NFL Training Camps have started, High School Football Practice is underway, and College Football Practice starts this week, which means for most of the time moving forward I’m going to be talking about football in one form or another. But before that, another great athletic event begins on Friday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The Games of the XXXI (31st for those who don’t speak Roman numeral) Olympiad begin with the opening ceremonies on August 5th. It’s just the third time that the Olympic Games are being held in the Southern Hemisphere, and the first time in the Southern Hemisphere that the games are not being held in Australia. For another first, it is also the first time the Summer Olympic Games are being held completely during the Winter, as the Southern Hemisphere Winter continues until September 21st. The two prior Southern Hemisphere games in Australia straddled both Winter and early Spring.
Rio is the capital of the state of Rio de Janeiro in the country of Brazil, but it is not the Country’s capital as that distinction belongs to Brazilia. It’s the third most populous state in Brazil, founded by the Portuguese in 1565. Rio has a reported 6.5 million residents and is known for its beaches and the giant Christ the Redeemer statue located on a mountain. When the Olympic flame is lit on Friday night it will become the first South American and Portuguese speaking city to host the Olympics, and the first Latin American City to host since Mexico City in 1968.
Rio annually receives the most visitors of any city in Brazil and the Olympics won’t hurt those numbers any, but to say these games are without controversy is to not be paying attention. The biggest concern has been the mosquito spread Zika virus. The concern has been that the large number of visitors to Rio will cause the virus to spread quickly throughout the world. One Doctor even went as far as to say we are looking at “Global Catastrophe.” That sounds a bit extreme, but the threat of the virus has caused some athletes – to whom the Olympic games don’t mean as much – to pass on the Olympic experience. The defections have been primarily in the world of golf where most of the best players including Rory McElroy and Jordan Speith have said “thanks, but no thanks.” Other defections have been among NBA players who conveniently used the excuse of needing rest to not play in the games. If you are a world class swimming or track athlete this is the pinnacle of your sport and so going to the Olympics is an absolute no brainer. If you are an NBA player, a championship is the pinnacle and the Olympics don’t mean as much. Same with golfers who are all about Green Jackets and prize money. A gold medal is nice but just doesn’t have the cache.
But, Zika isn’t the only concern. There are the usual security concerns, but those are a concern for every major sporting event in the United States and elsewhere, and most of the time are unfounded. Somehow despite all the threats that seem to be out there, the Olympics generally move on unimpeded. Of course, there was the Olympic Park bombing in 1996 in Atlanta which was performed by a domestic terrorist, and the most tragic was the slaughtering of Israeli athletes in Munich, Germany in 1972 by a militant group of terrorists. It seems however that terrorists understand that security is high at events like this and tend to steer clear and instead go after more softer targets like subways. A bigger concern is that there are some Olympic venues that aren’t finished, and the general condition of the some other Olympic venues. Sailing and windsurfing are held in Rio’s Guanabara Bay, which is heavily polluted, and trash is going to be an obstacle for other rowing events as well. The Australian Olympic team has already refused to stay in the athletes’ village as they arrived to find no working toilets. So, yes, Rio has a chance to be a disaster, but the United States isn’t immune from it’s own disasters like Super Bowl 47 between San Francisco and Baltimore which was interrupted by a power outage at the New Orleans Super Dome, and don’t forget past Super Bowls in Dallas and Atlanta that were both plagued by ice storms in locations where they aren’t prepared for such.
Speaking of the United States and the Olympics, there hasn’t been a Summer Olympics contested on U.S. soil since the 1996 games in Atlanta. There hasn’t been an Olympics in the U.S. period since Salt Lake City’s Winter games in 2002. Both of those were successful events, but the commitment it takes to host an Olympics is often too much for a U.S. City. Atlanta built a new stadium and then converted it into the new home for the Atlanta Braves. 20 years later, the Braves are finished with that venue and are moving to a new home in the suburbs next season. As for the stadium, the Olympic cauldron will remain, but unless someone buys it (and Ga. State University is apparently interested), Atlanta is likely going to tear it down. A large portion of the Salt Lake events were held in Park City, outside of Salt Lake, but in an area where winter sports are major, those facilities are still used. Frankly many potential U.S. bidders will look at Athens, Greece as the example of how and why you don’t get involved with the Olympics. Greece built a bunch of new sparkling venues for the 2004 games. Those venues haven’t been used since and now sit in complete ruin like most of the Greek economy. Chicago made a bid for the Olympics for 2016, but was never a serious contender with the International Olympic Committee and was eliminated early in a three way race with Madrid and Rio. The IOC probably knows that Chicago traffic is a disaster anyway and just imagine throwing a large group of athletes and visitors into that mix. Chicago cab drivers have never seen a horn they wouldn’t blow or an aggressive move they wouldn’t make in bumper-to-bumper traffic. And, for a summer games, the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs would all but have to abandon the City for two weeks, and that’s not going to play well for their ownership groups, or fans especially Cubs fans who are always waiting on “next year”.
So what can you expect for 16 days in Rio? There are a reported 10,500 athletes from 206 countries competing in the games. This is the first time that the countries of Kosovo and South Sudan will participate in the summer games. There are 28 sports, two first time sports in Golf and Rugby Sevens. I’m going to tell you right now that in my opinion Rugby is not a sport, but instead an excuse for a keg party. The entire Russian Track team has been banned for illegal doping in past Olympics, and several other Russian athletes have been given the boot for the same reason in other sports including swimming. So, why exactly does anyone believe that Russian president Vladamir Putin is trustworthy when he’s orchestrated one of the biggest cheating scandals in Olympic history and generally looks about as interesting as a 30 pound bag of fertilizer? And, oh the pictures I’ve seen of him shirtless…not a good look at all.
In the United States, NBC is set to broadcast its 8th consecutive Summer Games. The network has held the rights to every Olympics – Winter and Summer – since Salt Lake in 2002. At one time, ABC was the Olympic Network, but that ship has sailed as ABC hasn’t had an Olympics since the Winter Games in 1988 and there is no longer an ABC Sports Division. Any sports that appear on ABC are produced by ESPN. CBS had three consecutive Winter Games in 1992, 1994 and 1998, but CBS isn’t likely to get back into the Olympic business anytime soon. The network has said on repeated occasions that it is comfortable with its sports inventory which is heavy on NFL Football, golf, the NCAA Tournament, and SEC Football.
NBC’s coverage will follow its familiar pattern of featuring the biggest events in primetime, although this time they will be live as Rio is one hour ahead of the U.S. Eastern Time Zone. The first week will be heavy with Swimming, with most of the finals contested between 9 – 11 Eastern time. Gymnastics will get a major run as well as Olympic viewers tend to be largely female, and in week two Track and Field will dominate primetime. Track has the most gold medals available in these games with 47 followed by 34 in swimming. One hope we can have this time is that Bob Costas doesn’t get a severe case of “pink eye” like he did at the 2014 Winter Games in Russian, causing him to miss more than a week on air. If something unforeseen like that occurs, don’t expect to see Matt Lauer step into the primetime spot as NBC will likely turn to its newly hired Mike Tirico to take over.
So before football fully takes over, Olympic Sports will get their every four year spot in the national spotlight. How the Rio games will be viewed is left to be seen, but after years of planning and building the world will come and go in just over two weeks and the Summer Olympics will fade into the distance until Toyko in 2020. Of course, Olympic enthusiasts only have to wait two years as there is another winter games in 2018. Maybe by then, I can figure out exactly what the hell curling is?