The 2016 Rio Olympic Torch

Should Humanists Support the Rio Olympics?

By Katie McBeth — Originally published at thehumanist.com on August 1, 2016.

Concerns have been popping up surrounding the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro; should we still support the international athletes or boycott the Games all together?

I am not a sports fan, but I love the Olympic Games!

The Olympics to me is like all the best inspirational sports stories rolled into a couple weeks of programs. I’m never rooting for a country, but I am always rooting for the inspirational stories these athletes bring with them.

However, during the 2014 Sochi Winter Games I realized there’s more to the games than dreams and determination: the host country also has its own story.

In 2014, leading up to the Games, Vladimir Putin was criticized heavily for his ruling that limited the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in Russia. Powerful demonstrations preceded the opening ceremony, and many activists in the United States called for a ban of the Olympic Games. President Obama, along with other leaders in the EU, advocated support for the athletes but refused to attend the games.

Now, just before the Rio Olympic Games, set to take place August 5–21, drama is circulating again, causing qualms about attendance. Here are some of the main sources of concern and their implications for this summer’s Olympics.

The Big Zika Scare

Rio is a city in the heart of the Zika Virus zone. Already, ten of the world’s top athletes have dropped out of participating in the games, and others are taking precautions to avoid the disease. Some athletes are even going as far as to cryogenically freeze their sperm.

Many organizations have asked officials to halt the Games and respond to Zika health hazards, but so far the Brazilian government has brushed aside the issue — although Rio and Olympic officials have signed on the Wisconsin-based OFF! brand as the official “mosquito spray supplier.” Fortunately, it will be winter in the Southern Hemisphere during the Summer Games, so mosquito numbers will be down. Officials with the World Health Organization estimate that only a total of eighty people will be infected during the two week games.

(Furthering the health scare surrounding the Games, a drug-resistant “super bacteria” was found off of some Rio beaches and in the lagoon where the rowboat competitions will be held. No news yet on how it’ll be addressed or if crew officials will just continue trying to clean the water.)

Cutting out the Poor Communities

Zika is only the tip of the iceberg. Financial instability, violence, and government cover-ups have also impacted the local Brazilian community hosting the Games.

A month before the Games, Rio announced it was experiencing a financial crisis, with the Olympic Games over budget by an estimated 51 percent As a result, some government-run soup kitchens have permanently closed. As the New York Times reported in June, the Rio Olympics will be lucky to make back half of what they put into the Games.

This is hardly the first time the Games have harmed Rio citizens. While the Olympic complexes were built, there were rumors of construction-related deaths, employee neglect, and underpaid workers. Additionally, the government was exposed in a massive corruption scandal just last year, resulting in a national economic crisis and the delayed conferment of paychecks to police and teachers.

Resulting from the delay in police paychecks, security concerns have arisen in bustling Rio. According to the Washington Post, within the first four months of 2016, homicide rates jumped over 15 percent, and theft has increased by nearly 24 percent. A recent skirmish at a Rio hospital resulted in police losing custody of one of the most wanted drug kingpins in Brazil who could be connected to the washed up body parts found on the beach a month ago — the same beach that will be hosting beach volleyball next week.

Rio officials are promising safety by increasing security in tourist areas and the Olympic village to ensure that visitors will be comfortable and welcome. Yet the local citizens have an uncertain future ahead of them. Once the Games are over, there could be a complete collapse of the city and throughout Brazil. As one anonymous police officer stated to the Independent, “We don’t know what will happen afterward.”

Silver Lining: What the Olympics Can Do for Rio

Despite all this negative news surrounding the Rio Games, there is a potential silver lining to the whole mess.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), the official organizers of the Olympics, claim that the Games will bring lasting benefits to the host country. There is a history of host countries abandoning their Olympic stadiums to rot, so the IOC has increased focus on sustainability. Alongside the Olympic stadiums, the IOC also helped Rio reconstruct ports and transportation infrastructure and update their waste management system. Within the IOC’s strategy to reduce the environmental impact of the Games, there is also a focus on reducing carbon emissions and creating energy-efficient designs.

The IOC has also boasted about the of thousands of jobs and volunteer opportunities created alongside the Games. Although the jobs are primarily within hospitality, the IOC believes they will create lasting benefits for the community. Time will tell if they will have any positive effects on the financial crisis in Brazil.

While locally attempting to increase sustainability for Rio, the Olympics is also attempting a global progressive and humanitarian approach. This year’s Games will be the first to include the Refugee Olympic Athletes team. The IOC will provide clothing, food, doping tests, and insurance for the team as a huge and impactful show of support for refugees. Given the horrors faced by Syrian refugees, this level of care for the forty-three selected athletes is not just a political move, but a humanitarian one.

Women from around the world are also benefitting from the IOC’s goals for more gender equal Games. Though there is an evident pattern of growth in popularity for female sports teams and players, pay and media attention still doesn’t match that of male athletes yet. Within the past year, FIFA and the Olympic Committee have highlighted the importance of women in leadership roles within their organizations and promoted gender equality through unique leadership conferences. The IOC has even set a goal of making 2020 the year for a completely gender equal game, with at least 50 percent of the attending athletes being female. The IOC has also eased some restrictions on competing for some transgender athletes, though the issue still contains controversy.

Amid the scandals, financial instability, and health risks of the Games, is there still hope for a better future because of the Olympics?

Personally, I feel that they do. We may see struggles within the host country after the Games, but watching and supporting the Games could also lead to a better future for many people around the world. The Games’ support for refugees, women, and our environment have impacts far beyond Rio.

Furthermore, boycotting the Games now would do nothing for the people of Rio. Instead, I say we should celebrate the accomplishments of the athletes, criticize the failures of the committee, and hold them accountable for future host cities.

Will you be supporting the Rio Olympic Games this year?

Tags: Rio 2016, sports

Katie McBeth is a freelance writer out of Boise, ID. She is an intersectional feminist, owner of a small private zoo, and can occasionally be found at music festivals cheering on her favorite indie acts. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter @ktmcbeth.

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