Gut Check For Obama: The Responsible Thing Is To Pull Out Of The 2016 Olympics


UPDATE: 6/18/13 Now this.

The responsible thing, in fact, would have been to pull out before now.

The Olympics, which were supposed to represent the ideal of pure, individual amateur (For love, not money) athletic achievement, metastasized into a bloated, hyper-nationalist insult to those ideals long ago. In addition…

…The Olympic organization is corrupt, accepting bribes to determine which nations host the games.

…The competitions are corrupt, with banned performance enhancing substances being used widely and with the assistance and knowledge of participating nations, in some cases. At the end of last year, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)  issued a report calling for Russia to be banned from international athletics at all levels for flagrant doping violations and a “deeply rooted culture of cheating at all levels” within Russian athletics.

Have the Olympics banned Russia? Of course not.

Meanwhile, an IOC investigation revealed that 23 athletes have tested positive in a massive doping scandal that could ban a total of 31 yet-unnamed athletes “from 12 countries and six sports” from participating in the 2016 Olympics.

…The games now have the shadow of terrorism hanging over them.

…Expenditures by hosting nations always divert resources into inefficient and unnecessary projects, as greater national and social priorities suffer in the pursuit of pride and prestige. Following a pattern that we have seen in other countries, some poor Brazilians  have  lost their homes as part of preparations for the games.

There would be a strong  argument to end this expensive and cynical tradition before the Rio Olympics, but this year’s model demands  a retreat even if the past games had been paragons of athletic virtue. The government of Brazil is dysfunctional. Its president has been suspended after being impeached and more than half of Brazil’s senate is being investigated for crimes. The Brazilian economy is in a shambles. 

Partially as a result of the financial and political mess, the country isn’t ready for the Games, and probably won’t be. The extension for Rio de Janeiro’s Metro Linha 4 that connects the major venues is far behind schedule. Absent a miracle,  the essential thoroughfare won’t be completed in time, creating a traffic Armageddon.

There is reason to worry about what has been completed. A 150-foot elevated cycle path section collapsed after it was hit by a wave, killing two cyclists. The 2.4 mile long Tim Maia Cycle Path was supposedly completed in January at a cost of $12.7 million as one of many 2016 Olympics infrastructure projects. But Rio officials refuse to accept that there may be a construction problem. Writes CyclingTips:

Municipal secretary Pedro Paulo Carvalho told O Globo that it was “premature” to say that there was a failure in the path’s construction.However, Brazilian economist Cleber Pereira disputed that, saying it was “absurd” that a newly opened construction project, set upon the ocean, would collapse due to a breaking wave. “Where are the engineers who designed this?” he said. “A work of this size and they didn’t not provide for natural events like crashing waves?”

Good question. And these are the same officials, planners and general whiz-bangs who have to take appropriate measures to protect the athletes and spectators from Zika, which is in full outbreak in Brazil. In the Harvard Public Health Review, University of Ottawa professor of population health Amir Attaran argued that the outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil is so dangerous that it is madness to hold the Games there, writing,

But for the Games, would anyone recommend sending an extra half a million visitors into Brazil right now? Of course not: mass migration into the heart of an outbreak is a public health no-brainer. And given the choice between accelerating a dangerous new disease or not—for it is impossible that Games will slow Zika down—the answer should be a no-brainer for the Olympic organizers too. Putting sentimentality aside, clearly the Rio 2016 Games must not proceed.

He and others are being attacked as hysterics and alarmists…which would be more understandable if there weren’t so many other reasons to avoid Rio. The waterways, for example, are contaminated by fecal matter. Now Reuters is reporting that…

“Scientists have found dangerous drug-resistant “super bacteria” off beaches in Rio de Janeiro that will host Olympic swimming events and in a lagoon where rowing and canoe athletes will compete when the Games start on Aug. 5.The findings from two unpublished academic studies seen by Reuters concern Rio’s most popular spots for tourists and greatly increase the areas known to be infected by the microbes normally found only in hospitals.”

And just when things were going so well!

The United States pulling its athletes out of the Olympics would trigger an international breach with Brazil, cost U.S. corporations millions, and disappoint many Americans, especially Donald Trump supporters, who have a tenuous relationship with reality anyway and would be furious. However, it is a decision that a responsible President would make, and only he can make it, because the U.S. Olympic Committee is hopelessly biased and conflicted.

