The 2016 Summer Olympics are finally here, opening this week in Rio de Janeiro amid a plethora of concerns, among them water contamination, civil unrest, and the prevalence of the Zika virus.
We interviewed Philip D’Agati, associate teaching professor of political science and an Olympics expert, to find out what we can expect from the first-ever South American Olympics as well as what he’s most looking forward to.
There is always some kind of non-sports-related issue that raises anticipation heading into the Olympics, D’Agati says. For Montreal in 1976 and Sochi in 2014, it was whether the venues would be completed in time. In Beijing in 2008 there were questions about air quality.
But while it seems the Rio Games are inundated with controversies, D’Agati says the city’s preparation has been respectable.
“Their planning hasn’t been that bad,” D’Agati notes. “Most of the venues are complete. They weren’t looking to transform Rio. They are just planning to put forward an excellent games.”
These ceremonies are a chance for the people of Rio to define themselves, their continent, and their society to the rest of the world.”
— Philip D’Agati
When we look back on the 2016 Games, D’Agati says it won’t be the water contamination, Zika, or security issues that people will remember. It will be the absence of Russian athletes who were banned from competing due to doping.
Track and field’s governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, has already barred the entire Russian Federation team, and last month the International Olympic Committee gave all other individual sports federations the option to ban Russian athletes from their competitions.
The lack of Russian competitors could lead to some interesting results, D’Agati says, as Russia is generally a top-performing country.
“This is one of the reasons the Olympics are fun—because it can tell a super power ‘no’ and win.”
[Read more about which Russian Olympic teams are affected by the ban here.]
A first for a host city
Rio is the first Latin American city to host the Olympics since Mexico in 1968 and the first South American city ever to serve as host. Because of this honor, D’Agati says he is most looking forward to watching the opening ceremonies on Friday and the closing ceremonies on Aug. 21.
“These ceremonies are a chance for the people of Rio to define themselves, their continent, and their society to the rest of the world,” D’Agati says.
Future of the Olympics
Many cities have recently ended their bids to host the Olympics in upcoming years, including Boston and Hamburg, which had been vying for the 2024 Summer Olympics, and Oslo, which had set it sights on the 2022 Winter Olympics.
D’Agati pointed to the 1980s as a turning point, when an unwritten competition emerged among cities to host the biggest and most expensive Olympics. As a result, the cost for the games have skyrocketed and the decision to pass on hosting has come from citizens.
“These cities didn’t lose their bids to politicians or policy makers, they lost them because of the people,” D’Agati says.
So what needs to change? The IOC has created an initiative for which potential hosts need to demonstrate how the Olympics will make sustainable changes to their infrastructure and population within a reasonable budget.
“You need a city that can modestly build on the infrastructure it already has,” D’Agati says.