Back and forth: Olympic athletes & the risks in Rio

Miss the first edition of this weekly argument? Check out the debate on the Pitcher’s Home Run Derby. 

From: Tim Culverhouse

To: Brendan Murray

Subject: Let’s not have our best athletes die at the Olympics

Big Sexy,

How are ya? You been to a sporting goods store lately? I went to Dick’s last week and was immediately immersed in USA apparel, with the Copa America and Olympics driving the sales of national team merchandise. I bought a Team USA shirt because of course I did, and then I heard that more and more athletes were backing out of the Olympics.

As of today, here are some of the biggest names – from the US and other countries around the world that won’t be headed down to Rio for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

Basketball

Steph Curry
LeBron James
Chris Paul
Blake Griffin

Golf

Vijay Singh
Rory McIlroy
Adam Scott
Louis Oosthuizen

Tennis

John Isner
Bernard Tomic

Some of these guys have lingering “injuries” that will prevent them from representing their country in the Olympics. But others, and specifically McIlroy, aren’t going because of concerns regarding the Zika virus. The disease can cause birth defects among other horrible things, and Rio has basically become ground zero for Zika over the past couple months.

The crazy thing to me is that Zika isn’t even my biggest concern with these athletes headed to the Olympics. In the past couple months there have been active shooters hitting cars on a major highway, a bike path collapsed that Olympic attendees were supposed to use, and a fucking jaguar was killed during the torch relay. Oh, and there’s still the problem of a disastrous Brazilian economy and literally raw shit being pumped into the ocean where events are scheduled.

My main argument is this – good for these athletes. Screw going down to a country where all of these problems are going on simultaneously to compete in the most important sporting event of your lives. For sports like gymnastics, swimming and track and field, the Olympics represent your lifelong goal. Now you’re telling these world-class athletes that they need to be at peak physical shape and also to not get stung by a mosquito, be on a path that could come crumbling down at any moment, not get food poisoning or go in water that’s filled with shit? Fuck that.

The IOC awarded these Olympics to a country simply not ready or capable of hosting an event of this magnitude, and good on these athletes for taking a stand and not putting their lives in danger to attend.

What do you think Brendan? Should we be sending these folks to a place where so many things could kill them just for the chance at a medal? I sure as hell think not.

Best,

Tim

From: Brendan Murray

To: Tim Culverhouse

Subject: Really? They’re going to die?

Tim, you realize that this is the Saturday debate column right? Not your Wednesday hot take column? Because good lord, is that subject line setting off every fire alarm in the building. (What building is this precisely? I have no idea.)

Have you never watched Olympic run-up coverage before? Were you in a coma before the Sochi games a few years ago? Or the last Summer Olympics in Bejing before that?

The Olympics are a goddamn mess. This happen literally every two years, whether we’re prepping for the summer or winter games. If it’s not Zika, it’s security concerns for the London games, the wild dogs and terrible living conditions during the games in Russia, or the horrible air pollution and civil liberty crackdowns in China. Tim, there are Wikipedia pages for concerns and controversies surrounding the Olympics going back year after year after year. So, maybe Rio is a bit more extreme than in the past, but it’s not as if these Olympics and their many plagues and harbingers of doom are unique.

russia-ski-season-opening

So, do I blame these athletes for bowing out? Not really. I’m generally of the opinion that athletes are like any other professional—they are fully capable of making independent decisions and should feel no, or at the least very little, guilt about making decisions that are best for them and their families first. That’s true when it comes to signing new contracts, retiring, coming back from injury or playing in the Olympics.

But, I want to flip your question around a bit. Surely, there’s something we can do to prevent this? If the health and safety concerns really have reached a tipping point, how do we keep this from happening every two-to-four years?

How unfair is it to these athletes, who have worked their whole lives for this couple-week stretch in the summer, to make them choose between protecting their health and finally seeing that process to its completion?

I’m not talking about most of the people you mentioned above, the superstars still shine outside of the Olympics. No one should be throwing a pity party for pro golfers or NBA superstars. I’m talking about divers, gymnasts, runners, shooters, fighters and all the other athletes that make the Olympics such a unique event. For many in those events, this could be their only chance.

So, I think it’s time for a change to the Olympic host process. Why not make a permanent host, or as I’ve seen suggested in a few other places, give the city that wins the right to host the games two-or-three consecutive summer or winter games?

I think either of those solutions could help make sure we don’t have such a disaster on our hands in every even year.

The stadiums, rather than being used for two weeks never to be touched again, could be used for eight, 12 or more years of Olympic trials, qualifications, elimination rounds and victories. Instead of holding all the team-qualifying events around the world, make this new host site or site the center of the Olympic universe for a decade or more. The infrastructure would likely be stronger if built with a long term plan in mind. And, circling back to the topic that got us here, athletes could train and compete knowing exactly the environment they’ll be competing in.

I’m sure there are plenty of flaws for you to find in this plan, Tim and I’m curious to see what you think of all this.

Let me hear it,

Brendan

(PS-Sorry i kind of hijacked your debate topic. Editor’s privileges, homie.)

From: Tim Culverhouse

To: Brendan Murray

Subject: More Brazil bad news & who becomes the permanent host?

Before I dive into your hijacking of my topic, I would like to point out one more thing.

Just yesterday, under TWO months from the start of the Olympics, the only blood doping agency in Brazil lost its accreditation. Add that to the list of growing issues with Rio.

You pointed out a lot of issues from the previous Olympics which were very true, but I firmly believe that they fail in comparison to the shit (literally) going on down in Brazil. Security concerns happen with every major international event, and the shitty living conditions in Russia gave us some great photos. Wild dogs? No worries, because a lot of athletes just adopted them and brought them back with some cute photos. China is China, so the terrible working conditions and smog were a thing, and nobody got hurt.

