Let's Stop the Scaremongering About the Rio Olympics

The media is abuzz with horror stories about the Zika virus, ISIS attacks and vicious gangs ahead of this week's Games in Brazil. So as I head out there, will I get a gold medal for bravery if I survive?

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Workers carrying tools in wheelbarrows next to the Tennis Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil August 1, 2016
Workers next to the Tennis Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, August 1, 2016. Credit: Sergio Moraes/Reuters
Nehemia Shtrasler
Nehemia Shtrasler

I have a feeling that Haaretz is trying to get rid of me. Otherwise, why send me to Rio to cover the Olympic Games, which commence this weekend? Anyone who reads the papers knows that going to Rio is a death sentence. The only question is how you’ll die: By the terrible Zika virus; through an Islamic State terror attack; or a gang bumping you off on a street corner because you didn’t whip your wallet out fast enough.

Over the last few days I’ve been receiving worried messages from my few friends, telling me that the Zika virus doesn’t only hit fetuses but can cause permanent paralysis.

Two months ago, 150 international health experts published a call to cancel the Games because of the virus. And newspapers worldwide are having a field day with heartbreaking tales about athletes who’ve decided to stay home because of it. Even Prince William and his wife Kate, who are known to be great sports fans, decided not to attend due to the virus.

But the virus threat is negligible compared to the Islamic State group, which has exhorted its supporters in Brazil to organize a few “high-quality” attacks during the Olympics – especially against the citizens of the United States, Britain, France and Israel.

“One small knife attack will have bigger media effect than any other attacks anywhere else,” an ISIS supporter wrote gleefully on social media. The Brazilian police responded by arresting 10 people whom they claim had sworn allegiance to ISIS and were planning to act.

And anyone who somehow evades ISIS will certainly fall prey to the local gangs, waiting expectantly for the 500,000 tourists making their way to Brazil. Several athletes who arrived in Rio early have already fallen victim to armed robbery in the streets, since it’s not enough in Rio to avoid wearing valuables or walking down dark alleyways. You can have a gun pointed at your head while sitting in a restaurant – and let’s see you argue with them in Portuguese.

To all this, one could add the dismal news about the severe economic recession playing out in Brazil, with high inflation, frightening levels of unemployment and a financial crisis in the actual state of Rio that threatens to undermine the financing of the Olympics.

There’s also the political crisis that led to the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, and corruption cases involving dozens of lawmakers who received kickbacks from Petrobras, the government-run oil company.

A woman taking a photo of the sunrise as a sand sculpture stands along the promenade on Copacabana beach, August 1, 2016.Credit: David Goldman/AP

Some reports suggest that the city still looks like a giant construction site, with facilities and stadiums unlikely to be ready on time.

There are stories of the Olympic Park drowning in sewage, and of ocean waters brown with waste, which will not permit sailing events to take place there. The cycling route along the shore has collapsed and the Russian delegation will not be coming. And the new subway line connecting central Rio to the Olympic Park won’t be ready on time, either, so the public won’t be able to attend and the stadiums will remain empty.

If we believe the international media outlets, there’s no way these games will take off.

So why am I committing suicide and flying into this chaos anyway? Simply because I don’t believe a word of this scaremongering or the prophecies of doom. The media loves disaster stories. They’re the hottest ticket in town.

It’s true that the Brazilians are coming to these Games exhausted, their tongues hanging out. They didn’t start work on time seven years ago, when they were awarded the right to host them. Nevertheless, and despite everything, the Olympics will start on time and they will be spectacular. Some 10,500 athletes (47 from Israel) from 207 countries will compete in 306 different events, making this the biggest sporting event in the world. It will also be a happy and exciting celebration, which will bring the world together and maybe improve its physical condition. It will foster hope for a better world, one that competes in sports halls rather than on the battlefield.

Wait a minute – I might even get back from there in one piece!

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