Monday,17 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1310, (1 - 7 September 2016)
Monday,17 June, 2019
Issue 1310, (1 - 7 September 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Rio 2016, not that bad

Just like athletes dream of reaching the Olympic Games, and maybe even win a medal, sports journalists also dream of going to the Olympic Games to cover it. As a matter of fact, it is the dream of every single person related to the field: athletes, officials, referees, organisers, media, volunteers and of course spectators. Who wouldn’t dream of travelling to the Olympic Games, taking a seat in the stands and enjoying competitions live instead of watching it on TV?

It took me almost 24 years to fulfill my dream. I missed six Olympic Games starting from 1992 Barcelona. I wondered whether I would ever cover up close the world’s most prestigious sports event. During all those years, I would join the rest of the world in following the Games on TV and reading reports by my colleagues abroad and the international media. To be honest, I would feel jealous because they were there, following the events live at the venues, on the spot, watching the world’s superstars as they compete.

Suddenly, I was invited to attend the first Youth Olympic Winter Games in Insbruk, Austria, in 2012. But Egypt wasn’t a participant. We don’t have winter sports here in Egypt. Still, it was a start. My neck was donned with an accreditation card of an Olympic Games. A good omen.

Two years later I was selected to join the official media delegation to the 2nd Youth Olympic Summer Games in 2014 in Nanjing, China. Getting close. Half a dream. The biggest event would come one day, I hoped. Just be patient girl. In Nanjing, I was thrilled and considered it a warm up to the real excitement, the bigger and historic Olympic Games.

And just like the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro was the first city in South America to play host to the Olympic Games, the 2016 Rio Games saw my first participation at an Olympics, as a journalist, a media coordinator of the Egyptian delegation. I was selected only three weeks ahead of the Games, which made my selection extra special.

However, as much as I was looking forward to being in Rio, it turned out to be not as I anticipated. It was hectic and tiring. Once there, I realised that I was running breathless around the city and among the venues. I was there for real work, not to watch and enjoy. I discovered that it was impossible to follow the 20 sports in which Egypt was taking part in, or cover all the country’s athletes. Some sports were held at the same time while volleyball and handball played at the same time in different venues. You had to choose. The same with the rest of the sports. I had dreamt of watching, and maybe if I was lucky, of interviewing the legendary Michael Phelps in his last Olympics, or cheering for Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth, of watching Brazil beat Germany for their first Olympic football gold medal. Unfortunately, nothing of this happened.

Though Rio was only five hours behind Cairo, still, the Egyptian media delegation suffered from jet lag and had difficulty sending reports to Cairo in time which of course resulted in less sleeping hours. We were accommodated in a truly fairy-tale home -- a ship which arrived from Miami the day before the opening ceremony to house the media, spectators and organisers, and left immediately after the closing ceremony. It was fabulous, but we had no time to explore its 16-floor facilities as we were out all day. It was at least a two-hour drive from the port terminal to the Olympic Village and the sports venues -- if there was no traffic. This resulted in us sometimes missing some events which started as early as 9am.

The only positive point is that Rio had created the “Olympic Boulevard” along the terminal, with a huge giant screen that transmitted the Games live, and a big stage where famous Brazilian artists performed day and night. Apart from the Olympic Village and the Olympic Park in Barra, Olympic Boulevard was the only place where visitors and media could feel the vibe of the Games. It was transformed into a traditional Brazilian carnival where the locals mingled with tourists as they ate, drank, danced and celebrated the event.

The famous Copacabana beach was halfway between the Olympic Boulevard at Maua and Barra. The beach was the venue for sailing and beach volleyball and animation shows created for the Games. Apart from these three places, one felt that some parts in Rio didn’t know there was an Olympics being played. Or, more precisely, they knew but didn’t care.

Before any Olympic Games, every city promises to produce the best ever Olympic Games. Since this was my first participation I can’t judge whether the Rio Games was the best. But from one’s own experience in Rio, and reports from national and international colleagues who covered previous editions of the Olympic Games, it wasn’t the best ever. Apart from the opening and closing ceremony, it wasn’t lavish. Still, it was not that bad. Considering the political turmoil and economic crisis facing the country, they produced a good event according to their capabilities, budget and resources.

None of the previous Olympics Games were flawless. There was never a score of 10 as no host city reached perfection which is only normal. Organisers are, after all, humans who make mistakes. Atlanta 1996 and Athens 2004 had difficulties as well. But, the Brazilians did their utmost and for that they deserve credit. Most importantly, the Cariocas created a legacy for their country.

Rio de Janeiro was named as host city of the Olympic Games in 2009. Before that, Brazil hosted the 2014 World Cup. At that time they were in a better position politically, economically and socially. No one saw the deterioration, corruption and setbacks coming. For the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, the Brazilians adopted an austerity plan which made people angry which is one reason why we rarely saw a full house in any one sport, especially in the qualifiers. Was it a boycott or expensive tickets that the general public couldn’t afford? Some Brazilians thought it was too extravagant to hold two major sports events within a span of two years. However, others supported it and many volunteered to help improve the image of the country, hoping that these two events would generate more business and money to improve the nation.

Unlike previous Games, Rio attracted fewer visitors to the city, the reason being media reports before the Games which warned tourists about the city’s crime, traffic jams, ISIS threats and most importantly, the Zika virus. The reports, which were described by some visitors as being too negative, were the reason why visitors and even top athletes refrained from going to Rio, especially golf stars. But the visitors we met, who took the risk in the eyes of many, said they were having a wonderful time at the Games and described it as one of their best ever experiences.

Though some incidents did take place – one or two mysterious explosions and unexplained gun fire, and robberies which involved media, athletes and visitors, they were not more than what happens anywhere in the world and less than the grim picture some international media reports had said about Rio before the kick-off. People around the world had the impression that those in Rio would either get Zika, get robbed or get shot. Those who went, including the Egyptian delegation, took precautions as much as they could, based on media reports and instructions from their embassies. They were vaccinated for Zika and other diseases, though surprisingly, the event was incident-free. There was not one recorded case, according to the WHO. One can’t even remember seeing a flying mosquito anywhere. It was not the season; it’s now winter in Brazil. Actually, the Brazilians were keen that delegations and visitors get vaccinated in their home countries and in Rio they made sure that each individual filled a medical history form when checking into hotels. On our ship, stewardess would spray sanitary sterilisers on our hands before entering or leaving and before meals as a precaution.

On security, Brazil deployed some 85,000 police and soldiers to guard the athletes and the venues.

Out of all the memories, one will last with me forever. The lovable, friendly and lively Brazilian people. They made our stay memorable. Though the majority of the population in Rio doesn’t speak any language other than Portuguese, they tried to help any way they could, and those who spoke English would come to your help to translate, for example, even without being asked.

The scene I will never forget was the closing ceremony, the part when the world’s athletes flooded onto the grounds of the famous Maracana Stadium. To be honest, in that moment in which they all got together, they didn’t look like the same people who a few days earlier had fought so hard against each other for medals. After two weeks of vigorous and thrilling competitions, they were united under the slogan of the Olympic movement’s oath and spirit. So, overall, the Rio Olympic Games was not all that bad.

At the Olympic Games, fellow colleagues were honoured by the IOC and the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) for covering 10 Olympic Games. I wondered whether I would someday be honoured for the same achievement. Another dream to try to make real.

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