The build up to Rio 2016 has been like no other in the history of the Olympics. London 2012 was the start of the ancient sporting event steadily going downhill. With questionable funding statements, confusing and ugly artwork surrounding the Olympic park, and an sporting legacy left in tatters after little longer than six positive months post-Olympics, which didn’t last in the UK, nor did we have the funding for.
Rio 2016 has been surrounded by far too many drugs tests, and missed drugs tests in the press. A country being eliminated from competing, then allowed back into compete. Along with the stadium barely being finished, water unsafe to swim in and a body washing up, athletes’ kit going missing, one athlete being held on sexual assault, protests, and the athletes’ village being half built: it will certainly be an Olympics to remember – but not for the right reasons.
Watching protests from South Americans involving funding for the Olympics has not been pretty. The amount of money spent on the Olympics does not bode well for a country which still has some large areas of poverty. Yet with eight years to prepare, the preparation has been dismal and disappointing for Brazil.
There is hardly any spark around this year’s games for spectators. It may be different for the athletes as they have had their sights set on Rio 2016 for the last four years. In triathlon, we have a great British team: World Champions Non Stanford, and Alistair Brownlee, Helen Jenkins, Jonny Brownlee, Vicky Holland, and Gordon Benson. But for the men, their main rival Javier Gomez, pulled out with a broken arm. Anything less than a win for the Brownlees will be disappointing as triathlon ranks higher up the pecking order in the sporting calendar, and increasing press coverage for the sport in the UK.
In cycling, it is almost guaranteed that unless something unheard of, unplanned and frankly heartbreaking happens to Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas they are almost guaranteed to do well. Froome with his third Tour de France win in his trophy cabinet little more than two weeks ago, and Thomas being the favourite for gold in the Olympic road race.
It has been a great year for British sport with Andy Murray claiming a third Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, those mentioned above along with many more. A lot of these big-name athletes have a great chance in winning, with World Championship titles proving they are far ahead of athletes in other countries. For example, Team Sky in the Tour de France – even with a broken bike, and two more bike changes, and a little run up Mont Ventoux, it did not stop Froome, and he still held the maillot jaune over everyone who managed to stay on.
For the big names, it is far too easy for the British public to sit back in their armchairs this summer and be disappointed and angry if they have a disastrous day and don’t win. With the fantastic talented athletes Britain has, we have become arrogant and ignorant to our failures in sport (aside from football and the World Cup). No longer will there be people perched on the edge of their couch biting their fingernails on whether Mo Farah is going to win the 5km and 10km.
We now expect our exceptional athletes to be manufactured in some kind of British Olympic medallist machine, like robots who do not have the mental aspect of sport to overcome. No longer to we hear the grit and grind of the sport we love to watch. The getting up at 04:00 for three-hour swimming sessions everyday, before a second one at lunch time and a third in the evening. We no longer hear the stories of hardship, the ones who could never afford the right kit, coaches or facilities, but nonetheless stuck it out, through all the hard times and defied the odds. We are now a British team built on money, sponsorship and governing bodies who rule our athletes lives whether they like it or not.
There is no spark, no exciting build up to the 2016 games. All we see are missed drugs tests, tears from athletes who feel the country will never have the faith they deserve. Speculation on who is doping and who isn’t, and favouritism of the IOC on drugs tests.
Now, in interviews preparing for the opening ceremony, retired athletes discuss sports in the doping spotlight. Athletics, cycling, swimming, and every single other Olympic sport.
Take Lizzie Armistead for example. Three missed drugs tests, and she is still allowed to compete. Despite other athletes being banned from the games or for a year for missing drugs tests. Questionable, yes. If she is clean it must be painful for an athlete to stand on a podium in any position, first second or third and be judged. If they win gold, they are accused of cheating. If they win silver, they may feel all those hours of training, 04:00 sessions were wasted to someone who has taken performance enhancing substances. Or perhaps if you win bronze. Still a huge achievement, but not in the eyes of the public.
My biggest heartfelt moment in sport was not in my own sporting failures, but it was in the 2015 Tour de France, when Froome and Team Sky were punished by repulsive spectators, accused of something they did not do. Urine was thrown at Froome, and Richie Porte was punched in the ribs, along with being spat at, which resulted in possibly the lowest point in recent sporting history by far.
In the end after repeated amounts of data being released, which was unnecessary and the team are not obliged to do so, fans let Froome off the hook. And pondered whether they were wrong and he really is an exceptional athlete. But there are still those who will never believe in cycling, and no matter what the outcome is will unfortunately never change their view either.
The Olympic games is a historic and traditional sporting event, designed to bring the world together with some healthy competition, success, inspiration and celebration from all nations where athletes give up the most part of four years to dedicate themselves to a sport, and to one goal only.
But really, the most traditional aspect of the games is the torch, and what the flame represents. Aside from that, it is now a money-making, disappointing pressure pot filled with sexual assault, doping scandals, corrupt big wigs and Olympic selection committees with too much power. At the time of writing, breaking news comes in of a Greek athlete and an Irish boxer who are both suspended from competing for testing positive for banned substances.
So where do we go from here? Sit back and wait for the surprises of Rio to unfold. Wait to see the news tomorrow apprehensive on what disasters occurred while we were sleeping?
I imagine the IOC will already be having meetings regarding the next games in 2020, to ensure it doesn’t become such a disaster as this year. However, there is one thought to consider…
Matthew Engel was right in last Saturday’s Guardian, the Olympics should return to Greece where it originated, because has been the most traditional games so far… “and where is the fun in that?”