The 2016 Olympics host Rio de Janeiro is finally basking in some glory. It had to overcome many obstacles and the ridicule of the West; and the games were in jeopardy until the very last day. The athletes are still complaining of putrid Guanabara Bay waters, which are unfit for sailing and other sports. Australians cried foul over the accommodation facilities; and others have become wary of the very success of the event. Troubles started long before the final countdown. As a matter of fact, Rio has been under fire by some in the Western media for corruption, pollution, poor infrastructure development; and forced displacement of people, among other ailments. While many of these concerns are genuine, they also reek of classism and racism.
The New York Times lashed out at the poorly developed venues, corruption, disease; and countless other maladies afflicting Rio. A 2013 research study went on to suggest the Olympics should only be held in the "rich" countries as the poor ones can never afford to host them. In this screed, written from a vantage point of apparent hauteur, one could sense traces of racism and classism. There is no denying the fact that Brazil is lagging behind - and there have been instances of corruption and forced displacements of people. Nevertheless, the narrative about Brazil being a terrible host that should not have been allotted the games - and could have been stripped off of its privileges at the last minute - reeks of bad intent.
Brazil won the games after a thorough bidding process, involving many countries. It was selected among the final four candidates over seven years ago and no one batted an eyelid. In fact, Rio became the third city from the developing world to bag the nomination. Mexico City was the first "developing" city to host the Olympiad in 1968; and Seoul became the second in 1988. Barring these metropolises, the Olympics have always been hosted by cities from the developed world. China and Japan, two previous hosts, had gained massive economic prowess to be promoted to the "rich" club.
The International Olympic Committee, along with many other apex governing bodies for sports, is headed by the Europeans. The IOC, in particular, has become the domain of ageing, sometimes arrogant Europeans who love to get re-elected multiple times and still are not eager to vacate their positions. Except for two American presidents, all other top officials of the IOC have been Europeans. Another interesting fact is the selection of host cities that had previously achieved the honors. London, Los Angeles, Paris, Melbourne and Tokyo have been awarded the games multiple times. Others have been denied the honors despite multiple attempts such as Istanbul, Cape Town and Doha, among others.
The Olympics have been marred by numerous incidents of racism and unfair treatment of the athletes. The IOC was hesitant in acknowledging the violent racism of apartheid South Africa and allowed its all-white contingent to participate at multiple events before finally banning it in 1963. The treatment of African American athletes from the US was also not exemplary, to say the least. There was mass opposition to awarding the games to China, when, ideally, sports should have been isolated from politics. Istanbul and Doha have been denied the right to host the Olympiad, which some say reflects discriminatory practices of the IOC. Doha also faced the threat of having its FIFA World Cup host status being revoked.
Then there is the money factor. Contemporary mega sporting events have become so expensive - and the rich participants demand so many luxuries - that developing countries are hard-pressed to keep up. They need to build state-of-the-art arenas, training facilities, accommodation and transportation. All of this needs billions of dollars in spending and years of infrastructure development. In Brazil, it came at the cost of public welfare. Apart from the Brazilian government, the blame also lies on the arrogant, tantrum-throwing richer IOC members who demand the best of the facilities.
There is a need for greater representation of developing and poor countries in the IOC and other sporting bodies. The medal count is increasingly tilting towards these countries anyway. China has already unseated the Europeans who were long accustomed to topping the medals table. Africa and the Caribbean countries have consistently produced the best athletes and boxers. Even a largely European game like tennis has seen a Chinese woman Li Na clinching the top titles.
Rio will host events in twenty-eight different sports. Some of these, particularly the equestrian sports, water polo, golf and fencing, are only played by a select few in Western Europe and North America. Cricket is played by over one-third of humanity but has been passed over in favor of less-popular Rugby. Perhaps the time has come to seriously rethink the sports to be included in the Olympics. The elitist sports can be replaced by popular ones that are played across the world. The elitist sports put a great burden on host nations anyway, who need to erect massive infrastructure for a handful of players.
The criteria for Olympic sports should consider inclusiveness and cost-effectiveness. The games can be cut down to fourteen instead of the current twenty-eight. This will drastically reduce the financial burden and encourage fairer participation. The time has come for the IOC to be reformed on a major scale so as to become representative of the racial and monetary diversity prevalent in the world. Corruption and mismanagement can be overcome by providing international funding to host cities. More importantly, global athletes and tourists should be acclimatized to varying level of infrastructure in the world. At the end of the day, sports bring people closer and they should remain that way. In the meanwhile, let's all cheer for Rio.