Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Olympic-sized problems (in the 2016 Rio De Janeiro Olympics)

This appears in the Monday, August 1, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

Olympic-sized problems
by rick olivares pic by AFP/Getty Images

Every Olympic Games has it’s share of concerns and problems. After all, an undertaking of such magnitude (there are more participating nations here than the United Nations) is an extraordinary one. 

For a while the lasting images of the Summer Games were the 1936 Berlin Games that served as the world’s front row seat to Hitler’s Nazi Germany, the 1972 Munich Olympics where 11 Israeli athletes were murdered, and the financial flop that was the 1976 Montreal Games. Well, there was the boycott of the 1980 Moscow and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympiad yet the latter changed the games as it was the first summer games that made money and has been a model of efficiency and organization.

Of course there have been heroic and courageous moments etched forever in our collective consciousness. 

There's American Jesse Owens showing up the Master Race in 1936. 

During the 1988 Seoul Korea Games, Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux rescued two injured competitors thereby disqualifying himself. Yet he finished the race beating out 11 other sailors. For his heroism, he was awarded an honorary medal (if he didn’t stray off course, he would have won a silver medal). 

In the 200 Sydney Games, Equitorial Guinea swimmer Eric Moussambani captured the hearts of the world despite swimming for the first time in an Olympic-sized pool and taking up the sport only months before. He didn’t come in for a medal finish but people from all over the world applauded his efforts.

And there are athletes like Usain Bolt, Kerri Strugg, Michael Phelps, and Abebe Bikila among others who have done incredible things in Olympic competition.

Let’s hope that these games will usher in new heroes for future generations. But that’s something we’ll have to find out. 

In the meantime, all of Rio’s problems are threatening to undermine the games. 

No Olympiad has been under closer scrutiny than these Rio Games because of Brazil’s economic woes, the unfinished facilities that some have rated as substandard, crime that has reared its ugly head, doping problems that have disqualified Russians and Nigerians among others, the Zika virus, and well, the never-ending threat of terrorism.

Guanabara Bay where the aquatic games (triathlon, windsurfing, and sailing) will be held are contaminated. Recent tests by scientists and environmentalists said the waters are a health hazard and have informed all athletes to keep their mouths closed during competition lest they gulp down water that can cause diarrhea and vomiting. They also contain superbacteria that can be fatal to those with weak immune systems. And last June, the body of some person floated around in the bay!

The causes for the contaminated water is the unregulated and untreated sewage from Rio that flows into the waters. 

Even part of the Olympic Village was built on an ancient cemetery that was a controversial move. 

When the Australian delegation complained about the leaking pipes, lack of water, lighting and other concerns in their area of the village (when they switched on all the lights in all their rooms simultaneously the system crashed), Rio’s mayor said that maybe he should send a kangaroo to their lawn to make them feel at home.

Australia’s chef-de-mission Kitty Chiller responded with perhaps the best quotes before the Summer Games, “Send us a plumber not a kangaroo."

The fire that broke out Sunday in the Australian section of the Athletes Village is one example of the paranoia. The Olympic Village is supposed to be a non-smoking zone yet a cigarette butt thrown into a garbage bin started the fire that was eventually put out and did not cause structural or human harm. That sad revelation was the smoke alarms were silenced before the fire.

With these problems who needs terrorists? 

Oh, wait… wasn’t it a little over a week ago, when 10 men who are affiliated with ISIS and were planning some kind of attacks were arrested!

The problem with the International Olympic Committee and other sports organizations like FIFA is they continuously award the hosting of these big events to countries that are ill suited to host them. Awarding these hosting rights are used as bargaining chips to win votes in elections and to curry favor. And there are the kickbacks to the bids. If you can sell your vote how much more in competitions that are decided by judges. Filipino athletes like Onyok Velasco and Toni Rivero have much to say about that. Or maybe the US Men’s basketball team in Munich.

They say keep politics out of sports yet politicking is an intramural sport within their organizations.

The problems of the last FIFA World Cup should have been an indication of Brazil’s readiness. 

How does one train and compete with all these distractions?

One can only hope that games begin, they are problem free and highly competitive. And these concerns will only be a faint memory.

Now what happens to Rio — if the athletes’ housing facilities will be sold, etc — after the Games, now that’s another thing. But will the world still be watching?

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