It’s always a bit of a sport with the media, seeing how many potential problems they can expose before each Olympic Games, but I’ve never known anything like what’s gone on in the lead-up to the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Brazil is in the midst of political turmoil, with its President, Dilma Rousseff, having been impeached. More locally, the mayor of Rio has said his city faces bankruptcy because of the Olympics.
Then there’s the violence. Several suspected terrorists have been arrested in Rio as the world realises the Olympics might yet be a target for an organisation such as Isis.
Rio is plagued with petty criminals anyway, people who accost pedestrians and steal their money, laptop, phone etc. Express kidnappings are also relatively common. Violence is not rare, but the experience is frightening all the same.
The sanitation in Rio is apparently dodgy. We’re told if we drink more than three teaspoons of tap water a day we will become very ill – guaranteed. And late news: the air pollution is apparently worse than it was in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics.
The outbreak of the Zika virus has given athletes who weren’t too keen on going to Rio the perfect excuse to cry off. Never mind you have more chance of catching the virus in Florida. The world’s top male golfers, a few tennis players and random other athletes have withdrawn from the Games, citing Zika concerns.
There have been problems with the building of the underground railway lines and with some of the roads. The rail lines are incomplete and one key new bridge actually collapsed.
Then, closer to sport, there’s been the Russian drugs situation. When it transpired the Russians were indulging in state-backed drugs cheating, many, including the World Anti Doping Agency, demanded the country be excluded entirely from the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee didn’t go that far, but nevertheless possibly 200 Russian athletes won’t be able to compete in Rio.
There are problems with the athletes’ village, with parts of it incomplete and not up to the required standard. The Brazilians say they are attending to this, buttime is running out.
When you add it up, it makes quite a catalogue of problems. Surprisingly, I still feel the Games will go off pretty well.
Many previous Games have been beset with problems in the lead-up.
A widespread boycott was suggested in 1936 when it became obvious Hitler was intending to use the Berlin Games as a showcase for his version of Aryan supremacy. The Games went ahead and athletes such as Jesse Owens and our own Jack Lovelock made their reputations there.
There were major boycotts of three successive Olympics – Montreal in 1976, Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984 – but the games were major successes anyway.
Before the Mexico City Games in 1968, student protests in the city’s main square resulted in dozens being slaughtered. There were immediate calls to suspend the games, but they came to nothing.
When Seoul was named as host of the 1988 Olympics, South Korea was not politically stable and there were concerns over the malevolent influence of nearby North Korea. The games turned out to be an overwhelming triumph.
The 2004 Athens Olympics took place in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorism attacks and there was fear, almost expectation, that there would be some sort of major terrorist incident in Athens. Instead the games were a joyous celebration.
I am not saying the Rio Games will be the greatest ever. But my bet is that once they begin next week, the media will focus more on sport and many of the perceived “problems” will prove to be not nearly as bad as they are presently being portrayed.
Rio may well be recalled as hosting a uniquely colourful and vibrant Olympics, the first to be held in South America.
*Joseph Romanos is a long-time sports journalist. Rio will be the ninth Olympic Games he has covered.