GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE GQ -

The Games of the 31st Olympiad are upon us. Re­joice! Cheer! Ad­just to Rio’s time zone and be­come an arm­chair expert in div­ing. The Olympiad is a unique unit of mea­sure­ment. It’s four years long, but it’s meted out in idio­syn­cratic mile­stones. There’s the wel­com­ing home of our ath­letes from the pre­vi­ous Olympics, which cus­tom­ar­ily takes place in a Qantas hangar. Shortly there­after, there’s the tra­di­tional purg­ing of tainted winners, when the ath­letes’ blood sam­ples are tested and it turns out a coun­try’s en­tire Olympic pro­gram was se­cretly spon­sored by horse steroids. Soon af­ter­wards, a few Olympic leg­ends at­tempt to qual­ify one last time, with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess and melt­down. And then, a few months out from the next event, we en­ter the ex­cit­ing phase of ‘will the host city be ready in time?’ Aus­tralians love this phase be­cause we faced it in 2000. The world’s me­dia asked, ‘Will Syd­ney be ready?’ A ren­o­va­tion nation with first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence of Aussie tradies an­swered, ‘Prob­a­bly not.’ But we were wrong. Cathy lit the flame, the buses ran on time and we were duly proud of our­selves. Af­ter that, when the world doubted Athens’ readi­ness to host, we mag­nan­i­mously said that we’d hap­pily host again, some­thing we’ve been happy to say ev­ery Games since. But as we en­ter the doubting phase of the 31st Olympiad, our ques­tions are dif­fer­ent. The con­struc­tion is on track, yet many peo­ple are won­der­ing if the Games should go ahead in Rio at all. The first con­cern is safety. In a post-9/11 world, se­cu­rity is an is­sue for any coun­try host­ing a large in­ter­na­tional sport­ing event. But sta­tis­tics sug­gest Brazil is a uniquely dan­ger­ous place, even be­fore we start talk­ing about ter­ror­ism. Not only does Brazil have 21 of the world’s 50 most dan­ger­ous cities, (noted, Rio’s not in the mix) but with mur­ders to­talling al­most 60,000 in 2014, it’s ar­guably the most dan­ger­ous coun­try out­side Syria. On top of that, some of Rio’s most crimerid­den fave­las, with mur­der rates 20 times the city’s av­er­age, are within a mile of where events will be held for the Games. Then there are health con­cerns. The Zika virus and as­so­ci­ated cases of mi­cro­cephaly in ba­bies have stunned the world. And while the world is still com­ing to terms with the virus’s global im­pli­ca­tions, it’s clear that it’s a) spread by mosquitoes, and b) preva­lent in Brazil. So much so that in May, 150 health ex­perts (in­clud­ing univer­sity pro­fes­sors and a for­mer White House sci­ence ad­vi­sor) wrote an open let­ter to the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion re­quest­ing that the Games be moved or post­poned in the in­ter­ests of pub­lic health. Brazil­ian Sports Min­is­ter Leonardo Pic­ciani re­sponded by as­sur­ing that Zika cases at the Olympics will be “close to zero”. I don’t know what’s less re­as­sur­ing – the fact that when it comes to se­ri­ous dis­eases, “close to zero” cer­tainly isn’t the same as zero, or that Mr Pic­ciani is the third per­son to fill the job of Sports Min­is­ter since March of this year. Ei­ther way, given that the Olympics has the most ex­posed flesh of any global sport­ing event, it’s def­i­nitely cause for great con­cern. Un­less all ath­letes com­pete in fenc­ing uni­forms. Yeah, that could work. Still, this is just one dis­ease. Many aquatic events such as sailing, row­ing, and dis­tance swim­ming are set to take place in wa­ters so in­fested with pol­lu­tion and dan­ger­ous bac­te­ria that no sane per­son could de­scribe them as fit for com­pe­ti­tion. One Ger­man Olympic hope­ful, who sailed near Rio’s Gua­n­abara Bay, is now fighting a flesh-eat­ing bac­te­rial in­fec­tion from the wa­ters and may not make it to the Games. On top of all of this, the Brazil­ian gov­ern­ment is in tur­moil, with the Pres­i­dent stand­ing down af­ter im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings and al­le­ga­tions of wide­spread cor­rup­tion. I don’t know enough about Brazil­ian pol­i­tics to com­ment, but it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that even sta­ble, func­tional gov­ern­ments have strug­gled to en­sure se­cu­rity against ter­ror­ism. Now, I have noth­ing against Brazil and I want the Rio Games to go off with­out a hitch. But we must ask our­selves if some places just aren’t suit­able to host the Olympics. The IOC should be able to as­sure the rel­a­tive safety of spec­ta­tors and guar­an­tee, at the very least, that the sports will not be held in the Olympic equiv­a­lent of a petri dish. If the Olympics are meant to show­case the pin­na­cle of hu­man en­deav­our, it shouldn’t just be the ath­letes that have to clear the high-bar. The host city should have to as well. If they can’t, Syd­ney can al­ways host it again. n


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