One of my fondest freshman-year memories to date was in February 2014, when Alice Kerr invited our orientation group to come to her house and watch the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
We munched on chips and salsa and marveled at how the U.S. National Team looked the best — objectively, of course. But what I remember are the opulence and the grandeur of the ceremony itself — ornate costuming, impressive dancing and all-around stunning visuals. If you had been blissfully unaware of Russia’s impressive history with corruption, you would have thought so highly of Vladimir Putin and his citizenry.
But my peers and I knew better. We had seen the pictures of the living arrangements into which Olympic athletes were thrust; we had read about the stray dogs roaming Sochi streets and alleys; and we would later hear of Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine, less than a month after the games concluded.
So one of the world’s most corrupt countries got to host one of the world’s most important athletic events. That was two years ago. Now it is 2016 and Rio de Janeiro’s turn to host the Summer Olympics this August — but this summer (or winter, technically) is no cakewalk. Here is CNN’s laundry list of crises and complications as of this past April; obviously, things have changed since then.
For the worse, one might argue: The Brazilian president has been impeached. The Zika virus’ outbreak is encouraging athletes to withdraw, and the waters in which athletes will compete is contaminated with superbugs that can resist almost all antibiotics. The subway line extension meant to connect all the satellite events to the center of Rio might be finished in time for select personnel and staff to use it during the Games. And, much to the Brazilian football team’s dismay, Neymar is slated to join his teammates in Barcelona come August.
Although it is tempting to question the judgment of the International Olympic Committee when selecting candidates to host the Olympic games, we should not forget that Rio was not chosen last year. The Invitation Phase and Candidature Process take a combined three years, after which the final host city is elected — seven years in advance. That means the IOC chose Rio de Janeiro 10 years ago to host the Olympics this August.
The IOC could not have had the foresight to predict the international public health emergency that has become the Zika virus. The IOC could not have had the foresight to predict the violent insurgencies that surrounded the 2014 Sochi Games.
Even so, the IOC surely could have had the foresight to test the waters of the Guanabara Bay and lay down an ultimatum for the Brazilian government: Clean up your water or forego your turn as host of the Olympics. Water quality tests have found virus levels in the bay that are almost two million times higher than what would be acceptable in California. Do we want our American athletes subjecting themselves to whatever illnesses await them in the water?
We already have a confirmed case of infection from antibiotic-resistant superbugs here in the United States — and the bay has dozens of such bacteria with which swimmers and sailors alike will be in direct contact. Do we want to allow Olympic athletes to expose their nations to that kind of biological risk when they return from Rio?
I would strongly encourage the American Olympic Committee and other authorities in the United States to withdraw U.S. participation in Rio unless the event is relocated. Such last-minute adjustments have been made in the past — think the 1940 Games — and would minimize the risk of a worldwide public health emergency.
Libby Scattergood is a senior in the McDonough School of Business. Road To Rio appears every other Friday.
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