Athletes Feel Imperiled
Obviously, the Olympic Games, summer or winter, is the perfect venue for local or international trouble. The Games are covered in every detail by the media, and all or most of the nations are gathered through their representative athletes. For every ten thousand or so individuals who rejoice in the international camaraderie, there’s always one who sees it as a great place to kill someone or blow something up on camera. For those of us who were alive then, the memories of Munich’s 1972 Games is still fresh. It was intended to lift German spirits, and was even called Die Heiteren Spiele, The Happy Games. The murders of the Israeli athletes in that year almost killed the spirit, and sickened the memory forever. With the trouble Brazil is experiencing these days, Rio’s violent crime is on the rise, and Olympic crime has already shown itself as a true problem for the upcoming Games.
The most noticeable is local street crime. Two Australian athletes have been robbed, with a gun waved in the face. Others have been mugged while training. The golf teams that are coming from all over the world, men’s and women’s, are likely coming into the most dangerous overall Olympics in distant memory. Not long ago, we were exhorting our golfers to stay in the Olympic spirit and go to Rio. Only a few days ago, Jack Nicklaus led the sentiment, taking drop-outs to task for abandoning an important national display for a game absent since the early 20th century. Play for my country? Sure – glad to, but walking down a dark alley in Rio after midnight for my country? I don’t think so. No one, including the country, would come out well.
As the crime rises in Rio, the political situation becomes more unsettled every day as impeachment proceedings continue against the President. The Zika virus is still an important consideration, and it all combines to make something about this version of the Olympic Games look “off,” very “off.” Matters weren’t helped when a chained wild jaguar standing next to the Olympic Torch at the ceremony was shot to death after slipping from his handlers, despite being tranquilized.
Rio’s intent was to neutralize a lot of trouble on the street by erecting “social housing,” but the uptick of crime in the Olympic Village area is evident, and door guards express great pessimism about the August 5th start of the events. One restaurant owner has been hooked up with an ankle bracelet for expressing his anticipation of the “Muslim Holy War” in the region. Then, of course, there is the matter of security. A force of nearly 100,000 security personnel is geared up for the Games, but they are not in place yet, with athletes already attending to participate in test events and training regimens. That would, presumably, include test rounds on the finally finished course. I once thought that the alligators in the standing water would be the primary danger for golfers, but things have changed. Open spaces with dense vegetation?
How far does security need to be taken, too far to make the event worthwhile? Does the spirit of the Games need to be played under the muzzles of machine guns? Will bodyguards be assigned to each player and caddie? Can a member of a women’s team leave the housing without ten escorts? Who will be armed, and who will not? What was Brazil’s condition at the time in which they were declared the next host of the Games. Was the crime rate in that section of Rio taken into account? That is a question for many cities around the world, but is it being asked?
The only kind of Olympiad to have is a good one, and if it turns out to be otherwise, let’s not do it. If the athletes are already there, get your security forces to work now, not August 5.