This is when leadership is essential. Listen to the poignant comments of likely Olympic golfer Stacy Lewis:

“I wouldn’t say I’m a hundred percent going. It’s just so hard. As an athlete how do you pass up the Olympics? It’s unfortunate that we’re the ones that have to make a decision. You’d almost like to see a governing body or somebody like that kind of put their foot down and say, no, we’re not going. But there’s too much money in it, I don’t think that will ever happen….”

It needs to happen. Let’s see if Barack Obama has the guts and integrity to take the decision out of the hands of the athletes themselves, and do the responsible, safe and courageous thing: back out of the 2016 Rio Olympics.


28 thoughts on “Gut Check For Obama: The Responsible Thing Is To Pull Out Of The 2016 Olympics

  1. That’s beyond horrible. Isn’t there anywhere that could accept the Games on short notice? They need to be cancelled or moved. Any one of the present conditions, especially Zika and the filthy water, should be enough to cancel. Does the Olympic committee have no obligations to the athletes?

    • “Does the Olympic committee have no obligations to the athletes?”

      About as much as promoters of gladiatorial combat exhibitions in the late fourth century CE: mainly in preserving its own existence.

      According to an article asking why the USOC is tax exempt, “less than 6%” of the multimillions raised in the last Olympics went directly to athletes. “Top ranked athletes get monthly stipends ranging from $400 to $2,000. Others get nothing. Athletes have access to Olympic training centers though most have to pay to use and stay at them and therefor don’t.”

      About $24 million went to support U.S. Paralympics, and $4 million to sports science and sports medicine. After all that, and six figure salaries (up to 900K+ for its director), there was $100 million left in “surplus revenue.”


      • So, there are no guidelines regarding athlete health and safety during the Games? I’m not finding much. Swimming in sewage and catching a disease that can deform offspring would seem to qualify!

        • From what I’ve read, they’re not even sure the Zika virus isn’t dangerous in and of itself for people who contract it. I’m not sure pregnant women are the only people to be worried about. Our neighbors here in Amsterdam have cancelled their family/business trip to Suriname out of their concern for the future fertility of their five year old daughter. I suppose someone could argue this is hysteria, but why?

          • Because some people argue that any concern over anything is hysteria…unscreened Muslim migrants, for example. If they want something to happen, cognitive dissonance dictates that anything indicating that it shouldn’t happen is a false concern. The 15 dollar minimum wage. Employment effects of Obamacare. The Iran nuclear deal.

            • Good point. We’re just supposed to “Chill.” What a moronic attitude and annoying argument. I’m beginning to think this is a generational problem. I’m supposed to chill about embracing Cuba’s wonderfulness. We’re supposed to chill about Bernie Sandersnistas benign version of socialism or its cost. Ugh.

  2. OK. That’s it. I’m done.
    Jack, I implore you to balance things a bit. A few more comedy pieces here (which you excel at) would temper my revulsion with mycountrytisoftee.

  3. I disagree. I think most Trump supporters would love pulling out of the games. At least if Trump recommeneded it as part of an “America first” anti-globalist and anti-spread of Zika message.

  4. I won’t go into the political reasons for the US refusing to pull out of the Olympics… corruption reigns even in this noblest of competitions, as we have known for decades… But how about this?

    American Olympians — who have worked so very hard for four years to participate and their hearts would just be broken if they couldn’t — can decide on their own to take all the risks associated with such participation and delineated so aptly by Marshall above — but if they do go and manage to survive, they (and the families/friends/coaches/teammates accompanying them) cannot re-enter the US until they’ve been quarantined for four months to ensure that they aren’t bringing back any communicable diseases that would pose a public health risk here (see Harvard comment in Marshall post). So, let them take the risk on the off chance that they can achieve glory, fame (and money), but also make them understand that this is a personal risk and a personal choice — not one that can be visited on the rest of the US at any athlete’s personal discretion.

    For years, if you wanted to take your dog to England, for example, it was quarantined for four months for basically the same reason: protection of the public health. If these noble Olympians want to compete, then they should be allowed to do so and hope for the best. Just don’t let them back in until we know it’s safe for them to do so.

    • Simply postpone the Olympics for a year or two. Tell the IOC they have to do it. Big deal. Get a handle on things, finish the facilities, etc. Sure, it will mess up all the athletes’ PED cycles, but they can just start over later. Big deal. Didn’t they postpone the Ryder Cup for a year after 9/11?

      • The US can’t tell the IOC they “have” to do it. It’s the _International_ Olympics Committee. The US can pull our athletes out – we’ve done it before – but that’s the limit of it.

        • According to the left, the US is all powerful and runs everything. But seriously, you don’t think the US TV deal is a big enough club to have the necessary clout to, together with some diplomacy, to get the IOC to do the right thing?

