We are now just a mere four months away from the start of the summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. The excitement is beginning to set in for most people to watch their countrymen compete in their favorite sports against the best athletes from across the world over. I am not immune to this excitement. I cannot wait to watch Allyson Felix double in the 200m and the 400m races, I cannot wait to watch the incredible Dibaba sisters compete in their respective distance events for Ethiopia, I cannot wait for the electric atmosphere that always surrounds the 100m finals that will only be elevated due to the fact that Usain Bolt has publicly stated that this will be his last Olympic competition. This is one of the only times that my favorite sport of Track and Field is shown on television on a national scale. Yet, my excitement and my favorite sport may be tarnished this year by the deplorable conditions in Rio and no one is talking about it. Just last week I was talking to my family about the upcoming Olympic Games and all of the issues that were going on in Rio right now and my sister had no idea what I was talking about. Unfortunately, that is a reality in most families in North America right now. There is a vast number of people that have no idea what is going on right now in Rio simply because it is not being talked about.
But first, let’s take a moment to talk about what is happening in that city at the moment. For one, the water conditions are absolutely deplorable. This water is rife with human sewage, pollution and trash. There is human excrement rampant in the water and there has been reports of a man seeing a human arm in the water. While this may be fictional, the fact that there is a possibility that it may, in fact, actually be true is very telling of the conditions of the water. Competitors training in this water have become violently ill with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. The fact that competitors competing in open water events will be competing in this water is very concerning. Another health issue surrounding the Games here is the outbreak of a new mosquito borne virus, Zika, a virus that could further harm the health of the athletes. Furthermore, before it was met with a considerable amount of backlash that caused the government to retract the statements, there was talk that the athletes would have to pay for their own air conditioning in the Olympic Village after having already announced that there would be no televisions in the rooms on which competitors could watch their countrymen compete in other events. The development of the stadiums, the villages, and the overall running of the production has seen a considerable drop in money and volunteers. The budget was cut by a staggering thirty percent, the number of volunteers was cut from 70,000 to 50,000, the building of seats in some stadiums has halted and the number of transportation vehicles for the athletes has dropped from 5,000 to 4,000. And those are just the conditions surrounding the games. That is not taking in to consideration the political turmoil that is swirling through the city right now. The President of Brazil is being faced with the threat of impeachment and all of the men who may succeed him are facing corruption charges of their own, some of a much more serious caliber. “According to the New York Times, 271 of the 594 members of Brazil’s Congress are facing ‘serious charges,’ while according to The Economist, 352 ‘face accusations of criminal wrongdoing.’” So in addition to the threat against competitors health there is also the threat of political protests and riots in Rio during the Games that will threaten their safety, too.
All of these things are happening leading up to the Olympics and no one is talking about it. It is because of this that I would argue that sports journalist have a responsibility to bring these issues to light. While it is unfortunate that our involvement in a sporting event in the city had to bring these issues to light, they cannot keep flying under the radar any longer. These need to be talked about. Our athletes’ health and safety is in danger. There is the thought that- that doesn’t fall under their job description as a sports journalist, but I would further argue that sports and athletes have played a larger role in society for decades. Take for instance, when Muhammad Ali used his platform as a world famous boxer to speak out against the war in Vietnam or when John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their black gloved fists in 1968 to protest racism and oppression in America. The line between sports and society has not only been blurred for decades, but are integral parts of each other. These issues are a serious part of the impending games. These issues need to be brought to light and they need to be talked about. The health of the athletes, the safety of the competitors, and the excitement and fervor around the games are at stake here.