Rio Games: Would I Go?
Kelly Crowley '99
The sky is apparently falling in Rio de Janeiro as the Olympics and Paralympics draw near, and reporters are suggesting this could be the first failed Games. Many people have asked me, “If you were still competing, would you go?”
You’ve seen the headlines: Mosquito borne Zika virus, super bacteria at the beaches, unfinished venues, collapsing infrastructure, a presidential impeachment trial, a bankrupt city with neighborhoods run by criminals. Additionally, an independent drug-testing lab shuttered mere days after the suspension of the Russian track and field athletes for their involvement in a state-sanctioned doping scandal. Yikes!
The opportunity to compete in the Olympic or Paralympic Games is so rare and comes at such a personal cost that most athletes cannot afford to turn it down, even with the possibility of scary sounding illness and political instability.
Would I go if I had earned a spot on the team? My answer is unequivocally: Of course, no question, I would go. The opportunity to compete in the Olympic or Paralympic Games is so rare and comes at such a personal cost that most athletes cannot afford to turn it down, even with the possibility of scary sounding illness and political instability. Sure, a very small number of athletes have opted out. But look closely, and you’ll see they are all professionals with real income from a high-profile professional career. For those athletes, the Olympics is an incidental, ancillary event to their careers. For the quasi-pro athletes (those getting paid just enough to offset the cost of their sport) and the amateurs (those paying out-of-pocket for their living and training expenses) who probably make up the vast majority of Team USA, the Olympics and the Paralympics are the pinnacle of their sport careers. If you earn an opportunity to compete, you take it. No question, no doubts.
Well, okay. If I’m being entirely honest, if I were competing I probably would have some very-low-level worry for myself, but only because of mosquito-borne viruses. I wouldn't worry about security. As an athlete, you can spend the entire Games more or less sequestered in a hermetically sealed city-within-a-city. Multiple layers of security envelop the village, the venues, and the transit in between. The competition venues will be complete because they have to be. As for drug testing, we only have control over what we put in our own bodies, so it’s on the list of things we just have to let go. Most of the worry I might have would be for my family, if they decided to come watch. But then again, being relatively well-off Americans (as compared with the rest of the world), they could pool resources with other American families and hire their own private security and drivers. And if they needed to, they could spend all of their time ensconced in their hotel or the venues, effectively bringing the chances of stumbling accidentally into a militarized favela from slim to none.
As much as the Games are about the host city and the host nation’s culture, for the athletes the tourist experience is secondary window dressing on a business trip. For family members, sightseeing is alluring and a significant portion of the trip, but it’s actually secondary to sharing with your loved one the moment they’ve been working so hard for.
The story of the Rio Games potentially being disastrous is a great news story. I clicked and read all the stories. But the reality is that, with so much media attention focused on the Games and so much money on the line, most of the risks - for the American athletes, at least—will be mitigated. And I daresay, it will be successful for the American athletes.