The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist; the greatest trick the IOC ever pulled was convincing the world their spirit does, writes Ewan MacKenna
Earlier in the week, after colliding and collapsing in the women’s 5,000m, Abbey D’Agostino helped Nikki Hamblin from the floor and the two completed the race together. There was rightly a clamour to applaud it, but NBC went further and suggested this was “true Olympic spirit”. The broadcaster are essentially the Games – funding it, promoting it, growing it – therefore it’s in their nature to sell it too. But don’t for a second buy it for if there is such a thing as Olympic spirit it’s been there for all to see in big dollops elsewhere.
This unfortunately has not been pleasant.
In the ring on Tuesday, Michael Conlan ripped off his shirt at the decision that went against him and screamed at the judges “f**k you, f**k you”. Ringside he told television cameras “they’re cheating b**tards, they’re paying everybody, my dream has been shattered. Amateur boxing stinks from the core right to the top”. His emotion was understandable considering he had paid a lot of money he doesn’t necessarily have to bring his wife and child to a tournament where he was favourite, and this was the wrong result after the word had been that Russia were buying medals in the not-so-sweet science.
The night before an Irish judge was even part of the team that gave an even worse call when Russia’s Evgeny Tischenko won a unanimous decision over Vassiliy Levit. By Wednesday six of the 60 judges were sent home, as if it wasn’t already too late. But Conlan’s “stinks from the core right to the top” remark goes far beyond the boxing hall, instead it breaks like a wave over so much of these Olympics.
Last Saturday for instance, after Mo Farah had claimed gold in the 10,000m, a question about his relationship with coach Jama Aden, who was arrested in Spain after a hotel room belonging to his team had been found to be filled with EPO, caused him to look beyond uncomfortable. Despite a connection he failed to offer any sort of convincing answer, then again he was here to be celebrated. The next night Usain Bolt was cheered and Justin Gatlin booed by the crowd as if the dirt of track and field begins and ends there; and this after Genzebe Dibaba was roared on in her heat win despite Aden being her coach.
Later in the week, asked about this, she just muttered nothing had been proven, meanwhile the woman who beat her in the 1,500m final, Faith Chepngetich Kipyegon of Kenya, said she just wanted to thank God when asked about her country’s testing. And by the time Bolt was back on the track journalists without accreditation caused a minor crush at the entrance to the stadium, with armed guards having to hold them back, all because people supposedly working were actually little more than hysterical fans.
Over in the velodrome Britain won so much in such a tainted sport that there was no point in even taking it seriously. Yet some in their media did, fawning at so much shiny metal and grabbing selfies at every turn. Mark Cavendish had just won silver after a dangerous move took out an Italian rider but when asked by a foreign reporter if he’d care to comment on the move, he reacted as if above it all. “I could sue you for that, do you know that?”
With that attitude he might as have been out with the superstar American swim team, headed by Ryan Lochte who said they’d been robbed by police. “They pulled out their guns, they told the other swimmers to get down on the ground, they got down on the ground. I refused, I was like we didn’t do anything wrong, so I’m not getting down on the ground.” Except his tale of heroism didn’t tally with what had actually happened. Boozed up after a night out when they’d left their partners at home, they’d smashed up a petrol station and had a gun pulled on them by a security guard. Across town meanwhile, members of the Dream Team had left their cruise ship and headed for a brothel for the night.
But these are the Olympics and we are told to cheer. And most do. Indeed at the opening ceremony when remaining seated for the Olympic anthem, a tap on the shoulder came as did word to stand to attention. Why? For what? But that ideal of worshiping this false god endured. At the sailing the medalists for one press conference were even greeted by a standing ovation. But there’s been few ovations elsewhere as most stadia are half empty with those wandering in from a far wondering how this can be the case?
Well when evening athletics tickets cost five weeks local minimum salary for instance, it might go some way to explaining it. But so greedy are the International Olympic Committee, rather than give the tickets out across the poorer areas of an impoverished city that paid for this, giving both atmosphere and gaining goodwill, they’d rather sit on them. We shouldn’t be surprised.
If the idea of the Games are built on many poorly paid athletes who give up four years to get this far, then they themselves are built on the volunteers that make sure a multi-billion dollar event can be pulled off. There have been fewer and fewer of them across the days though, in fact 30 per cent have quit. “They ask us to come to work really early and then hold us back when it’s time to go home,” one said. “Lots of people quit because of the food. They were told to work eight, nine hours and were only provided with a light snack,” added another. In other words giant profits built on slave labour.
And still it’s us who’ve put the cherry on top, thanks to the sight of Pat Hickey’s bare arse being dragged from an upscale hotel room in the early hours. Even amidst something so rancid, we hadn’t see that one coming, as armed police found him in a room registered to his son, after his wife had said he’d already left for Ireland despite the fact the authorities could see his accreditation and passport behind her. It was El Chapo meets Craggy Island and can only be beaten if he tunnels his way out or asks Vladimir Putin for help. At the official press conference after it all happened, the Games were surmised in a question from an Australian. “Is IOC concerned that enduring image of Rio Games will be IOC member being arrested naked?” We really hope it doesn’t endure.
Hickey is embarrassing for Ireland for sure, but let’s not pretend he’s not also a big player in terms of the entire Olympic movement as head of its European effort too. And let’s not pretend that the Irish Olympic Committee isn’t a microcosm of the bigger beast it answers to. All week members from our country and other jurisdictions have been meandering around beside those hungry and tired volunteers and homeless locals with $900 a day walking around money, cash they don’t need as they move from gala to free dinner in chauffeured car, often loudly heard comparing how many events they’ve made it to, before going back to free hotel. As for the president Thomas Bach, he still says he’s a volunteer despite the unlimited credit card and all-year luxury suite back in Lausanne.
They’re the ones talking Olympic spirit too as a bankrupt city shelves out €2bn euro to have the army on the streets to keep them safe, after they were the ones that chose this place to host it.
But Hickey’s story is fitting because in a way he is the Olympic movement encompassed in a person. Unaccountable, his treatment of elected sports ministers over the decades have shown his vast arrogance. The latest was Shane Ross as during the week his emails to the OCI over the notion of an independent inquiry into the ticketing issue saw him talk internally about the notion of the independent alliance TD being “put back in his box.”
As he sits in Bangu prison, you’d bet he’d show his arse on O’Connell Bridge for the next month to be facing just that inquiry back home. He knew the Brazilian authorities were looking into him as far back as 2012; he knew he was in trouble here thus his hiding and his wife’s lying. And still he hung around while Irish tickets were sold at up to 18 times their face value in what Brazilian police say was an attempt to make around €2.5m in profits. Even after all that’s happened across the fortnight, he’s shown the meaning of the Olympics better than anyone else.
Tonight though the flame goes out and we’ll be told by the IOC about how wonderful all this was and how good it’s been for Brazil. The soldiers will then come off the streets, the violence can continue, and the misery can grow. But even in a city with a certain aroma due to the many open sewers, the Olympics and their spirit moving on will lessen the stench.
Sunday Business Post
21 August, 2016