          • No, I don’t. If I was the IOC, I would make a point of telling Obama to sit down and shut up if he tried this, because I don’t want to establish the precedent that the US – or other powerful countries – can boss us around. Has nothing to do with ethics, as a purely cynical political calculation I would conclude that losing the deal for one year is a much smaller price to pay.

            Moreover, I’m not sure the US government _can_ just order the cancellation of the US TV deal. I’m not a lawyer, but wouldn’t that fall under First Amendment protections?

            • Seconding Mark. I worked (peripherally) for the USOC at the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs — one-person office & newsletter for the US Ski Team — the year before Boulder-based coach Bob Beatty had the HQ moved closer to what was then Stapleton International Airport in Denver. Along the way, though it was 30 years before it would become a major public scandal in US cities, there were references then to corruption on international levels (allegations of bribery and influence-peddling among IOC members and the shadowy “agents” who helped cities bidding for the Olympics). It was clear, too, that the IOC itself was never either diverse or democratic (not even in the manner the United Nations was meant to be) but run as a sinecure by the old, mostly-white, mostly-male European royalty – about 15% of the membership that still controls the Games.

              Without doubt American companies and their advertising billions, together, would have the power to influence the Olympics in many ways but it would look like what it was: bullying. Even if it was a case of the bully beating on a bully who was hurting or cheating everybody else.

              For anyone curious about where the money comes and goes and what the rules (the most restrictive for any sports sponsorship in the world) are for it:

              Click to access olympic_marketing_fact_file_v3_2015.pdf

    • Somehow I doubt that will happen. Can’t miss having the triumphant Olympians on all the talk shows for FOUR months, After all no one in the media will care about their victory in 4 months. We can have a nice memorial right away.

      As a future thing they should plan a backup location, what if the host has earthquake or meltdown? The games should be able to adapt or man up and not go. I feel for all the would be Olympians, but I doubt many have the resources to abandon family and job for a imperative quarantine. I don’t think it’s worth these risks, too many are beyond fixing.

      • It’s not just Zika. What about all the bacteria for which we have no antibiotics? Maybe Brazilians are used to swimming in bacteria-infested water, but I don’t think most Olympians are. When I went to a few years ago Russia it was bottled water only — even for tooth-brushing. The Russians were used to it and had developed their own antibodies over generations of drinking toxic water: Americans weren’t, and were advised against drinking anything that didn’t come out of a bottle.

        • I think the consequences of this decision would be to essentially end all travel between the US and the rest of the world. I’m not talking about a slippery slope, I’m talking about just applying the logic consistently. Brazil is not the only country with bad sanitation – half the globe or more is in the same state. Or worse: look at the list of stuff you have to get vaccinated against if you visit most sub-Saharan African countries, for example. And that’s just the stuff we have vaccines for. You already mentioned Russia; are we going to quarantine travelers to there too?

          But it’s not just the third-world we’d have to apply this policy to. Unless Europe and Japan adopt similar policies, then any infection could travel to them through us. So we’d have to apply the policy to them, too. Possibly we could browbeat the Canadians into joining us, but otherwise, seal the northern border as well.

          And with a four month quarantine, _nobody_ is going to travel if they have any other option.

          The consequences of this policy would be to essentially cut the United States off from the rest of the world. Even if it saved a few lives – and I doubt it would save many – I don’t think it’s worth it.

          • and the more one isolates, the more sensitive one becomes to “foreign” “germs.”

            The precursor to the Nanny State is the Host of Helpless Weenies.

  5. “Let’s see if Barack Obama has the guts and integrity to take the decision out of the hands of the athletes themselves, and do the responsible, safe and courageous thing: back out of the 2016 Rio Olympics.”
    How can the President stop the athletes going to the Games? I thought the US Olympic Committee was an independent private organisation, unlike many countries where the national Olympic committee is run by the government.

        • I’ve been looking.

          In this case, the US could withdraw its support of the Games, meaning that the athletes would no longer be on a team, and the teams would no longer be affiliated withe US. Then it would be up to the Olympic governors whether a non-sanctioned team could compete. The US could also declare that no athlete competing in Brazil would be allowed to return absent a quarantine.

          But I can’t find any explanation of how Carter just announced a boycott. But he did.

          • The New Zealand team to Moscow in 1980 had chosen nearly 100 athletes. But after the government said no civil servant would be granted leave and most sports withdrew as they were worried about future funding which I believe that at the time came mostly from the lotteries board, only 4 sportsmen from two minor sports which received no funding attended the games.

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