see some prime cock ups over the coming months and during the Games themselves. Brazil is a fascinating blend of first and third world, with some of the planet’s most advanced technology (such as Aerospace giant Embraer) rubbing shoulders with massive political corruption. Add to that a level of human poverty and income disparity that gives Rio a permanent spot on most ‘world’s most dangerous cities’ lists. This one published on line just last month ranks it all the way up at Number Two.
I loved our adventure in Rio nine years ago. But it WAS an adventure. I’m looking forward to doing it again this year, but that’s largely because I am a travel junkie. Oh and I love to blog about things that go sideways at international equestrian championships. I guess this prediction isn’t so negative after all, when I look at it that way.