The bar for the Rio Olympics was set so low only an unmitigated catastrophe could have rendered the 2016 Games a failure. In fact, the glass-half-full crowd will have no problems delivering a joyful verdict –overflowing with cheeky “I told you so” retorts – and one is confident they will do that, fairly deliriously. In fact this dubious and cynical process is already well under way thanks to Cheerleader in Chief NBC.
It goes without saying that everyone – and most especially we hardened cynics – have to be pleased to have been spared the disastrous possibilities widely feared in the lead-up to the spectacle. In these brutal and bizarre times, more chaos and carnage were easily the last things a battered world needed. To be thankful for that much is a no-brainer.
Nor is there any disputing (and, again. this hardly need be said but we’ll do so to make it perfectly clear) that the many superb performances, some downright spectacular and beyond, in so many disciplines, deserve all the kudos they’ve been accorded. Three cheers for the athletes! As usual, they were (mostly) wonderful. ‘Tis ever thus.
Okay, now that the necessary deferences have been extended, let’s get to the point of this diatribe: Do we need this swollen, outdated, ridiculously expensive, hopelessly aggrandizing, mindlessly oppressive, and thoroughly out of control opus every couple of years to celebrate the games we play? Or is there a better way?
It’s the question we’ve been coming down to at the end of every Olympics – both summer and winter – waged over roughly the last half century and certainly since the horribly blighted 1972 edition at Munich. And it’s the question that gets quashed in the fairly juvenile euphoria the event in all its colorful if thin pageantry features and in all the jingoistic nonsense that gets stirred up, especially in this country, which pretty much leads the world in terms of misinterpreting the alleged point of it all while confusing the ideals supposedly governing it.
Understand, it’s not supposed to have anything to do with deciding which nation is, heaven help us, “The Greatest.” One had thought that message had been adequately conveyed way back in 1936, at Berlin.
Just prior to Rio, Public Broadcasting aired a fine documentary focusing on the essential scandal of those so-called ‘Nazi Olympics’, not only exploring the phenomenon of Adolf Hitler astutely using the Olympic movement to promote his nefarious purposes but also the inexcusable role that US Olympic officials, led by the outrageous neo-Nazi Avery Brundage, played in aiding and abetting Hitler’s cause – not naively, mind you, but with plenty of malice aforethought.
This was no mere trip down memory lane, but a superior primer on what was then, and still remains, wrong about this business and how its flaws have not only since persisted but magnified. It should have been required viewing for all the flag-waving US fans of the Olympics, but, buried on PBS, it was doubtless little noted.
The point is: Little has changed much. The documentary forcefully argues the ‘36 Games were “the first truly modern Olympics,” thereby establishing the model and MO of what we have to this very day, albeit even more darkly entangled in the snares of geopolitics and pervaded by the doubtful charms of hyper-nationalism. And if there are no more Hitlers and Brundages strutting on its stage, the high-rolling corporate oligarchs now in charge are little less autocratic.
It looks like the Rio Games came and went without the more draconian consequences widely feared being realized. But don’t be fooled. The price was colossal with those who can least afford it ticketed to ultimately pick up most of the tab.
There were plenty of embarrassments. The coach peddling drugs, the executive scalping tickets, the boxer charged with sexual assault, the PED suspicions, the ludicrous misadventures of Ryan Lochte and his aquatic buddies, the showboating of too many of our winners, the vulgar displays of petulance by losers, with none being more shameful than the American women’s soccer goalie insulting the victorious Swedes by calling them “cowards.” It’s always thrilling to see the true Olympic spirit on display, is it not?
In a final wrap-up from a perch comfortably inside the Olympic Bubble, NBC’s lead announcer termed all such stuff “mere warts and pimples,” with his equally esteemed colleague rushing in to declare that Rio had “performed a miracle” in pulling off such wonderful games in defiance of all the naysayers. And it was immediately clear that “the fix” was already in. This is how NBC and the IOC insist we remember the 2016 extravaganza. And they’ll settle for nothing less.
But it’s pure ragtime, utter balderdash. Outside the Olympic Bubble, where the Real People have borne the enormous burden of this financially and politically crippling Third World Nation’s monumental ego trip, and all over Greater Rio where impoverished millions are about to pay a staggering price for such folly, you’ll get a different story and it is laced with much bitterness. Don’t expect to hear about it on NBC.
Here’s the real takeaway, Old Sport. The days of this wretched excess are numbered. Change is coming to the Olympics, and soon! It’s inevitable!