Olympics Should be Banned from Depressed Cities

Slums of Rio de Janeiro with Olympic games decorations and graffiti

Slums of Rio de Janeiro with Olympic games decorations and graffiti

Nothing stirs up pride in America like watching our Olympic athletes win gold medals. Michael Phelps, Simone Manuel, Winston-Salem’s own Kathleen Baker, and others have become national heroes and role models because of their accomplishments in the international games. It’s no wonder, then, that the number of parents naming their newborn babies “Simone” has spiked by 230%. By all accounts, the 2016 Rio Olympics was a success, at least for the International Olympic Committee. For the seven million residents of Rio, not so much.

For months prior to the start of the games, some in the media reported on the possibility of visitors and athletes contracting the Zika virus, while others warned of polluted waters in which athletes would compete. As a result, a few Olympians chose not to attend. However, most news coverage was positive, but even the stories about disease and pollution didn’t fully explain what the two had in common, why the conditions existed, or how they affected families in Rio.

In order to understand the severity of Rio’s crisis, we must start in Copenhagen where, in 2009, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Rio de Janeiro had won the rights to host the 2016 Olympics. The city turned in a bid of $15 Billion dollars, and that was $9 billion more than the next closest bidder. We should have known then that something was rotten in Denmark. According to HBO Real Sports, the IOC netted $4 billion dollars out of the deal, and the rest was spent on construction of nine, state-of-the-art sports complexes and thirty-one residential towers in which to house the athletes. It was $15 billion that Rio didn’t have to spend, especially with mounting social problems and a falling oil market. As it turns out, the Rio government used money for the Olympics that had been earmarked for improvements to healthcare, education, and sanitation.

NBC’s cameras showed beautiful vistas during the games, but what viewers didn’t see was the raw sewage that flowed into the streets and into the bodies of water where 1300 athletes competed in 40 events. That same, untreated human waste also served as a breeding ground for mosquitoes that then carried the Zika virus. Moreover, the unsanitary conditions also contributed to other diseases including dysentery, TB, cholera, and hepatitis. It also resulted in babies being born with brain damage and other birth defects. And with cutbacks in social services and medical care, many of those who needed care, couldn’t even get a hospital room. Dr. Jorge Darze, president of the Rio Medical Union told HBO’s Jon Frankel that the city’s medical system, “is a public calamity.” Dr. Amir Attaran concurred, saying of the Olympics, “They’re holding a party in the middle of an epidemic, with sewage running freely in the streets.” Frankel’s conclusion was stark, “Rio has sacrificed the welfare of millions of people to give the IOCwhat it wants.”

According to IOC’s charter, the Olympic games are supposed to promote a positive legacy in the host city. Unfortunately just the opposite has happened in Rio. “The money being spent on the Olympics is revolting to me. It’s a crime against humanity,” said Dr. Darze. No doubt Brazil didn’t have the best track record for providing quality human services prior to the 2016 games, but diverting $15 billion dollars away from those services has resulted in horrible living conditions for millions of people. Going forward, the IOC should be prohibited from accepting bids from economically depressed cities, but then, who’s going to make and enforce that rule?

Right now we don’t need more babies named after famous Olympic athletes. We need more babies born healthy in the countries where those athletes become famous.


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