Still, the issues in Rio are graver than all these other ones – I think even combined they pale in comparison to what’s going on in Brazil – and should raise a lot of concern for the best athletes on the planet, and the people paying good money to watch them compete.

In regards to your second point about a centralized Olympic location where training and ceremonies take place, I’m intrigued, but I tend to disagree with you on the feasibility of this plan.

With the global economy on the downturn (and let’s not get into the #Brexit thing, this is about sports baby) you aren’t exactly seeing countries line up to bid for the Olympics like they used to. After London and Sochi lost hundreds of millions of dollars, lots of places, Boston included, wanted no part of an Olympic bid for the undertaking of such a massive project.

Let’s take for example the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. Only five cities placed forward a serious bid to host the games, and three moved forward into the voting process. The three cities that competed for the Games were Tokyo (they won), Istanbul (finished second) and Madrid. The other two applicants? Baku, Azerbaijan & Doha, Qatar.

Five cities in the world put forth a bid to host the Summer Olympics. And pardon my ignorance, but Baku & Doha don’t exactly strike me as Olympic cities. Now you want to make it an 8-12 year commitment to host the games? Something tells me that most places would run the other way for that financial undertaking.

For the Winter Olympics it was even smaller, as Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan were the only two formal applicants. Beijing won the bid, and they plan on reusing a lot of structures already there. Funny how a Communist government decided to put more money into two Olympic games than their own population. Just a thought…

The bottom line is this: Cities really aren’t lining up to host the Olympic Games any more. And I think extending the number of times that a location will host the Games consecutively will cause too much of a burden to make it financially feasible. The long-term approach doesn’t really work, especially in some of these less-developed nations. I don’t have a solution to this issue, but I don’t think the one you brought up is the right one.

P.S. – Here’s one more look at the water in Rio. Enjoy getting dysentery world’s best athletes!

maxresdefault

From:  Brendan Murray

To: Tim Culverhouse

Subject: How about US?

I agree, the feasibility of this idea might be an issue, but not necessarily for the reasons you listed here.

Yeah, the Boston Olympic idea turned out to be pretty much an unmitigated disaster, and more and more cities are saying “no thanks” to the IOC.

But I think a big reason for why so many cities and nations no longer want to be the host comes from its temporary nature. Understandably, local, regional or national are reluctant to dump millions and millions, if not billions, of dollars down the garbage, just so they can host two weeks of sports.

But, I think some places may feel differently if they knew the Olympics wouldn’t be making such a short stay. Obviously, each season’s games are only held once every four years, meaning there would still be some times where the stadiums went empty. But, if they were used for world championship-type events, along with Olympic trials and qualifiers, and the events themselves, over the course of roughly a decade, that might be more appealing.

Like I mentioned, above, it would also solve some of the problems with empty stadiums and waste of resources. By building facilities that would be used for years, the stadiums may also become more permanent and attractive landmarks than they are now—imagine if Michael Phelps, or Usain Bolt, or any other historic athlete returned to the same spot every year. That spot could take some serious importance and relevance in the larger sporting landscape, which might help make them more useful even when they no longer serve as active Olympic host sites.

My problem with (my own) idea’s feasibility is simple. We know how corrupt the process to award the Olympics and World Cup to the various host cities is now, and that’s when it’s generally agreed that the Olympics don’t provide much in the way of a long term benefit. Imagine how corrupt and illegal things could get if they were fighting over a decade-long span of influence?

But, I still kind of like the idea. So let me give two possible places we could host this

  • Athens, Greece

 

opening_ceremony_athens_2004_fire_t

Maybe it’s time for the Olympics to know that you really can go home again. Maybe it’s just my own youth creating a blissful ignorance, but the last summer games I can remember that weren’t rife with controversy were the events in Athens more than a decade ago.

Now, I realize that suggesting Greece as a good alternative for an event marred by economic troubles, inefficiency and corruption may be a bit thin, to say the least. But, just maybe, this is exactly what could help the nation’s flagging economy out, at least a little bit. I doubt it would be a cure all, but it would be a start.

And plus, can you imagine how excited NBC Sports would be about all the promos? The history it could tie in, the shots of athletes working out on the ruins, all of that good stuff. Plus, it just seems right. Return the games to their origin.

  • U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Once again, there may be some obvious problems with this pick, namely my inherent bias in making it, but stick with me for a second.

The US could conceivably hold the Olympics in a different city every time, without repeating, for over two decades. New York, Chicago, Dallas, LA and dozens of other cities with a full array of already existing sports facilities could make this happen in a heartbeat.

Many wouldn’t even have to build any new infrastructure! The highways are already in place. The stadiums in many cities are state-of-the-art, or close to it. And, if there are some cities that would like to host but perhaps don’t have the facilities yet, or have them but they could use some updating, we could pick the hosts a long time ahead, giving them more time than we do now to plan for the influx of visitors and build the necessary infrastructure.

There’s also this little nugget, which may or not actually make sense: it could help with the stadium financing issue that is cropping up all over the place.

Rightfully so, cities are deciding that multi-million/billion dollar owners can just build their own stadiums, thank you very much, especially since they’ll be the ones that will own and profit from it down the line.

But what if we changed the system? If the Jets want a new midtown stadium so badly and claim to need public money, let them have it. In exchange, they can agree that the city will profit off any ticket, merchandise, beer, food etc. sold for Olympic events. That way, Mr. Owner gets his tax-payer funded stadium, and maybe, just maybe, everyone doesn’t get screwed in the process.

Brendan

Follow Tim on Twitter @Culvey13 and Brendan @MurraySportTalk

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